Thomas T. Perkins, Jr. and Patti Lee Perkins
When the last glacier began its retreat from the area we now call Bloomingdale, it left behind ridges of material which it had pushed all the way from Canada. Along Schick Road runs the terminal moraine left behind as the glacier melted. In among the rock and debris were the materials needed by early settlers to produce fine stone tools: flint, sandstone and granite.
Unearthed artifacts show that early settlers lived in the Bloomingdale area for about five thousand years before white explorers arrived. The major settlement was west of Bloomingdale Road and south of Schick Road. Here a natural spring broke from the ground, and the land provided a good view of the surrounding territory, mostly prairie and marsh, with a huge grove extending to the south side of present-day Lake Street.
The first white settlers, coming from Vermont and upstate New York, had forced the Indians out of their lands. Originally from Rutland County, Vermont, the Meacham family left in the mid-1820s to live in western New York, In 1830 the Meachams were living in Richland, Sandy Creek Township, Oswego County, New York. Lyman Meacham left that area and came to Illinois ahead of the family to scout the Chicago area for good land to settle. On March 11, 1833, the Meacham family arrived in what would become Bloomingdale Township. Lyman was soon followed by his brothers: Harvey, Daniel and Dr. Silas Meacham. They pitched their tents near the grove that was soon to bear their name.
The Meachams lived among the Indians for their first year in the area, and found them to be quite trustworthy. Harvey Meacham loaned a valuable rifle to one of the Indians for several days, on the promise he would return it on a certain day. The Indian did.
The Meacham family claimed an area of about 1,200 acres. Two men with four horses could till one hundred acres, while three men with five horses could do 160 acres, or a quarter section. A good day’s work for a man with a single team of horses was two acres of ploughing. Much of the Meacham claim was woodland, which provided posts for fencing in their claims and farms, as well as lumber for house building.
Lyman Meacham’s wife died in the fall of 1833 and was buried in the grove. However, in 1834 the population of the area increased with the arrival of more families. Woodworth, Stevens, Bangs, Maynard and a Major Skinner were among those listed in the party. By the end of the year the settlement had increased to twelve or fifteen families. From the time of its settlement in 1833 until early in 1839, Bloomingdale was located in Washington Precinct of Cook County. Elections were held in Elk Grove, eight miles northeast of Meacham’s Grove.
The legislature in January of 1836 authorized the laying out of a State road from Meacham’s Grove to Galena. There was already an established road from the Grove to Chicago. By 1837 two daily stages ran through Bloomingdale to Elgin. On July 20, 1837 the post office at Bloomingdale was established. Frink and Walker’s Stage Line ran through town, with travel from Chicago to Rockford taking twenty-four hours. The stage left Chicago at two o’ clock in the morning and by daybreak had reached the Bloomingdale area. By the end of the 1830s, several hundred wagons and travelers came through Bloomingdale each day. According to the rates established by Cook County officials, breakfast or supper could be obtained for 25 cents, dinner for 37½ cents, and a night’s lodging for 121/2 cents.
By 1839 Bloomingdale was an established village. The origin of the name of the township and village remains obscure. It was not named for the Meacham’s hometown in Vermont because there has never been a town by that name in Vermont. The only existing clue may be the 1840 notes and map made by the man responsible for the survey of this township. This surveyor, L. D. Ewing, had been Governor of Illinois in 1824. On his map and in his notes Ewing mentions another grove on the Bloomingdale-Addison Township line. The grove, to the east of Meacham’s grove, is called Bloomingdale’s Grove! No other record of the name has yet turned up in the 1830 or 1840 Census. Perhaps the Meachams were not the first settlers, but rather the first permanent settlers in the area.
The year 1840 was most important to the settlers of the entire region. By original intent, this area was not to be settled until the Federal government had surveyed the land into thirty-six one-mile squares called “sections.” However, “squatters” had settled this area prior to the survey of these lands. These “pioneers” had no claim legally to the lands and many claim disputes developed, such as the “Kent Tragedy” of 1840.
Milton Kent had leased land from Dr. Silas Meacham about 1836 and had built a tavern on the north side of Lake Street, near the Fairfield Way intersection. Dr. Meacham then moved to the Des Plaines area, selling his claim to Ebenezer Peck. Ebenezer Peck, in turn, sold the claim to George W. Green of Chicago. Kent was then told to move out of the tavern by the new landowner, Green. Angry, Kent and his son made a midnight raid against Green, who now had moved into the vacated tavern. In the ensuing scuffle Milton Kent was mortally wounded by Green, and Lorenzo Kent, the son, was also badly wounded Lorenzo and some of his friends subdued Green and forced him to sign a quit-claim to the property and re-title it to Kent. The Kents then ran him off the property.
