The Civil War period in DuPage County, as for the whole nation, was a time of uprooting. The extent of that upheaval is reflected in the fact that 10 percent of the population, some 1,500 young men, served in the War Between the States. The percentage of farmers to leave the land for battle was even higher.

The character of the turmoil was reflected, too, in the closing of the Warrenville Academy and the Bloomingdale Academy and the near-demise of the newly established Wheaton College, as their enrollments were depleted. Even the Naperville Brass Band, founded in 1859 and forerunner of that community’s Municipal Band, suffered a loss of members.

Nevertheless, the same forces that caused disruption created new patterns of economic, political, and social life which transformed post-Civil War DuPage and America. While 10,000 field hands in Illinois were caught up in the conflict, the McCormick reaper more than offset that loss during the 1860s. Increasing productivity, in fact, made Illinois the center of the nation’s agricultural activity. The coming of the railroads not only bound the northern states together, but also provided the economic framework for the county’s development.

Prior to considering the war’s local impact, it is necessary to recognize the social ferment that had preceded the decade of the 1860s.


The Abolitionist movement was particularly strong in DuPage because virtually every church contributed to its strength. Among the Congregationalists, Israel and Avis Dodge Blodgett stand out as early promoters of the cause of Emancipation Their blacksmith shop and home on Maple Avenue in Downers Grove, once established, became one of the early stops on the Underground Railroad. The Underground Railroad was the system of hiding runaway slaves in the North and helping transport them to the Canadian border, where they could make a permanent escape.

Blodgett had once served as a military blacksmith at Harper’s Ferry and had, in that position, surreptitiously counseled blacks on how to escape by following the North Star and traveling only at night. Later in Illinois, when an owner who had captured two fugitives stopped and requested water for himself at the Blodgetts’, Avis responded by holding the cup to the mouths of the slaves instead.

Sympathy for runaway slaves. Avis Blodgett was a DuPage settler whose Abolitionist convictions led her to assist those who were caught by a bounty hunter. Art by Lester Schrader. Courtesy Naperville Heritage Society.

Likewise, Lucius Matlack, principal of the Illinois Institute, which had been founded in 1853, showed his Abolitionist conviction when he made his home available for runaways. The institute became Wheaton College in 1860 under the leadership of Jonathan Blanchard, a friend of the Beechers-Lyman, Edward, and Harriet Beecher Stowe. Previous connections with this prominent, activist family at Lane Seminary in Cincinnati and Knox College in Galesburg had prepared Blanchard for strong anti-slavery leadership in DuPage.

Blanchard also assumed the pastorate of the Wesleyan Methodist congregation. He combined it with local Congregationalists to form the First Church of Christ. Within seventy years that body divided three times. In 1862 the Wesleyans separated. In 1878 the First Church split into the First Congregational Church and the College Church of Christ over the issue of Freemasonry and secret societies. Because of its change in membership composition, the Congregational church became First Presbyterian Church in 1909. While College Church continues to the present, in 1929 a group from it formed the Wheaton College Interdenominational church, the Wheaton Bible Church of today. Each of these then could trace its origin to that antebellum Wesleyan church.

The Germans who had come to this country to escape the limitation of freedom contributed much to Abolitionism. The Churchville congregation was pastored from 1842 to 1847 by Francis Arnold (Franz) Hoffmann who, by the time of the Civil War, had become an attorney, helped organize the Republican party, and begun service as lieutenant governor of Illinois.

Francis A. (Franz) Hoffman.

The turning point in sentiment toward this support of liberation occurred in 1850 with the passage of the Fugitive Slave Act. This law stringently enforced penalties of $1,000 fines or six months in prison for harboring runaways. The legislation came as such a moral challenge to the people of DuPage that the means of hiding slaves became even more developed than before.

Most of the fugitives came into Illinois from Missouri and followed the rivers north. Along the West Branch of the DuPage River in the West Chicago area, a hideaway site was discovered in 1981 in the basement of what had been the John Fairbank’s home. This discovery was confirmed by a group of researchers from Northern Illinois University. Farther north, the home of the Guilds in Wayne Center was a well-known place of concealment.

