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Western Springs -- 19th and Early 20th Century

Why did the area attract so many settlers in the 1830s?

The five million acres surrounding Chicago belonged to the Pottawatomie.  The transportation "craze" of the time was for canals linking major waterways.  The idea of the Illinois and Michigan Canal, linking Lake Michigan to the Illinois River (and down the Mississippi to New Orleans), became very popular.  Unfortunately for the Native Americans the canal would cut through lands ceded to them.

In 1833, under pressure from local and federal governments, the Pottawatomie exchanged their holdings for land in Iowa and one millions dollars in goods.  Much of the 'goods' went to creditors -- a scandalously bad deal for the Native Americans deplored in many contemporary accounts.  By 1835, the vast majority of the Native Americans had moved from the Chicago area and new settlers arrived.  For the settlers this opened up a great deal of public land for their farms and homes.

Another feature which attracted settlers to the immediate area was Salt Creek.  This creek had a:

  • source for clean water
  • a location for hunting and trapping animals
  • a navigable river especially during the spring

The area had been popular for years by the Pottawatomie and other Native Americans (See Native American  Settlements of 1804).  The early settlers and trappers of European descent also liked the benefits of Salt Creek.

For more background information see:

In 1828 to the east within Lyons Township, David and Barney Laughton, two brothers from Bourbon Springs, built a house near the present day Burlington Railroad in Riverside.  A year later Stephen Forbes (later the Cook Country Sheriff) settled in the township.

In 1832 to the north in Proviso Township, Aaron Parsell operated the first saw mill located on the east side of the Des Plaines River where the Chicago Northwestern railway now crosses it.

In 1833 another saw mill began operation in near the Parsell's. It was owned and operated by George Bickerdike and Mark Noble.

In October of 1833, Thomas Reed Covell bought a large tract of land covering many sections of the area from the government.  The northern boundary line of Covell's property reached the location of Madison Street, the Eastern line, Mannheim Road, and the southern boundary about a mile north of LaGrange.  Covell's log cabin was on the west side of Salt Creek just north of LaGrange in what would become Section 28, Proviso Township.

1834 found the new Chicago-Dixon Road was the primary artery.

Early Area Land Sales

The earliest known land sales in the Western Springs area were recorded in 1835.  On the 24th and 25th of June ten men each bought between 40 and 160 acres at prices of $1.20 to $1.30 per acre. 

  • Walter L. Newberry was one of those men, buying 146 acres in the northwestern portion of the village.  (He would later found the Newberry Library in Chicago.)  Members of the Fuller family would farm portions of his land.
  • Joseph Vial purchased 80 acres in the area of the current Ridgewood subdivision.

The Joseph Vial family had arrived in our area from New York State in 1834.  The Pottawatomie were still in the area.  In the book La Grange Centennial History 1879-1979 he is quoted as saying, "That Indians were never troublesome after we came.  I remember old Shabbona, head chief of the Pottawatomie.  He was about the noblest specimen I ever saw.  It was through his (Shabbona's) efforts that his tribe remained quiet during the Black Hawk War (1832)."

The Vial’s first log cabin served as an inn, post office, store, and was the meeting place for Cook County’s first Democratic Convention in 1836. 

In 1856, Robert Vial, Joseph’s son, built a two-story frame farmhouse on Plainfield Road.  This structure is the structure which was saved by the Flagg Creek Historical Society when it was threatened by demolition in 1989.  After several years of restoration, the home opened to the public in 1999 on a regular basis.

Members of the Vial family would later own Vial’s Lumber Company before selling it to Lord’s Lumber Company.

In 1836 Sherman King bought 80 acres in the Western Springs area.  He also built a sawmill along Salt Creek which would become the Graue sawmill -- not to be confused with the Graue grist mill which came later.

The earliest settler known to have lived near the present boundaries of Western Springs was Elijah Wentworth, Jr.  Moving to the area in 1838, he built a tavern, called "Black Horn", just south of the present village limits.  Although Elijah Wentworth left the area about 1850, and had little impact on the developing community, his family left a lasting mark on the city of Chicago, where Elijah went on to become the first coroner of Cook County. His son, known throughout the Midwest as "Long John" Wentworth, became the first mayor of Chicago.  He also sold the land where White Sox Park  (the previous one) was situated to Charles A. Comiskey.

1840s and 1850s -- Slow Growth and the "Plank" Road

The area's residents were mostly farmers.  People were reluctant to move to the area -- so distance from Chicago with transportation as a major problem. The stage coaches between Chicago and the western settlements passed through every two or three days along the stage line on Chicago and Dixon Road (now Odgen Avenue).  Leitch continued his development efforts.  In the early 1860's Leitch chose the name Kensington Heights for his development project, but soon after he suffered some business reverses and was forced to abort the project.

But settlers did come to the area:

The construction for the 'plank' road was started by as a private venture.  A wooden 'plank' road was built along the old Chicago-Dixon route.  Its roadbed consisted of eight-foot-planks nailed to stringers on either side of the road.  By 1850 the section from Chicago to Brush Hill in Hinsdale was completed.  By 1851 the planked sections extended to Naperville and it was renamed the "Southwest Plank Road".  The total construction cost of $16,000 was recouped by charging a toll to use the road.

1864 -- Railroad Comes To Town

In 1864 the 38-mile Aurora-Chicago railroad line was completed at a cost of one million dollars.  The rail line changed its name to a more appropriate "Chicago, Burlington, and Quincy Railroad.  It was this railroad which first assigned the name "Western Springs" after the nearby mineral springs.  As with many other villages along a rail line, the railroad brought many persons to settle in the area as it carried the farmers' produce and milk.