The sheriff was summoned and soon arrested Lorenzo and his friends. While awaiting trial, they escaped and fled the state. Mr. Green, found “not guilty” in Milton Kent’s death, kept the property for another four years, and after selling it, moved back to the city of Chicago.
Lyman and Harvey Meacham had also purchased most of Section 15, where “Old Town” is located today. On March 10, 1843, almost ten years to the day of their arrival, they sold the northeast quarter of Section 15 to Erasmus O. Hills, a founder of the Village of Bloomingdale. Lyman moved to DuPage Township in Will County.
Other early settlers purchasing lands in the early 1840s included these: Lloyd Sterns, Captain E. Kinne, Harry Woodworth, Moses Elliot, James Barnes, Asa W. Clark, Richard K. Swift, Moses Hoit, Huit B. Hills, Elijah Hough, Waters Northrup, Noah Stevens, Hilamon S. Hills, Parker Sedgwick, Hiram B. Patrick, William F. Bloom, Milo F. Meacham, Cyrus H. Meacham, Rowland Rathbun and Moses Stacey. All 640 acres of Section 36 was purchased by Marcellus Farmer. When she purchased her land in November of 1844, development in the area had pushed the price from $1.25 to $3.00 per acre.
The Village of Bloomingdale grew throughout the 1840s. In August of 1840 the Congregational Church was organized by Deacons Elijah Hough, Allan Hills, C. H. Meacham, and others. Construction of their church began in 1851, and the first service was held on June 13, 1852. The congregation sold the building to the St. Paul’s German Church in July of 1878 for $850. No known records of this Congregational Church exist.
On March 24, 1841, at the home of Noah Stevens, the First Baptist Church at Bloomingdale was organized Seventy members were soon signed up, with A. W. Bulton and Joel Wheeler officiating. After meeting in different homes, they decided to build a meeting house. A lot at Franklin and Bloomingdale was deemed a suitable spot, and on January 25, 1848, Hiram Goodwin gave the property to the Baptist Society. Hiram had purchased the land from Dr. Silas Meacham and his wife Rebecca for $1,100 on May 20, 1844. The building was completed early in 1849. The growing congregation built still again in 1855 on Lake Street, where local lore has it that Abraham Lincoln spoke in his 1858 senatorial race against Stephen Douglas.
Erasmus O. Hills, Hilamon S. Hills and Hiram Goodwin platted the Village of Bloomingdale on January 11, 1845. It was the first village to be platted in the northern part of DuPage County. On November 6, 1849, Bloomingdale Township of DuPage County was organized. The major occupation in the Bloomingdale area in the 1850s was agriculture. The only industry in the township worth more than $500 was that of shoemaker Hiram Cody, age 52. He employed three people and paid wages of $88 per month for their labor.
These residents of northern DuPage County were served by the stage coach which left Chicago for Elgin at 9:00 a.m. each Wednesday. The first stop in the township was Kinne Post Office, a now unknown location. The postmaster at Kinne was Waters Northrup, the former postmaster at Bloomingdale. The Village of Bloomingdale’s postmaster in 1850, Sherman P. Sedgwick, operated the post office out of his drug store at the northeast corner of Bloomingdale Road and Lake Street. The route ended at Elgin, thirty-two miles from its start The mail began its return to Chicago at 6:00 am., arriving at 4:00 p. m, on Thursday.
Colonel Benjamin Franklin Meacham came in 1855 to join his uncle, Harvey Meacham, in Meacham’s Grove. With him came his wife Rebecca, 18-year-old son George William and 12-year-old daughter Elizabeth (Lizzie).
In 1860 the Bloomingdale Academy opened. It was probably some form of high school, but the records are unclear. The two teachers taught seventy-five students. On April 22, 1861, the First Baptist Church sold its old building at Franklin and Bloomingdale to the Bloomingdale Academy trustees. But fifteen days earlier an event had taken place at Charleston, South Carolina, that would affect the people of Bloomingdale and limit the life of the Academy. The War Between the States had begun!
In September of 1861 many men from the village and surrounding area enlisted in the Eighth Illinois Volunteer Cavalry. Some, like Robert Wales Gates, served throughout the war and came home to make many contributions to their community. Others, like 25-year-old William B. Pierce, were not as lucky. Pierce was one of two DuPage County soldiers to die at Andersonville Prison in Georgia.