Overland routes from west to east included stops at the William Strong’s, located on Aurora Road just east of Eola Road, at Blodgett’s home and blacksmith shop in Downers Grove, and also at Pierce Downer’s home just off today’s Ogden Avenue. The Graue Mill, north of Ogden on York Road, contains an exhibit illustrating its participation in the fugitive operation. Along St. Charles Road Thomas Filer’s home served as an ideal hiding place, as it lay adjacent to the East Branch of the DuPage River. A tunnel ran between the house and barn on this property, which was purchased in 1872 by Frederic Barnard. Farther east, where St. Charles crosses Grace Street, Sheldon Peck his as many as eleven runaways at a time in his home. His son Frank recalled conversations with the slaves from whom he learned a number of southern songs. This experience he reported to his daughter Alyce Mertz, who still lives at that location.

The Sheldon Peck Home. Courtesy Lombard Historical Society.

Glennette Turner, author of The Under­ground Railroad in DuPage County, Illinois, reports that once the slaves reached the Tremont Hotel in Chicago, the black barbers acted as conductors on the last leg of the trip to Detroit. After crossing into Canada at Wind­sor, they found certain areas provided for the establishment of black households.

Glenette Turner, authority on the Underground Railroad, at the Graue Mill.

An additional manifestation of fermenting sentiment was the establishment of the Plow Boys in Downers Grove. Prior to the election of Abraham Lincoln in 1860, this group of forty-five young men, riding on a massive wagon to neighboring towns with a great flag flying from a forty-foot pole, organized support for the new Republican party. They were to offer themselves as early recruits in the Civil War, once it began.


There were forty regiments served by men from DuPage, and $180,000 in bounties was raised. Four companies from the county, along with six from DeKalb, made up the 105th Infantry Regiment of Illinois Volunteers. The S. F. Daniel Company of Volunteers, the so-called Bryan’s Blues, had been funded largely by Thomas B. Bryan of Chicago and Elmhurst. He was also active in the war effort as the builder of Bryan Hall in Chicago, where mass meetings would be held.

Also directly involved in the conflict were those serving in the 7th Illinois Infantry, including Alan Bates of Wayne, a casualty at Shiloh, who had bought his own guns for $50 on a $13-a-month pay. Captain Walter Blanchard of Downers Grove served in Company K, 13th Illinois Volunteer Infantry, having left his position as a probate judge. He was killed in action at Chattanooga, Tennessee. Marcellus Jones, a resident first of Danby (Glen Ellyn) and later of Wheaton, was purportedly the first to fire at Gettysburg.

An offspring of one of the original German settlers in Addison Township, Frederick Fischer, enlisted as a nineteen-year-old in 1861 and participated in all the battles of Company B. 33rd Regiment, including the Siege of Vicksburg. His parents sent him a folding chair made by an Addison Township cabinetmaker; he carried it, strapped to his blanket roll wherever his company marched.

Describing the conditions and actions of these young men was Benjamin Franklin Taylor from DuPage County; he became an internationally known war correspondent. His stories were distributed to both national and overseas newspapers. He had taught briefly at the Warrenville Academy prior to the Civil War; then he became a correspondent for the Chicago Evening Journal, writing letters from Union camps, including the names of the young men whom he had visited at their campfires. After the war he dedicated a book of his collected correspondence entitled In Camp and Field to his friend Thomas B. Bryan, with whom he commuted into the city on the Chica­go & North Western Railroad. The London Times called Taylor “the Oliver Goldsmith of America.” His house at 203 East Seminary in Wheaton is still referred to today as “Poet’s Corner,” a fitting tribute to this man whom latter-day commentators have referred to as “the Ernie Pyle of the Civil War,”

Roselle Hough, a resident of Bloomingdale Township and a founder of Union Stock Yards in Chicago, also served in the Union army. When the body of the assassinated president was brought to Chicago, Hough served as grand marshal of the funeral parade.

Another to distinguish himself in the war was William Plum, Born in 1845 in Ohio, he excelled as a telegrapher and was one of only three to hold the secret cipher that coordinated the Union campaigns. Later, after finishing a law degree at Yale, he moved to Babcock’s Grove (Lombard) in 1867, whence he commuted into his city office. He and his wife Helen traveled extensively; they brought to Lombard over 200 species of lilac bushes and thus began what is today Lilacia Park.

