Anita Elbe and Eisenhower Junior High Social Studies Department
The first group to settle in the Darien vicinity traveled from the New England states by water, using the Erie Canal and the Great Lakes. They settled along an old stage coach route which is now roughly I-55. Among the first to arrive was Thomas Andrus. Andrus was born in Vermont in 1801, and first came to Chicago in 1833. He worked, driving oxen teams and helping on construction jobs. He went back to Vermont and returned to Illinois in 1835 with his second wife Melissa and three children from his first marriage.
Andrus decided that it would be a good idea to build an inn for travelers on the Ottawa stage coach line. Each day fifteen coaches traveled the line. The spot he chose for his inn was at the entrance to today’s Carriage Way subdivision, on the North Frontage Road near the intersection of Cass Avenue and I-55. He planted a tree next to his inn, which included a tavern and a post office, and named the area Cass. The tree he planted was felled to build the stone entrance to Carriage Way.
Andrus’ inn was a busy place. He even held dances in his dining room. Andrus was elected to several government positions, including that of justice of the peace. However, Melissa did not like the fact that people attending court sessions would spit tobacco juice on her living room carpet; so Andrus did not seek reelection as justice of the peace. He also served as the town clerk, as assessor and as a county commissioner. Andrus’ son, Edgar, born in 1835, is believed to be the first child born in this area. The boy rode his horse each day to the Illinois and Michigan Canal and swam across it to get the mail for his father.
One of the early needs of a pioneer community was for a church. With Thomas Andrus’ help The Rev. Stephen Beggs established the Cass Methodist Episcopal Church on the North Frontage Road east of the Andrus property. Beggs traveled back and forth from Plainfield to Chicago. He was a circuit riding minister, serving more than one church. He wanted the Cass church built because he felt the ride between Plainfield and Chicago was too great a distance to cover in one day. The Cass Methodist Episcopal Church was a log cabin. Its cemetery, located west of the church, can still be seen today.
Beggs was a very colorful person. He wrote a book titled Pages from the Early History of the West and Northwest. He was six feet tall and weighed over two hundred pounds. He had a reputation for being the strongest man in the entire county. According to one account, he preached so loud that he could be heard from a distance of three blocks. The church was also used by the community as a schoolhouse, the first school in Cass.
Elisha Smart and his wife Eliza arrived in 1838. Elisha had come to America from England in 1825.The Smarts settled on a farm located between the Cass church and Andrus’ inn. They had ten children, eight of whom lived. In 1853 after gold had been discovered in California, Elisha got “gold fever” and left for California to strike it rich. He left Eliza and their children to take care of the farm. At the time he left, their oldest daughter was fourteen, their oldest son was eleven, and their youngest child, Josephine, only a year old.
Elisha did strike it rich in the California gold fields and returned to the Cass community seven years later a very wealthy man. When he returned he bought more land Elisha’s brother, William, came in 1839 and married Eliza Smart’s sister Mary. They had five children. William donated the land on which a new Cass church was built in 1870. Elisha donated money to build the church. The Smart families are buried in the Cass Cemetery.
Among other early settlers were John and Hannah Oldfield, who came in 1850. Mr. Oldfield raised cattle, increasing his land holdings from forty to 2,000 acres. James B. Mackie came to America from Scotland, and moved to Cass in 1857. He lived with his uncle John Mackie. James married Elizabeth Dunn of Cass in 1864. Charles and Catherine Austin came to Cass in 1848, becoming farmers and operating a nursery and orchard. During the Civil War Charles served in the Illinois Volunteer Infantry.
Franklin Blanchard was one of Cass’ few businessmen. He operated a cheese factory or creamery, which was located on Plainfield Road. Franklin was born in Cass in 1838, two years after his family had arrived. He opened the cheese factory in 1881. Both Franklin and his father served in the Illinois Volunteer Infantry in the Civil War.
Abram Wells was a Cass farmer who also served in the Civil War. His wife Abigail had ten children from her first marriage, only one of whom, John Pitcher, lived beyond childhood. Pioneer families often had to face the death of a child.
Martin B. Madden was an Irish immigrant who came to the Cass area in the late 1800s. He was an orphan and had no family in the area. He went to work as a mule driver on the Illinois and Michigan Canal. He caught his leg in a tow rope and injured it so badly that it had to be amputated. Madden had to stop working on the canal because it was too difficult for him to do physical work. After living in Chicago, where he became involved in politics, he was elected to the House of Representatives. When he married Josephine Smart, her family gave the couple property on which to build a home. Congressman Madden liked to do things in a grand way; so he built his home in 1903 to look like the White House in Washington, D.C. He called it Castle Eden.
After Madden’s death in 1913, the mansion served as a restaurant for a while. Following a period of vacancy, the Carmelite Order of the Roman Catholic Church purchased it and forty acres around it in 1959. Today Castle Eden is part of the Aylesford Retreat Center of the Carmelite Fathers. Many of the original Smart family farm buildings still remain on the property, including the original farm house, built in 1838.