The people who stayed behind were not idle. On September 1, 1861, a meeting was held at the Academy building in Bloomingdale, “for the purpose of rendering assistance to the sick and wounded soldiers of the Army of the United States.” School teachers were requested to take up collections in the schools. One of those on the committee, Elizabeth Meacham, was the daughter of Colonel B. F. Meacham. A student at Wheaton College at the time, she would eventually marry veteran Frank Woodworth in 1873. The war probably drained the Academy of students, for on October 1, 1861, the school trustees sold the building to the trustees of Bloomingdale School District 7, 13 today.
As the Civil War dragged on, there were not enough volunteers to keep the ranks of the Union Army filled. To meet this need for manpower, the first military draft was instituted in July 1863. Men between the ages of 18 and 45 were required to register for the draft. By June 27, 1863, there were 157 men in Bloomingdale Township so registered.
The fall of 1864 brought the reelection bid of President Lincoln. At the home of Henry Moore, on November 8, the men of the township cast 218 votes. Of these, Peace Democrat George McClellan received 79 votes, while Abraham Lincoln received 139. Sherman P. Sedgwick of Bloomingdale was elected Representative in the Illinois State Legislature.
The war ended in April of 1865. On the 15th news came of the murder of President Lincoln. On the 19th memorial services were held at the Lake Street cemetery for the “martyr to slavery.”
Major changes took place in the area to affect the village in the 1870s. The Chicago, Milwaukee and St. Paul Railroad came through the northern part of the Township in 1873. B. F. Meacham and Roselle M. Hough both donated large tracts of land for the railroad construction. Colonel Hough was the largest landowner in the area, with 1,122 acres. In 1875 Bernard Beck platted the Village of Roselle along the railroad right-of-way.
Industry increased in the Village of Bloomingdale during the 70s. Hiram Cody was still making boots and shoes, 250 pairs a year of the former and 150 pairs of the latter, but he now had competition in the person of John Roehler, producer of 250 pairs of boots and 800 pairs of shoes. Robert Wales Gates was the wagon maker/blacksmith for the village. During the year he produced twenty-six wagons and nine buggies. The well-dressed townsman might visit merchant and tailor Francis X. Neltnor, whose shop still stands at the northeast corner of Lake Street and Bloomingdale Road. For house building, cabinet making or general carpentry, one could employ John Dumper or Oscar Verbeck at a cost of $1.50 for a ten-hour working day. The farmers could sell their milk, 120,000 pounds of it produced annually, to Oscar C. Woodworth, who operated his cheese factory only six months per year.
B. F. Meacham died in 1879. His son, George William, sold the family lands early in 1880 and moved to Chicago. In 1885 the family moved to Green Lake, Wisconsin. They returned to Illinois in 1896, finally settling in Glen Ellyn. Rebecca, the Colonel’s widow, remained with her son-in-law and daughter, Frank and Lizzie Woodworth, until her death in 1891.
By the 1880s few of the early settlers were alive or in the area. Asa Clark, 85 and disabled, lived with his son Seth. Anthony Kinney, 69, was the bed spring manufacturer in the village. At 82 Hirman Cody was still making shoes. The early pioneers had done quite well. The farms of Waters Northrup and Moses Hoyt alone produced 42,000 gallons of milk per year.
The late 1870s and early 1880s marked the westward migration. The Congregational Church building was sold to the Germans in the area and renamed the German United Evangelical Lutheran St. Paul Church of Bloomingdale in 1878. The membership of the Baptist Church declined from 300 in the early 1860s to 73 in July of 1880. On its 1882-83 roll many names are followed by notations, “Went to Iowa,” “Went to Kansas,” and “Went to Nebraska.”
A petition was sent to County Judge Elbert H. Gary on January 30, 1889, to allow an election for purpose of officially incorporating a Village to be called Bloomingdale. On March 5, 1889, in the tailor shop of the late Francis X. Neltnor, the people of the area voted 47 to 12 in favor of the proposition. The first trustees elected to the village board were Frank Holstein, Dr. Henry Vanderhoof, John Bagge, William Wangelien, Joseph Fiedler and William Rathje. Dr. Vanderhoof was chosen as the first president and John H. Rohler as village clerk. The first village included the North Section (Roselle), and the South Section (Bloomingdale). Total expenses for 1889 were $1,080.56.
The new schoolhouse at Lake and Third Street was constructed in 1890, the first building to be built as a school. On May 7, 1892, the township board met at the old Baptist church and school at Franklin and Bloomingdale to purchase it at a public auction. In 1895 the village passed an ordinance granting the Chicago Telephone Company the right to place poles and wires along the Chicago and Elgin Road (Lake Street). The first cement sidewalks were placed in the village on Charles Hollenbach’s lot in 1899.
