Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Old Naperville Gossip about Colorado Beer Baron

If you were a Chicagoan of drinking age in 1980,  you remember how chic it was to drink Coors before it was legally distributed east of the Mississippi.

If you are a Naperville history buff, you’ve heard that Adolph Coors worked in one of our own breweries before he went to Colorado.

But perhaps you haven’t heard the whole story — and maybe none of us ever will.

The Coors brewery in Golden, Colorado takes visitors on a tour that includes an historical museum. You won’t find Naperville named in any of the placards, but if you talk to the tour guides, some of them have heard of our town. And some tell an “off the record” tale. 

Adolph Kohrs, as he was christened, immigrated from Prussia in 1868. Some stories say he was a stowaway, disembarking in Maryland.

Both of his parents died a few years earlier, but he did have siblings. Brother William eventually followed him to Colorado and joined the business.

Americanizing his name to “Coors,” Adolph made his way to Chicago and on to Naperville, which had seen a wave of German settlers in the 1840’s. 

Adolph spent three years at Stenger Brewery as a highly paid brewmaster before quitting. The local story is that while Stenger hoped to add Adolph to the family business, Adolph wasn’t interested in marrying a Stenger daughter. 

In Golden, it’s whispered that Adolph liked the Stenger girls just fine, but he wasn’t marriage-minded. Getting out of town was a decision to preserve his health and pretty face!
Adolph Coors 
Adolph became very successful, but Prohibition nearly wiped him out. The company eked out a living making malted milk and other non-alcoholic items.

Before Prohibition was repealed and even before the stock market crashed, eighty-two year old Adolph went out a sixth-story hotel window in Virginia Beach. Contemporary accounts wouldn’t or couldn’t say whether he fell, jumped or was thrown.

Passing years have shrouded the facts. Now the story of Adolph Coors is a tale to tell the next time you share a beer with friends.

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Naperville Goes West

The Gold Rush began in 1848 and nearly 300,000 people traveled to California to cash in on their share. Naperville folks were not immune to Gold Rush fever.

The Naperville settlement was only seventeen years old. In addition to the original group of Scotts and Irish, families from Germany and other countries had also made their way to the DuPage River, pushing the frontier even farther west.

This past summer we drove from Naperville to Los Angeles to visit our son and we were overwhelmed by the vast — and harsh — landscape. And that’s in an air conditioned car! We can only imagine what the trip must have been like for travelers in 1848.

Apparently Stephen Scott, who arrived in Naperville in 1837, organized a group of local folks who traveled together across the plains and deserts to seek their fortunes. Among them was John Stenger of the Stenger Brewery.  

Another man with gold fever was Morris Sleight, originally a ship’s captain like Joseph Naper, who spent four years in Placerville, California looking for gold before returning to his Naperville farm in 1854. 

Pierce Hawley, whose daughter married Willard Scott, Stephen’s son, had a farm in Kendall County, but lived for a time in Naperville as well. Hawley also went west, but for religious reasons rather than for gold.

Hawley was a Methodist who heard Joseph Smith speak and became a Mormon follower. When Smith was killed, a group of Mormons under the leadership of Lyman Wight went to Texas and Hawley went with them, taking most of his family. Caroline, already married, remained in Naperville.

One of Hawley’s daughters became a plural wife of Wight, but Hawley was starting to have his misgivings about his son-in-law. After his daughter died, the conflict grew and Hawley left the religious community. He moved to Cherokee Nation, Nebraska where he spent the last years of his life.

It seems no locals struck the mother lode. Looking out on those wide skies and dry plains during our trip, one can only admire the pioneer fortitude it must have taken to travel by foot, horse and wagon from the DuPage River to the California mountains in pursuit of their golden dreams.

Friday, July 17, 2015

Curfew Rings in Naperville

Today’s municipal code makes it “unlawful for a person less than seventeen” to be in public after 12:01am, but curfew certainly isn’t a modern concept.

In May of 1896, Mayor Willard Scott and Naperville’s Aldermen enacted a curfew ordinance that caused some consternation, particularly with our “Night Police Force” who seems to be just one guy. 

Curfew rang in Naperville again last night without causing as much alarm on the part of the volunteer fire department and nervous citizens as it did on Saturday night, when its solemn notes were tolled for the first time by the old town bell. 