Parallel to the growth of Cass was that of the Lace community to the north. A group of German Lutherans came to this area in the 1840s. In 1859 they purchased three acres of land at 67th and Clarendon Hills Road for $30.00. During that summer they built the first St. John’s Lutheran Church on this property and laid out the cemetery behind the church. In 1899 a new church was built on the northeast corner of 75th Street and Cass Avenue. In 1969 the second church was torn down and the present St. John’s Church was built on the west side of Cass Avenue north of 75th Street.
By the 1860s the Lace community had also established a school of the northwest corner of the intersection of Cass Avenue and 75th Street. This school was the first Lace School.
The people in the Lace community did well, and by the 1890s the village of Lace was established. The most important location for the Lace community was the triangle of land bordered by Cass Avenue, Plainfield Road and 75th Street. This location was called “The Point.” The town hall, which was called Lace Hall, was located here. There was also by 1884, a general store, a blacksmith shop and a post office.
There are two versions of how the Lace community got its name. One is that 1880s storeowner John Keig named the postal station for his grandmother, Mrs. Tom Lace. The other version is that Gainsburg, the next owner, was asked to come up with a four letter name to identify the area for mail delivery. He looked up in his store and saw a bolt of lace on a shelf and named the community Lace.
Among Darien’s oldest residents is Malinda Anderman Wehrmeister. Her grandparents, Fred and Sophia Anderman, came from Hanover, Germany, in the 1850s. Her parents owned farm property in Lace. In fact, Eisener Junior High School is built on land once owned by the Andermans.
For a long time the Cass and Lace communities had little contact with each other. They were divided by different backgrounds, languages and religions. The people of Cass were closer to the people of Lemont. Slowly the name Cass began to fade and the name Lace became better known. Eventually, the Cass mailing address disappeared and Lace began appearing on local maps.
In the 1860s the Burlington Northern Railroad laid its tracks north of Lace. This slowed the growth of the community. Several Irish Catholic families, however, left Ireland and settled south of Lace near what is today Argonne National Laboratory. When the Illinois and Michigan Canal stopped carrying trade, most of the Lace residents became farmers.
The area remained a quiet farm community until the period following World War II. Then people who were living in Chicago were able to move to the suburbs because of the availability of automobiles and improved roads. Many of the Lace farmers had been struggling to keep their farms profitable. Instead of continuing that struggle, many of them decided to sell their land to developers to be divided into home sites. The first two subdivisions built were Marion Hills and Brookhaven, followed by Clairfield and Hinsbrook. As more people moved into the area, businesses were established to meet the needs of a growing population. Many farmers were sad to see fields of wild asparagus paved over, or fruit trees ripped out to make way for the new construction.
For a while the remaining farmers and the newcomers did not get along; nor did the four subdivisions. Finally, in the 1960s the four subdivisions decided to merge, lest each subdivision become a part of a surrounding town. Also, many tired of depending on the county for police protection and road maintenance. In December 1969, the city of Darien was incorporated.
The name Darien was chosen after Major Sam Kelly had returned from a visit to Darien, Connecticut. Because he thought it a pleasant town, he suggested naming the new community after it. His idea was accepted. The flag for Darien, Illinois, is blue and white, with four stars representing the four subdivisions that united to form it.
The Darien Historical Society was formed in 1976 to preserve the local history. Shortly after it was founded, the society acquired the use of Old Lace School as its museum. The first Lace School burned down in 1924; the present building is the second one. It was the only school in the area until Marion Hills School was built in 1951. As District 61 grew, a new Lace School was built in 1957, next to the old one. The school district still used the old building, however. It continued as a band room until 1968. In 1969, when Darien became a city, Old Lace School became the first City Hall. It served for municipal functions until 1970, after which it was the police station until 1972. During that time the girls’ washroom became a jail to hold troublemakers until the deputies of the DuPage County Sheriff could arrive.
In the 1930s Erwin Freund, a wealthy Chicago industrialist, and his wife Rosalyn bought 200 acres of land in the southeastern part of DuPage County to build a summer home. He was the first person to own a patent on casing for sausage. Mr Freund also loved the story of Alice in Wonderland, by Lewis Carroll. He named his estate Tulgey Woods after the woods in that story. Three miles of bark trails wandered through the estate. Carved wooden figures of Alice in Wonderland characters were placed along these. In 1941 the Freunds arranged to have seven white deer brought to the estate. Over 300 descendants of these deer still remain here.
In 1946 the United States government began acquiring over 1,000 acres of land, including the Freund property, to build Argonne National Laboratory, a nuclear research laboratory. In 1973 most of the Argonne property was transferred to the DuPage County Forest Preserve for public parks and recreation purposes. Today it is the Waterfall Glen Forest Preserve.
Argonne, Lace and Cass together define the Darien vicinity, with its history of interest both to present and future generations.
Anita Elbe was a member of the Darien Bicentennial Commission, has prepared a history of the local school district, and has developed a slide presentation for use in the community.