The final person to be noted in this sequence of Civil War participants was one whose life stretched across that era into the next, one who was prototypical of nineteenth-century forces. T. S. Rogers, the son of pioneer Joseph Ives Rogers, came as a teenager from St. Lawrence County, New York in 1844. At nineteen he was teaching school in present-day Glen Ellyn for $13 a month. In 1851 he began farming in Downers Grove and in 1856 became involved in Republican politics. He was captain of the Plow Boys and an original Lincoln supporter in 1860. He enlisted in Company B, 105th Illi­nois Volunteer Infantry in 1862, having or­ganized the first company of one hundred men in DuPage for service in the war. Before it ended he had participated in Sherman’s March to the Sea. Upon his return home, he served as the county sheriff until 1866, then as the president of the board of trustees of Downers Grove. That same year he went into the meat business in Chicago, subsequently suffering the loss of his property in the Great Fire. He quickly reestablished his enterprise and continued in it for another thirty-eight years. By 1890 he was involved in a lawsuit with E. H. Prince, the land developer of the century’s last decade, which led to the condemnation of Roger’s Downers Grove property in opening up Main Street north of the Burlington tracks. This railroad and land development were the harbingers of a new age, which had followed the signing of the Treaty at Appomattox.

105th Illinois Volunteers on Lookout Mountain DuPage soldiers include Willard Scott of Naperville far left; Theodore S Rogers of Downers Grove, far right.


It is ironical that the first engine to bring trains into DuPage was called The Pioneer. For this newest product of mid-nineteenth century technology marked the end of the pioneer era.

Pioneer at Cottage Hill Station. Courtesy Elmhurst Historical Society.

The originally projected route had been from Elmhurst, where Gerry Bates had given the right-of-way adjacent to his store, continuing through Lombard, with plans calling for its following St. Charles Road. However, the Wheaton brothers entertained Galena & Chicago Union (G&CU) Railroad president William Ogden in Jesse’s home in 1848 and promised the right-of-way land without cost, thus winning a more southerly route for the line. They were joined in their offer by Erastus Gary, who had moved to Wheaton in that same year.

Thus the development of what became Glen Ellyn, Wheaton, Winfield, and West Chicago was assured. As the G&CU track was laid through today’s Winfield in 1849, John Hedges built the first depot and post office. In 1854 the railroad built a station, briefly called Warren, showing the influence of Julius War­ren in the Winfield area. The Besch family owned Hedges’ home from 1897-1977; then it was moved to its current location on north Winfield Road.

In West Chicago John B. Turner, president of the G&CU, platted the twenty-two acres, the first in the community he called Junction, because the Burlington and the St. Charles Branch line joined the G&CU at this location.

The town was later called Turner, after him. In 1857 William Currier (related to the Currier and Ives lithographers) built the Gone With the Wind-style house, subsequently occupied by Congressman Chauncey Reed. Comparable economic activity was also evident in Babcock’s Grove, newly organized and named Lombard in 1868 after developer Josiah Lombard, who had bought the property of Reuben Mink.

By 1864, because of cooperation between communities in the southern part of the country, the Burlington track was laid from Aurora through Naperville, Lisle, Downers Grove, and Hinsdale. The families from Fullersburg had hoped to have the line extend through that community, but the grade to the east was an insurmountable forty feet; therefore the road­bed followed the valley between hills to the south, through what is now the center of Hinsdale.

The man to anticipate that direction was William Robbins of Chicago, who had previously gone to California during the Gold Rush. Upon his return he purchased 800 acres from Alfred Walker, including the right-of-way for the incoming Burlington. The platting of land was opposed by area farmers who saw it as a threat to their established pattern; but eventually they accepted the iron horse as inevitable.

William Robbins. Courtesy of Hinsdale Historical Society.

To the east of DuPage the problem of laying the railroad bed was complicated by what were called “The Flats.” The ground between Hinsdale and today’s Western Springs was so marshy that the first train sank eleven feet into the bog. Engines had to be brought in from both sides to lift it, so that the roadbed could be filled.