To guard against any further misunderstanding the night police force of Naperville made it his business yesterday to make a house to house canvass of the members of the fire department and carefully explained to them how to distinguish between the dignified tolling of the curfew and the wild, riotous note of the bell when employed in informing the community that a fire was in progress.

“Where's the fire?’ demanded the breathless boys who have the proud distinction of “running with the machine.”

"It hain't no fire,” responded the night police force, as he danced up and down on the bell rope. "It's for curfew.”

The man whose duty it is to open the engine house door and yell, "Look out" when the start is made and who had just come from a barber's chair, looked blank. Then he wanted to know who Curfew was, why he died, and when he was to be buried.

The night police force got red in the face. There came near being a fight.

“Say,” said the force, “you're a beaut.” Then he proceeded to explain that curfew was rung according to an edict of the Common Council as a notice to youths of tender years to immediately hie themselves to their respective homes or be imprisoned in the town gaol.

It made the volunteer firemen so mad they put in the next half hour trying to entice George Alonzo Betts, the only descendant of a member of the Town Council amenable to the curfew act, to come outside the yard. Then they were going to get the night police force and have him carry off George Alonzo to the dungeon keep.

But George Alonzo was crafty. He staid right in his own back yard and will continue to stay there every night after the sounding of the curfew.

Thomas Betts was an alderman in 1885, 1891 and 1892 as well as Mayor 1901-1902. He had two sons:  Thomas H. and Charles who was alderman in 1896 when the curfew ordinance was passed. But Thomas H. and wife Cora had no children, so who “George Alonzo Betts” is remains a





Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Naperville Weddings in History

June has long been the traditional month for weddings because the goddess Juno was thought to take especial care of women who married during her namesake month.

Naperville has certainly had it’s share of weddings, but sometimes tradition was the last thing on the bride’s mind.

Harriet Warren Dodson settled in the area with her parents in 1833, not long after Joseph Naper. Originally they lived on the south side of I-88 before founding the town of Warrenville. One of her first social events here was a non-traditional wedding, as related in her book The Warrens of Warrenville:

“The wedding was on Sunday and our conveyance a cart drawn by oxen ...driving up to the tavern door, the residence of the hospitable Capt. Joseph Naper, and such a wedding!

“The bride was actually scrubbing the floor of the only room in the house where she was to stand when the ceremony was to be performed…

“The bride made her appearance in a dress of the common veiling material, a kind of cinnamon brown. She was a sensible looking woman about thirty or thirty-five years of age. Her intended also looked about that age or a little older, an affair of little romance surely, but sensible, I should judge, as I look back upon it now.”

Another unconventional bride was Hannah Ditzler Alspaugh who was born in 1848. She taught for ten years at Naper Academy and was the first librarian at the original Nichols Library. Hannah didn’t marry until late in life when she wed John Alspaugh, a widower who was also her first cousin.

Today the law allows cousins to marry if they are over are 50, but in 1905, Hannah and John were actually wed illegally, despite their ages.

The Martin-Mitchell Mansion at Naper Settlement is named for
Caroline who bequeathed it to our city. The Martins were of Scottish descent and frequented local “Highland” picnics. It’s thought that while at one of these events, Caroline met and fell in love with Edward Mitchell of Hinsdale.

Caroline apparently grew tired of waiting for permission to marry and at the age of 31, eloped with Edward to Milwaukee, Wisconsin.

Eventually the couple made peace with her family and held a second wedding, complete with a  traditional formal announcement, at the mansion in 1896, nearly six months after their elopement.

It’s interesting to know that our forebears were not as hidebound by tradition as one would think!

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

The Civil War, Camp Douglas and Naperville

America is commemorating the 150th anniversary of the Civil War. Technically, the war ended with General Robert E. Lee's surrender on April 9, 1865, but Confederate armies continued surrendering into June.

Many local men served in the Union army, including Joseph Naper’s son, George, who was killed at Chickasaw Bayou. But Naperville has yet another connection to the Civil War.

Camp Douglas was named after Stephen Douglas, whose famous debates with Abraham Lincoln were only part of an illustrious career. Most of the camp’s land, however, actually belonged to Henry Graves.
Henry was ten years old when he traveled with Joseph Naper on the schooner “Telegraph” in 1831. The Graves family chose to stay in Chicago rather than continue on to the DuPage settlement.

