Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Celebrate Naperville's Founding This Week

Happy Birthday, Naperville!

In 1831, Joseph Naper, along with his brother John, his sister Amy and their families and friends, settled down along the banks of the DuPage River to build a new community. While we can’t pinpoint the exact date, historians are fairly sure it was during the week of July 15 in 1831 that the wagons completed the three-day journey from Fort Dearborn.

You may want to stand in an actual northern Illinois prairie this week and imagine that you are one of Naper's settlers. Much of the original prairie in our area has been plowed up or built over, but there are still a few places that are either original or restored.

One of the best places to find original prairie is in very old graveyards. Yes, the settlers did dig into the prairie long ago for graves, but they didn't plow the land, so the grasses and wildflowers continued to grow in the natural way. Conservationists will often collect seeds from old graveyards to help create prairie restorations with native plants.

The Belmont Prairie in Downers Grove boasts some original prairie, but there are also some restored areas that are worth a trip. Both the College of DuPage in Glen Ellyn and Fermi Lab  in Batavia have been working on prairie restorations in recent years.

Or visit the Joseph Naper Homestead site in Naperville and try to imagine what it looked like in 1831. Now a park, signage and landscaping give visitors an idea of where the original house and trading post stood. Down Mill Street, Naper would later build his mill, swelling the DuPage River into a mill pond that he could see from his log house.

If you get to visit a local prairie, use all your senses to put yourself in the place of the early Illinois settler. What can you smell and hear? How does it feel to walk through such tall grass? Are there bugs? Imagine yourself barefoot, for nearly everyone went barefoot in the summer to save on shoe leather, walking for three days in the July sun from Chicago.

Now imagine trying to explain hitting the highway in an air-conditioned SUV to Joe and the rest of his group! Our forefathers were certainly a hardy lot!

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