Joyce M. Usher
The history of Itasca is inseparable from that of Elijah J. Smith. Its origin, therefore, must begin with his story.
Elijah J. Smith was born in Morristown, New Jersey, on May 8, 1815. Young Smith attended lectures at the College of Physicians and Surgeons in New York City and received a diploma on June 25, 1838. His health was not good. Friends in the profession advised him to leave his Boston medical practice and locate west, in a more agreeable climate. In May 1841 he set out to find a suitable site for doctoring, farming and raising a family.
Smith took a train to Detroit, then boat passage to the new city of Chicago, which was filled with land speculators and promoters. He bought a horse, saddle and saddlebags, and headed toward DuPage County, established two years earlier. Elijah selected an unclaimed eighty acres of high rolling prairie with a creek running through. His parchment government land title, dated March 10, 1843, was signed by John Tyler, President of the United States. The document gave Smith title to the land that is now bounded by railroad tracks on the south, Maple Street on the west, Cherry Street on the east and Division Street on the north.
The doctor returned to the East, settled his affairs, and brought his wife back to DuPage County, building a small house in 1843. In 1845 he bought his second parcel, 80 acres that increased his land holdings to a quarter section of land. The first parcel was $1.25 an acre. His second parcel was $5.00 an acre. The deed was dated October 9, 1845.
Smith’s wife Jane died in May 1846. They had no children. In 1850 he married Mary Allen. He tore down the small house and built a ten-room home that provided not only living quarters but also a doctor’s office and reception room. The couple had two sons and adopted one daughter.
In addition to a medical practice for the surrounding farm area, Smith started a dairy business and farmed. He had a large barn built from timbers cut and hauled from Elk Grove. They were hand hewn and fastened together with wooden pegs.
The post office that first served the area and the official map name that designated the cluster of farms surrounding the postal area was called Bremen. The post office was established in 1846 with Augustus Eddy as the first postmaster. In May 1850 the name was changed to Pierce in honor of Smith D. Pierce, who was postmaster from 1 848 to 1864. Again the name changed, this time to Sagone, and the post office was in A. G. Chessman’s home. In 1873 Chessman moved into Itasca, and the post office was temporarily located in the corner of his cheese box factory.
In that same year, the post office name was recorded as Ithica. Handwritten reports had probably caused the misspelling, because one month later, October 21, 1873, the post office and the community were recorded as Itasca. Early residents who knew the Smiths were interviewed for Itasca’s first history, This Is Itasca, written in 1965. They substantiated the story that the name was selected after the doctor and his wife visited Lake Itasca in Minnesota. The Smiths so enjoyed both the trip and the name that they selected it for their settlement.
In the 1860s the first school was built. It was a small wooden structure with one room. The building was located on a site near the present First Presbyterian Church. In 1 869 the Eddy family came from Limestone, New York. They settled on the farm that is now owned by the Mahler family on West Irving Park Road Miss Carrie Eddy had taught in today’s Roselle and Bloomingdale area before she and her family moved back to New York State. H. F. Lawrence was in charge of securing a teacher for the Itasca school. Discipline was lacking and Lawrence wanted to hire a teacher he felt capable of restoring order. He wrote to Carrie Eddy in 1876 and persuaded her to return and teach. Three years later Carrie became Mrs. H. F. Lawrence.
In 1873 Smith platted eighty acres of his land The Chicago and Pacific Railroad was completed from Chicago to Elgin, with stations at Bensenville, Wooddale (called Lester) and Itasca. Smith gave the right-of-way to encourage location of the tracks through the settlement, He also donated $400 to help build a station.
In 1872 Ernst Schroeder moved to Itasca. The following year he set up a blacksmith shop. He invented the Schroeder plow, a potato planter, and a bobsled coupler. The Schroeder shop was located on the triangle of land now bordered by East Irving Park Road and South Walnut Street, Schroeder’s patent was sought by such farm manufacturers as the John Deere Company. The blacksmith preferred to make his equipment by hand, refused to consider dealing with the “giants” of the farm equipment industry, and thus his inventions went relatively unnoticed. Another blacksmith, Henry Droegemueller, located across from Schroeder on the east side of Elgin Road. Old timers tell that in clear weather the clanging of anvils could be heard for miles around Droegemueller also built wagons and carriages.
