Shirley Stitt

In 1833 when the Ottawa, Chippewa and Potawatomi Indians ceded the last Indian-held land in Illinois to the U. S., Orente Grant staked his claim about eighteen miles west of Chicago in an area called Brush Hill, along the Southwest Trail, now Ogden Avenue. Orente’s father, brother, and other relatives soon joined him. In 1834 Orente and his brother constructed a tavern which they named Castle Inn. The new hotel was a stop on the stagecoach route to Ottawa, and was also used as the Brush Hill post office, with Grant as its first postmaster.

Benjamin Fuller of New York arrived in 1835. He brought his wife, parents, brothers and sisters. The large family was to become an important addition to the little community.

The continuous westward migration of new settlers led to the addition of another inn, the Grand Pacific Tavern. It opened to house overnight guests and newcomers to the area, who lodged there while building their homes. A corral was available for transient livestock. The fact that there were two taverns in such a small town is evidence of the density of the traffic that passed through.

In 1837 Nicholas Torode erected a sawmill on the Salt Creek. In 1839 lumber from this mill was used to build the first schoolhouse whose first teacher was Mary Fuller Van Velzer, a sister of Benjamin. She is said to have used two large dogs to protect her from wolves in walking to and from her classes. Her husband was Barto Van Velzer, the first keeper of the toll gate on the plank road.

As more people arrived, there were added a church, store, blacksmith, shoemaker, doctor and carpenter. A town was born. In 1851 Brush Hill was platted by Benjamin Fuller, who by then owned most of it, and the name was changed to Fullersburg.

From the 1874 Atlas & History of DuPage County, Illinois.

When Torode’s mill burned down, Frederick Graue built a water powered grist mill which was finished in 1852. Before the Civil War Graue let the mill be used as a hiding place for runaway slaves. When Fort Sumter was fired upon in 1861, Fullersburg set up a recruiting station in the school house and the fledgling community responded by sending ten men.

In 1854 Alfred L. Walker and his family arrived in Fullersburg from Vermont, and proceeded to buy from Benjamin Fuller 300 acres of land and the two taverns. A progressive farmer, Walker experimented with various farm produce, the preparation of meat, and the manufacture of cheese. His farm was considered a model farm by the Federal Government. It was also visited by Ineye Kat­sumasa, a Japanese student sent to learn American agriculture.

In 1858 civic leaders petitioned the Chicago, Burlington and Quincy Railroad to build a line into Chicago from Aurora, passing through their communities, including Fullersburg. Construction of the railroad began in October 1862, but it was hampered by the war, which caused a shortage of labor and scarcity of materials. Benjamin Fuller and Frederick Graue were among the petitioners for the new road. But the line was not run directly through their town because of engineering considerations. Thus the line was laid a mile to the south, through what was to become the village of Hinsdale.

In 1862 Loie Fuller was born in the stove heated barroom of Castle Inn, where her family had gone to escape the bitter cold. A niece of Benjamin Fuller, she became an internationally famous dancer, appearing before the Czar of Russia, the King of Belgium and the Kaiser. She was also a close friend of Queen Marie of Rumania. In France she was hailed as “LaBelle Loie.” It is surprising that many in her own birthplace have never even heard of her.

If anything can be said to have heralded Hinsdale’s modern era, it was the CB&Q. Concurrent with its arrival was that of William Robbins. Originally from New York state, he came to Illinois to enter the real estate business. He foresaw the potential of Chicago’s western suburbs. He realized the value of an area with a rural setting, yet close to the commercial and cultural advantages of a large city. The new railroad would act as the link.

With his objective established, he went to work. In 1865 Robbins platted the village, and in 1866 built a stone school, graded streets, and laid several well-located plank walks. In planting trees he alternated elms and maples, with the idea that the faster growing maples would be dying out when the elms reached maturity.

The petition for Hinsdale to become a village was dated August 1, 1872. Incorporation was approved in an election held on March 29, 1873. The village was incorporated April 3, 1873; but twenty-eight years later it was discovered that the village had never notified the proper state authorities to obtain a charter. It was finally acquired on September 17, 1901.

Judge Joel Tiffany, the first president of Hinsdale, was a lawyer and an author of works on law and religion. Tiffany’s Constitutional Law was once used as a text book in many colleges. He was also an inventor, patenting the Tiffany railroad refrigerator car. The cost of operating the town in 1873 was $410.00, with total tax receipts of $600.00.

Joel Tiffany. Courtesy Hinsdale Historical Society.

Until the 1890s water came from wells and cisterns; light, from coal oil lamps and candles; heat, from some early furnaces but mostly from barrel-shaped cast iron stoves, fireplaces, or kitchen ranges. Cows were kept in back yards, chickens were a familiar noise, and it was permissible to stable horses in the village. Hinsdale had no hard roads, sidewalks, electric lights, telephones, piped gas or public water systems until realizing that other towns were already enjoying some of these amenities.

In 1891 Hinsdale passed an ordinance providing for the issuance of bonds to cover a water pumping station, boiler house, and storage tower. The first road paving contracts for brick, wood block, and macadam were let in 1892, with numerous other improvements following in the next five years. The Hinsdale Electric Light Company commenced operation in 1896, the same year that street signs were installed. Telephone service started during the last years of the 1890s, piped gas, in 1903, and garbage incineration, in 1914.

Hinsdale had other things on its mind beside public improvements. In 1892, the Fresh Air Home began. Its purpose was to give underprivileged Chicago women and their children a chance to enjoy the country. This community project continued until 1920. Merchants, doctors and others donated goods or time, and the women of the town sent in hot meals daily. Over a hundred women and children were guests each summer.