Other aspects of economic growth besides the railroad included the A. S. Jones Plow Company and Stenger Brewery in Naperville. There were also the enterprises of Ernst Von Oven, who had immigrated in 1852 after his two sisters had married the Hammerschmidt brothers, Adolph and Herman. Following the Civil War, Von Oven purchased the Martin and King Tile and Brick Works, which soon expanded rapidly because of the new use of field tile to drain wetlands in the Midwest. Within fifteen years one million tiles were being produced annually. Ernst’s real love, however, was the Naperville Nurseries, established in 1866 and operated until 1918. He brought this interest from his native Westphalia where trees and shrubs ornament both elegant and modest homes.

Martin and Von Oven Brick & Tile Works. Art by Lester Schrader. Courtesy Naperville Heritage Society.

Adolph Hammerschmidt began in this same period to purchase quarry sites in Lombard and in Elmhurst, while having his son William develop the tile and brick business in Lombard as well. The Elmhurst site became the Elm­hurst and Chicago Stone Company. In the twentieth century these holdings have expanded to locations in Greene Valley and Warrenville. This family’s enterprise indicates how influential the German population had become during the Civil War era.


The 1850 census showed that out of a population of 9,290 there were 2,553 United States-born residents eighteen years or older in the county and 1,859 foreign-born. Of those from abroad the German population numbered 878, the largest single group, not including the 200 German-speaking persons from the Alsace-Lorraine region of France. Next in number were 354 from Ireland.

The 1860 figures show 4,672 foreign-born out of a total of 14,701, with 2,680 from Germany. That comparison indicates how the growth of German population accelerated during the period just prior to the Civil War.

Factors at work from earlier in the nineteenth century accounted for this dramatic immigration pattern. One was the economic disruption following the Battle of Waterloo in 1815. Promotional literature like Gottfried Ouden’s travel narratives, painting a rosy picture of the Middle West, led John Glos, Jr., to bring his family from Bavaria to York Township. The liberalizing movement in Germany had been thwarted in 1830 and again in 1848. After the latter aborted uprising, the Hammerschmidt brothers left. The potato famine in Ireland also had its counterpart on the continent. Conscription of young German men into the military for long terms of service provided still another impetus for emigration, as was the case with Franz Hoffmann. As a result DuPage had a variety of German groups arriving.

The northeastern corner of the county was settled primarily by those from Protestant northern Germany; those from Prussia were mostly of the Reformed faith while those from Hannover were Lutheran. In 1838 the German United Reformed Lutheran Church was formed in the Churchville area of today’s Bensenville. The name was later changed to Zion. The Reformed group established its own Emmanuel Church in the same vicinity in 1859. Zion served as the founding church for Lutheran congregations within a ten-mile radius. St Paul’s in Addison, St. Luke’s in Itasca, Trinity Church in York Center, Immanual in Elmhurst, and Calvary in Wood Dale were among the offshoots.

Zion Lutheran Parish, Church Road ⁠— Bensenville, Ill.

Immigrants from southern Germany and Alsace-Lorraine settled in Lisle and Naperville townships. SS. Peter and Paul Church, as previously noted, was composed primarily of immigrant families from Alsace-Lorraine, although its first pastor was Italian (Father Raphael Rainaldi), its first wedding French (Beaubien), and its first baptism Irish (Wheeler). The second Catholic church was to start in the southern part of Bloomingdale and the northern part of Milton townships. St. Stephen’s began in 1852 in the pioneer community of Gretna, at the end of Main Street and St. Charles Road, in today’s Carol Stream. It continued as a mission church until its closing in 191 l. A church that has continued, however, is St. John the Baptist in Winfield, organized in 1867, with its first pastor, Father John Wiederhold, serving from 1869 to 1921. It is significant that there was no Catholic church in Addison until 1913, a sign of how the patterns of settlement persisted until a relatively late date.

One family who typified these waves of settlers was the Dieters. The first of the group to come from Kleinhausen in Hess Dormstadt was Valentine Dieter Sr., who arrived in 1846, just in time to become a charter member of the Naperville parish. He farmed near Belmont and Hobson Road. His grandson Valentine Dieter Jr. became Naperville’s mayor at the turn of the century. Meanwhile, the Nicholas Dieters arrived in 1854, and by 1867 had mortgaged their farm at the Bloomingdale­-Winfield township line to help start the St. John parish.