Mary Allen Smith died in 1874. Some years prior to her death, her sister, Jennette, had become a widow. She moved from Texas to live at the Smith house. After Mary’s death, Elijah married Jennette. They had no children. Elijah lived until December 7, 1888.
The Chicago and Pacific Railroad became “insolvent,” as bankruptcy was then termed. In 1879 the road went into the hands of the Chicago, Milwaukee and St. Paul Railroad, a newly formed corporation combining several roads.
Edwin Nichols, the conductor of the Itasca Accommodation train, was a religious man who wanted to give Itascans some form of religious service. He held Sunday school classes in the railway coach as it stood on the siding on Sunday. On July 23, 1885, Nichols and 26 other residents submitted a petition to the Presbytery of Chicago requesting permission to organize the First Presbyterian Church of “Itaska.” On land donated by Jennette A. Smith the first church in Itasca was built.
The citizens of Itasca decided in 1890 to incorporate into a village. At a meeting at his mill, A. G. Chessman was elected the first village president. Irving Park Road was first called the Chicago and Elgin Road At an 1891 village board meeting the name was changed to Elgin Avenue.
Many unemployed began to follow the railroad tracks in the 1890s. They were termed tramps then, and the problem caused the village board to decide to build a“ calaboose” or jail, and appropriate sums to provide daily food at a cost of 15 cents per inmate.
Dr. Smith had launched the community. Dr. A. R Solenberger served on the first village board. Another doctor moved into Itasca in 1906 who would also contribute much to the village. He was G. F. Schroeder who, besides ministering to the physical needs of the community, served eight years as village trustee and twelve years as village president, He also found time to be president of the Lions Club.
The spire which is Itasca’s most familiar landmark graces the top of what was formerly the Lutheran Church of St Luke. This edifice was erected in 1907 by builder Fred Westendorf. Pastor Frederick Zersen served the congregation for thirty-eight years. Church services were in German. It was not until 1926 that English services were held twice a month. German was also taught in the church school.
By 1905 the dairy industry was flourishing in the county. Two milk shipments were made by train to Chicago each day. H. H. Geils bought a cheese and butter factory from Herman Wilk. The factory could process 2,000 pounds of milk daily. Geils also organized a corporation called “The Homer Squab Farm Co.,” raising some 1,300 squabs each year for the Chicago markets.
Until 1916 there was no bank in Itasca, Herman H. Franzen took deposits for village residents to the Roselle Bank each morning, making the trip regularly on the 9:00 a. m. train. In 1916 two banks opened within weeks of each other. The Itasca State Bank had as its president H. F. Lawrence. The cashier was Elmer H. Franzen. The second bank was called the Dairyman’s Bank of Northern Illinois, and was opened by F. N. Peck. Peck opened a total of four banks, but the Depression forced him to close them all. The Franzen banks in Itasca, Roselle, and Fox Lake were sound throughout the hard times of the 1920s, and emerged successfully from the Depression.
Telephone service had come to Itasca in 1899. Electricity was first installed in some homes in 1923. The bustling community soon gained another facility. The Itasca Country Club was opened in the spring of 1925.
A jovial, well-liked postmaster named George Pfaff gave pleasure to the youngsters when he dreamed up the idea of bicycle races. There was one difference between these races and conventional ones: in his, the youngsters rode as slowly as possible without losing their balance.
The rural village of the 1800s and early 1900s retained its atmosphere until the 1940s. A new word then began to enter the American vocabulary: suburb. The influence of the city increased as population increased Commuting daily to the Loop became the routine for many of the village wage earners.
During the 1940s all village services were performed by two men. Frank Franzen was police chief; Carl A. Hanck was village clerk and policeman from 1945 to 1961. These men policed the village, read water meters, served as building inspectors, supervised the water system and pumping station, kept village records, maintained the sewage disposal plant and repaired the village streets. The population was 799 in 1950. There was little crime. The streets were waste oil over gravel.