The arrival of the 20th Century brought more changes to the village. Automobiles were common enough for the village to pass a 1904 ordinance establishing speed limits of 8 mph on streets (4 mph in alleys). Drivers were required to sound a bell or gong at every street crossing. Gas street lamps were purchased for both parts of the village. From 1903 to 1905 the village board met at Hollenbach’s bowling alley.
A proposal was made in June of 1904 that the village set aside $200 to establish a library. According to the proposal, half of the books would be kept in Bloomingdale and half in Roselle. One third on the first purchase would be printed in German. The village purchased its first fire engine on August 18th for $350. The committee agreed that the engine would be located for six months in Roselle and six months in Bloomingdale.
In 1910 the township purchased a portable steel jail cell for installation in the township hall. Around this same time William Randecker left the house-painting business to his partner, Fred Hillman, and built a hardware store at the southwest corner of Franklin and Bloomingdale, which is today known as Old Town Hardware.
The Western United Gas and Electric Company began to lay its gas lines in the village in 1916. In 1917 the village began purchasing street oil to keep down the dust on the gravel roads in the area. With the passage of the 19th Amendment, Bloomingdale women were allowed to vote in the 1920 election. Prohibition was ushered in by the 18th Amendment, and at least one “speak-easy” was located in the village, on Lake Street east of First Street.
Operating two villages as one caused friction. Accordingly, on May 22, a majority of the voters agreed that “the Village Organization of Bloomingdale Shall be Dissolved.” Property was divided between the two parts, and the last meeting of the “old village of Bloomingdale including Roselle” was held on August 19, 1922. By a vote of 81 to 15, the people in the south part of the old village established a new village of Bloomingdale on June 16, 1923.
Electricity came to the village in 1924; however, many would not enjoy this convenience or that of the telephone for years. Fifteen electric street lights were installed on a trial basis in 1934 as replacements for the gas lights. Construction on Central School was completed in 1937. The old school was rented to the village, and the first meeting of the village board was held there in August 1938. The building was purchased a decade later.
After the United States was thrust into World War II, the Civilian Defense and Air Raid Black-Out Ordinances were passed early in 1942. The War Ration Board operated out of the township hall. In 1944 tin can collections were set up for the war effort. Bloomingdale men served in the armed forces. Alvin Koehn and Roy Fuller were among casualties.
The 1950s were years of growth. The village purchased its first marked police car. Prior to this time the village marshal drove his own car while he was on duty. The Bloomingdale Fire Protection District 1 was formed in 1954. The same year indoor plumbing was added to the village hall. The Indian Lakes and Suncrest subdivisions were built in that decade, as the population tripled from 338 in 1950 to 1,262 in 1960.
The larger population in the 1960s led to the creation of a full-time police department. The new post office was completed in 1962, but patrons continued to pick up their mail. Because a second school was necessary, DuJardin School was built in 1964. Bloomingdale Township offices were moved to new quarters in 1965; and on June 14 the old Baptist Church was again sold, this time to the Bloomingdale Park District, for one dollar. The Illinois Sesquicentennial in 1968 saw the building and grounds dedicated as “Pioneer Park Hall.”
A time both of growth and destruction occurred during the 1970s. Tree lined Bloomingdale Road was deemed too narrow for the growing community. Despite much protest from concerned citizens, the trees that had stood for hundreds of years were axed in 1974.
The first class graduated from the new Westfield School in 1975. The first library ;opened at Fairfield and Bloomingdale roads in that same year.
The year of the bicentennial brought more changes. The death of George Bender on February 8 ended the family ownership of the village’s oldest hardware store. “Bloomingdale Grove” was renamed “Meacham’s Grove.” A special census that year showed that the village had a population of 9,934. Its new village hall opened on Valentine’s Day, 1977. Three shopping centers were under construction or in the final stages of approval: Old Town Square (on top of the Indian Village), Springbrook, and Stratford Square.
The sesquicentennial of the Meachams’ arrival in the Township in 1983 brought a focus upon the history of the area. Old and new residents participated in the 150th Anniversary. Through tours, student government day, and a presentation of crafts called “The Way We Were” students learned about the village’s past. Old Town was revitalized through the renovation of historic buildings and construction of new replicas. It was a time to remember the past and look toward the future.
Thomas J. and Patti Lee Beckermann Perkins have lived in the Bloomingdale area since 1972; he has taught in that community’s Junior High during that time, she has been self-employed.