Fischer Mill.

While the Catholic German settlers tended toward farming, their Protestant counterparts were engaged in more commercial ventures. Among these were the four “Dutch Windmills” that once graced the DuPage landscape. These grinders of flour/feed and sharpeners of tools included the Fischer Mill, previously mentioned and the only one left standing in DuPage County. It was constructed by Dutch workmen at Grand Avenue and County Line Road. The Old Holland Mill in York Center was completed by Louis Backhaus in 1851, purchased by Colonel Fabyan in 1918, and moved to his Fox River estate, now part of a Kane County forest preserve. The Holstein Mill in Bloomingdale, south of Schick Road, was destroyed by a tornado in 1899. The largest, Heidemann Mill in Addison, had a wing span of ninety feet; fire destroyed it in 1958.

It was also from Holland that the Germans borrowed the Christmas custom of St. Nicholas gift giving and combined it with their own Tannenbaum festivities. In marked contrast, those of Puritan background held to the strictures against Yuletide celebrating; Wheaton College President Jonathan Blanchard required class attendance on Christmas Day. This practice, however, did not long endure.


What has continued, however, is the New England pattern of townships. The year 1850 marked the transition from pioneer governmental structures as the nine townships were established in DuPage. This development was the result of former Connecticut Yankee Warren Wheaton’s efforts when he was a state legislator from 1848-1850.

The other major change of this period was moving the county seat from Naperville to Wheaton. An initial attempt in 1857 to relocate to Wheaton’s more central and rail ­serviced location was defeated. A second effort in 1867 succeeded, with the referendum carrying 1,686 to 1,635.

Naperville, however, refused to turn over the records. The transfer, therefore, necessitated a midnight raid in which a contingent of Civil War veterans from Wheaton seized the records from the old court house. When the men were making their escape, the alarm was sounded. A few books were dropped. These were taken into Chicago for safekeeping, but were consumed in the Great Fire.

Nocturnal seizure. Wheatonites confiscate county records from court house in Naperville in 1868. Art by Lester Schrader. Courtesy Naperville Heritage Society.

The governmental move to Wheaton also caused Naperville’s plank road to lose out to the railroad. By the time the planks had warped and had been discarded, the mainstream of public life had already shifted to the towns along the G&CU. The mail, for instance, had to be brought to Naperville by way of the train station at Winfield; at this point it was transferred to stagecoach and taken down Winfield Road through Warrenville. The mail route in Downers Grove depended upon a comparable service from Lombard, until the Burlington line was finally completed in 1864.

A final aspect of the governmental evolution was establishment, in 1856, of the state requirement for public education. Previously, schools had operated on a subscription basis. Typical of these was the Churchville School across from the Zion Lutheran Church. It was built in 1850 for eight grades and one teacher on land donated by August Fischer. After its conversion to a public school, it continued in use until 1931. The Naperville Academy, built in 1851, became a public school in 1860; the building stood until 1928. Gleaner’s Hall(now the Pleasant Hill School) was erected in 1852, just to the west of the cemetery on Geneva Road, where Revolutionary War veteran Gideon Warner had been buried nine years earlier.

Churchville School. Art by H. Gilbert Foote.

In the mid-nineteenth century the school year lasted six months; during the other half children could work on farms. Teachers were paid at the rate of $20 to $40 a month. Young men often found teaching a stepping stone to other vocations. For example, Myron Dudley taught in Addison in 1853 and later became a judge.

It is also significant that the 1850 census shows only three teachers in the county. This low number resulted from women’s vocations not being counted in the census, a practice corrected in the 1860s.

The 1850 census did, however, show Clarissa Hobson to be the wealthiest individual in DuPage with $18,000 in property value. Her husband, Bailey, had died that year. His de­mise was yet another sign of transition from the pioneer era. In contrast, the wealthiest person in the 1860 census was Thomas B. Bryan of Elmhurst; his real estate was valued at $300,000 and his personal property at $25,000. He represented the gathering forces of modernity in post Civil War DuPage.

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