By 1982 the population had grown to 7,129. Annexations had resulted in fifty miles of village streets, more parks, and two industrial areas to serve. Providing safety and service as population increased required the establishment of departments of public works, of sewer and water, of building and police. A park district, a library district, and a fire district were formed.
High school students from Itasca attended Bensenville’s Fenton High School and Glenbard High School, a combined Glen Ellyn-Lombard school. A high school district, District 108, was organized in 1953. Lake Park High School, with students from Itasca, Roselle, Medinah, Keeneyville and Bloomingdale, opened in September, 1956.
Shopping centers were first introduced to the area with Bensenville’s Green Meadow Shopping Center. Village residents with shopping needs that could not be met in Itasca or in Green Meadows traveled to the Loop, Elmhurst or Elgin. Shopping centers moved closer to the village from all directions during the 1950s and 1960s. A small cluster of stores was constructed at Irving Park Road and Route 53. Apartments were constructed. An industrial area was planned near the Route 53 and Irving Park Road intersection. The changing face of the community did not occur without protest Loud disagreement from many residents followed the announcement of the plan to initiate each change. Apartments and industry were the most opposed features of change.
Modern industry was foreign to Itasca until 1961 when Central Manufacturing District (CMD) bought about 400 acres on the western edge of the village. An industrial park was established and such national companies as Continental Can and FMC soon moved in. Industry was limited to light manufacturing, distribution and warehouse facilities.
In 1970 the Itasca Industrial Park was established to the east of the village and attracted many more industries. These two industrial parks, in addition to providing a tax base for the community, also necessitated support services.
In 1973 the I-90 express highway to Chicago was now less than a mile away. During non-rush hours, it was possible to drive from Itasca to the Loop in twenty minutes, previously an hour’s trip.
Anvan Corporation built a Holiday Inn on Irving Park east of Route 53. The building was of modular construction, the first such hotel in the nation to be built in this manner. Each room, stairway, corridor, and utility room was completed at an Elk Grove factory. Fully completed rooms, including carpeting, furniture, towels and pictures were sealed in plastic, delivered to the site, stacked and locked in place. The hotel opened in April 1972.
In 1969 Carson Pine Scott purchased Nordic Hills Country Club. Two ten-story tower hotel buildings were constructed adjacent to the eighteen-hole golf course. In 1973 the Carson Inn/Nordic Hills facility was annexed to the village.
In October 1979 Trammel Crow Company of Texas broke ground for Hamilton Lakes. A 420-room Stouffer Hotel and a ten-story office building, completed in 1981, constituted the first phase of the project situated on seventy-five acres on the northwest edge of Itasca A sixteen-story office building was added to the complex in 1984.
In 1966 the village purchased sixty acres of land south of Irving Park Road. This established a green belt area to insure both open space and water retention. The area was the site of heavy flooding periodically from Spring Brook. In 1968 the Spring Brook Nature Center was formed In 1980 a small barn on the property was expanded to become a museum, classroom, and living quarters for a naturalist. Nature trails were built and joint supervision of the Center was formulated by the village, the park and school districts. The three-fold purpose of the Center is recreation, education and flood control. In 1983 the State approved a $6.7 million grant for the development of a Spring Brook flood prevention reservoir.
Drinking water supplied by shallow wells is predicted to be in short supply. The long-range water supply by Lake Michigan water seemed a solution, but the high cost of participation for the small community caused the village board in 1982 to reject participation in the project until affordable funding could be found.
An inadequate sewage treatment system plagued the community development for most of the 1970s and into the 1980s. An upgraded sewage treatment plant, to handle the community’s needs for twenty years of expansion, is scheduled for construction in 1985.
A Master Plan, adopted in 1965, continues to guide the community into its future. Itasca in 1984 also continues to control its development according to the individuality of its past.
Joyce Usher is the author of This Is Itasca, Managing Editor of F. E. Peacock Publishers, and former president of the Itasca Area Historical Society.