What were the Western Springs?

There WAS a natural spring -- Alcyone Springs.  Its water were told to have great healing powers.  They had been used for a long time by local Native Americans.  It flowed at a rate of 40 gallon per minute.  Visitors used to travel from Chicago and other places to drink the spring water.  At one time the water was bottled and shipped by the "Alcyone Mineral Spring Company" via the Aurora-Chicago railroad line for consumption elsewhere.  For more about the fate of this natural spring, see The Springs of Western Springs.

1870s -- Development and Growth Spurt

In 1870 much of the land within the present boundaries of Western Springs had been purchased by a syndicate of wealthy Chicago men:

These men purchased the tracts of land (using the name Western Springs Land Association) from:

"Sensing that the railroad line from Chicago which ran through the area would make the location a viable suburban community, the landowners planned to subdivide and develop the property.  The total price of the three tracts of land was approximately $105,000.  Early records indicate that each of the four syndicate members contributed equally toward the purchase.  The Pecks, however, worked in the background.  Hill took a much more active role and acquired the title of general agent of the association....

"The Peck-Page-Hill syndicate sold 24 lots before most of the city of Chicago was destroyed by the Great Fire of 1871.  No additional lots were sold for the remainder of the year, and only 12 the following year."

The above text is from the book, "Western Springs, A Centennial History of the Village", by the Western Springs Historical Society

The map to the right reflects the approximate street layout in 1876.  East Boulevard is now Wolf Road.  North Boulevard is Odgen Avenue.  South Boulevard is 47th Street

Thomas C. Hill took up residence at 4344 Grand Avenue as he tried to lure Chicagoans away from the urban area, an act made easier by the devastation of the Great Fire.  He called this area "East Hinsdale".  Besides attracting more Quakers, Hill's advertising campaigns attract many Swedes and other settlers from Central Europe to the area.

1875 saw the "East Hinsdale" development partitioned, subdivided and given the name "Western Springs Subdivision".  The northern boundary was Odgen Avenue, the eastern boundary Wolf Road (then East Boulevard), the southern boundary South Boulevard (47th Street).  The western boundary was much the same as the current village boundary.  (See 1920s map below.)

To the east LaGrange incorporated in June of 1879.


By 1884 the village had grown to 290 residents.  The Quakers built the Friend's Church which could also be used as a village hall.  The new Grand Avenue School replaced the wooden school house.  It too was used for early village meetings.

On December 12, 1885, area residents assembled in the railroad depot to consider the village incorporation.  They voted 34 to 25 the referendum passed.  The Village of Western Springs was incorporated in 1886 and elections were held for a president, clerk, police magistrate and six trustees.  The first official village meeting was held on February 12, 1886, after the January 30 elections.  The new trustees elected were:

Thomas C. Hill was elected the first village president.  Hill appointed Fred Titsworth as village clerk.  Hill served until April when new elections were held.

John Atwater became the new village president in April, serving through 1887.  In 1888, Thomas C. Hill served again as president.


LaGrange Park incorporated was incorporated in 1892. 

About a dozen children attend each grade in Western Springs.  By the 1920s that number would triple.

Wooden shops and businesses appeared nearby as did the Old Town North and Old Town South sections of the village. 

The Water Tower

Constructed in 1892, the Western Springs Water Tower served as symbol of the village's stability.  The tower was erected by special assessment property owners.  It was designed by the firm Williams and Williams.

The cost of the tower's construct was approximately $15,000.  Its dimensions are:

The tower's construction permitted easy access to the top.  Many village residents used to enjoyed the view from its top using telescope donated by one of the early villagers.

Mr. Charles C. Collins deeded a triangular plot of ground, now known as the Tower Green, with the to be used for a water tower and village park.

In 1981 the water tower was added to the National Registry of Historic Places.  It remains one of the few municipal water towers that also housed the offices of the local government. 

About 1:00 AM on August 30, 1991, lightning struck the roof of the water tower.  A fire smoldered under the roof for hours with neighbors reporting the smell of smoke to the fire department.  The fire was not spotted until early commuters reported 30-foot flames at about 5:00 AM.  The empty water tank made it harder for the fire to put be extinguished.   Fortunately, firefighters covered many the valuable items of the Historical Society’s Museum with a tarp.  After two years of repair and restoration the museum reopened.

The water tower houses the collections of the Western Springs Historical Society on the first and second floors.  The third floor was converted to a children’s museum in 1996.

Turn of the Century

Despite the growth of the previous fifty years farming was still a major occupation in Western Springs.  One of the colorful characters of the late 1800s and early 1900s was Edwin C. "Uncle Ed" Fuller who owned land in the northwestern portion of the village, both north and south of Odgen Avenue.  Ed was born in Fullersburg (founded by his grandfather).  "Uncle Ed" was noted for his popular fiddle playing in the Fullersburg tavern which he managed with her father.

Marca was Ed's wife.  Their farm raised chicken, as did many Western Springs residents.  In the 1920s real estate ads featured the raising of chickens -- and growing fruit trees in one's yard -- as a virtues of the village.

The Fuller farm also raised cattle.

1920s -- Expansion

The Cook County Forest Preserve District was making changes during the 1920s:

The village's population tripled in the decade.

See also these "LaGrange Citizen" articles of the 1920s:

1950s - 1960s

The Baby Boom brought homes to the Springdale, Fairview Estates and Ridge Acres areas.  A new Village Hall and Police Department, the Fire Department building and the Post Office.

Sources of information for this entry include but are not limited to:

Last Modified:  12/18/2006