In what was then wild prairie and is now approximately Comiskey Park, Henry lived in a small home, the original cottage of Cottage Grove. When the Graveses declined to vacate their house, Camp Douglas was built around them.

While originally intended as a training camp for Union soldiers, as the conflict dragged on, the compound was instead used to house prisoners of war.

More than 4,000 Confederate soldiers died at Camp Douglas. Some call it the largest mass grave in the western hemisphere. 
The order of release for the prisoners was given on May 8, 1865 and the last soldiers left by July. The camp’s graves later were moved to Oak Woods Cemetery and the Graves house was torn down in 1909.

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Linking Little Houses on the Prairie

Earlier this week the Naperville Library hosted a program on Laura Ingalls Wilder, the author of the Little House on the Prairie books. I wrote Ruth by Lake and Prairie as Naperville’s local “Little House” story and folks often ask if there’s any connection. Surprisingly, there is!

Ruth Murray from the book was a niece of Joseph and John Naper. As a twelve year old, Ruth was among the original settlers of Naperville in 1831. Laura Ingalls wouldn’t live in her Little House for another thirty-odd years.

Even Laura’s Pa, Charles Ingalls, wasn’t born until 1837. Charles spent much of his childhood in New York, but like many families in the 1840’s, the Ingalls traveled west to stake out a new homestead.

Charles’ father, Lansford Ingalls, purchased land near Elgin, Illinois where other relatives had recently settled. Charles lived in the Kane County area from about the ages of nine until sixteen when they moved to Wisconsin.

During research on the Murray family, I learned that Ruth’s brother Robert Nelson Murray married a woman named Louisa Sargent. Her brother, Marquis, married a woman named Lois Ingalls. Could this be a relative of “Pa’s.” I wondered?
I waded through the family trees and eventually found that Lois and Charles do share an ancestor, Samuel Ingalls, Sr. So yes, there is a connection (of sorts) between Ruth and Laura!

Lois and Marquis’ son Earl was a prominent Naperville citizen and a member of the Association of Commerce which is the forerunner of our current Chamber.

Interestingly, his line can claim Daughters of the American Revolution status while Laura Ingall’s family cannot. It seems one of Grandpa Ingalls’ sons enlisted during the war while the other moved out of the country until it was over.

Naper Settlement used to have a Murray House where Lois Ingalls Sargent may have visited her in-laws. It was recently re-named and re-interpreted as the Merritt Hobson Law Office, but that’s a story for another day!

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Naperville's #1 Cheerleader: Mayor Pradel

 A. George Pradel has been Naperville’s Mayor for twenty years and the city’s biggest cheerleader for even longer.
Most Chamber of Commerce members know that, before becoming Mayor, he served on our police force. There’s even a statue of him as “Officer Friendly” on the grounds of Washington Junior High. But did you know that once upon a time he also was a business owner himself ?

In the 1960’s, a young couple named George and Pat ran a little hot dog stand on Main Street in the space currently occupied by Lil’ J’s Bohemia. The Pow Wow had two small booths and a stand-up counter, providing hungry patrons with steamed hot dogs, chili dogs and fries.

In addition to running the Pow Wow, they were raising three young children and George was attending the College of DuPage to further his police career. After a few years, Pat and George decided that being in the restaurant business was not their passion and they sold it to one of their employees. Pat went on to an office career that included a stint with Service Master and George continued with the police department.
Through the years that  Mayor Pradel has presided over ribbon cuttings, he has sported a variety of fashions including:  a Marine Corp sweatshirt, a fresh St. Baldrick’s shave, a crazy tie from his extensive collection and, of course, his Chamber Ambassador jackets. (He’s been through a few logo changes!)
Mayor Pradel always loves to include any available children in a ribbon cutting and he makes everyone giggle when he boasts that, while Chicago is also a Five Star Chamber, “we were here first!”

For years, the Mayor “cut” ribbons with a giant pair of purely ornamental wooden scissors which were kept painted and repaired by our Ambassador Emeritus Dale Yamauchi, but in recent years, he’s used a metal pair that actually does cut.  He’s also cut other things in lieu of a ribbon including a two by four and a loaf of bread!

Opening a new business will always be exciting and Ambassdors look forward to learning the new routine. But you have to admit, we’re going to miss hearing that familiar voice gleefully booming:

“WEL-come to NA-perville!”