In 1915 Alexander Legge, who was soon to be named President of International Harvester, purchased fifty two acres in an area south of Hinsdale to build a summer home for his wife Katherine. Before this had happened, she died; and in her memory Legge built instead a Club House Lodge, turning it over to the female employees of Harvester to use as a vacation retreat. The KLM (Katherine Legge Memorial) Association used it until 1973, when Hinsdale fell heir to it as a gift. Today the Lodge is used for wedding receptions, benefits, and meetings. The grounds are used for jogging, cross-country skiing, seasonal festivals and art shows. Its most popular use is for the series of outdoor concerts held each summer.

The Hinsdale Sanitarium, which was founded early in the century, had its tenuous beginnings in Judge Beckwith’s house, which was purchased by Dr. David Paulson in 1903. Now the Hinsdale Sanitarium and Hospital has 440 beds and a staff of 415 doctors.

Hinsdale Sanitarium and Hospital.

The first issue of the Hinsdale Doings was published in October of 1895. It still serves as the town’s weekly newspaper.

In 1899 the Hinsdale Club opened in the center of town; this was a turning point in the social life of the community. Meetings, dances, plays, lectures and bowling tournaments took place in the new facility. Old social clubs like the Cultivators, Baker’s Dozen, the Cinch Club, and the Archers and Equestrians were giving way to the Women’s Club, the new golf club and a tennis club. The churches had also become well established.

In 1923 the town celebrated its Golden Anniversary with a party in the high school gymnasium and a special edition of the Hinsdale Doings.

In that same year there was considerable discussion about a suitable war memorial; consequently, it was finally decided to erect a building to house village offices, the library and The American Legion. Efforts were organized to obtain land in the center of town. Philip R. Clarke undertook the task of raising funds. A total of $200,000 was collected in a community that had not previously exceeded $10,000 in any drive. The cornerstone was laid on Armistice Day 1927, and the dedication held on July 4, 1928. A statue by Oskar J. W. Hansen stands in the foyer.

Hinsdale Historical Museum.

In 1924 the Hinsdale Plan Commission was formed to create a master plan for the village and to suggest zoning ordinances. New housing areas were developed at this time. The remainder of Alfred Walker’s farm became Radcliffe Park, and a new subdivision, The Woodlands, was laid out east of County Line Road. The village population had reached 7,500. In 1934 Hinsdale adopted the caucus system of selecting candidates for village offices.

The town survived the first year of the Great Depression fairly well; but after another eighteen months, unemployment rose. In December 1930 there were few Christmas decorations; Morris Flower Shop advertised a bouquet of one dozen roses for 50 cents, delivered. Jigsaw puzzles were for rent at the Parker Shop. Cattle rustlers were active in the county for the first time in sixty years.

During World War II the Hinsdale railway station was used as a depot for the collection and distribution of clothing and dressings. It served all DuPage County and part of Cook. The village also helped in keeping the Chicago Service Men’s Centers supplied with food. Hinsdale’s per capita representation in the services for both world wars was high by national standards.

Post World War II Hinsdale has seen a variety of changes. These are evident in the size of the police force. In 1945 there were eleven officers. Today there are twenty five. The appearance of the village has changed considerably. Ten thousands elms were lost in 1955, the year of the onset of Dutch Elm disease. Still, about 4,000 survived, plus five new disease-immune saplings.

In the 1950s a new community house was built, while old Castle Inn was torn down despite a last-ditch effort to save it.

In 1958, through the interest of Mr. and Mrs. Eugene Kettering, a health museum was established in Hinsdale. It represents an innovation in the field of health, family living and sex education. Having outgrown its facilities and with financial support from the Ketterings ending in 1970, a new era began for the museum. With contributions from many sources and a substantial gift from Mr. Henry Crown, in memory of his son Robert, the Robert Crown Center for Health Education was established. In 1974 the Center moved into a new building. It now serves 120,000 children annually from the Chicago metropolitan area and surrounding states. Programs on environmental quality and drug abuse prevention have been added. In 1973 the Wholis­tic Health Center came to Hinsdale.

In 1963 the Historical Committee of the Friends of the Library was organized. Because of its preservation of memorabilia, all was in readiness for the start of the Hinsdale Historical Society, created as a result of the 1973 Centennial and newly housed in an 1873 dwelling. Interest has spread to Oak Brook where old Fullersburg stood. An effort is underway to create an Historical Gateway linking the two towns, including Graue Mill, the Ben Fuller house and old St. John’s Church. In 1979 the Ben Fuller Association was formed and is in the process of restoring the Fuller house, thought to be the oldest in the area.

After being abandoned for nearly forty years, Graue Mill was restored in 1950. Here one can see displays of an old country store and barn, several furnished rooms of the period, and demonstrations of spinning and weaving. Corn is freshly ground and corn meal sold. It is the only operating waterwheel gristmill in the State of Illinois.

The village has doubled its population since World War II, with 16,700 counted in the last census. Revamping and remodeling of houses is continuous since Hinsdale can expand no farther; it is locked in by other communities on all four sides.

Hinsdale reflects the times. Mobility has increased. The population has grown so that residents no longer recognize most others seen in the village.

There are remnants, however. One is the Oak Street bridge, built as a foot bridge in 1875, and made large enough for cars in 1910. But the oldest remnant is perhaps the most unheralded. Wedged between Jackson Street and Route 83, withstanding the exhaust of thousands of autos a day, is a small, tough patch of original prairie, a treasured souvenir of long ago.

The Author

Shirley Stitt has been a resident of Hinsdale since 1949, was active in forming the Historical Committee of the Friends of the Library, and currently serves as Chairman of Archives of the Hinsdale Historical Society.

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