The end of the Black Hawk War in 1832 signaled the beginning of the development of the area called Lombard. According to C. W. Richmond’s 1876 DuPage County History, the earliest settler on the land of the town proper was Luther Morton, who built a cabin near the present rail depot, the heart of present day Lombard. But the town was originally named for brothers, Ralph and Morgan Babcock, who had settled farther west, near the DuPage River.
New Englanders were eager to take up the newly opened land sites, now that the threat of Indian attacks no longer existed. The year 1834 saw the arrival of the Deacon Winslow Churchill family. One son, Winslow Jr., settled on the east side of Babcock’s Grove.
Another early settler, Sheldon Peck, a portrait painter whose primitive paintings still command high prices, established his farm on the eastern edge of Babcock’s Grove, near the present Lombard Commons Park. His house, begun in 1837, remains standing, and is the oldest in the village. Alyce Mertz, the granddaughter of Sheldon Peck, occupies the house at this time. Her father, Frank Peck, reported in his journal that it took two years of dragging oak logs from a wood lot on the banks of the DuPage to complete the dwelling. It was here that the first school convened, and that runaway slaves were to find refuge during the Civil War, Babcock’s Grove developed along the trail from Chicago to St. Charles, Illinois. St. Charles Road today, old-timers in town remember, was once called Lake Street. Across the marshy prairie it followed the high ridges that the Indians favored; they, in turn, followed age-old buffalo trails. For eleven years the Frink and Walker Stage line used this trail from Chicago to St. Charles. But in time even this “commodious, efficient” method of transportation was to give way to something better.
Sheldon and Harriet Corey Peck. Courtesy Lombard Historical Society.
The Galena and Chicago Union Railroad ran its first engine to Babcock’s Grove in 1849, following the old stage line to St. Charles by slicing through the lands of Winslow Churchill Jr., Sheldon Peck, Hiram Whittemore, Reuben Mink and John Rumble. Farmers could see the advantages the railroad offered and eagerly accepted the $15 per acre for right-of-way. No more bogging down on muddy trails to the markets at Chicago! “The Pioneer,” a secondhand steam engine now on display at the Chicago Historical Society, steamed westward at the admirable speed of 25 mph. A temporary turntable was built west of town, and the train was hand turned for its return run to Chicago. In time the line was extended to Newton’s Station (Glen Ellyn), Wheaton, and beyond.
By 1851 the nucleus of a small community had begun to form around a makeshift depot and “railroad hotel.” There were at least five frame houses and a store clustered around St. Charles Road and the future Park Avenue. Reuben Mink, a Pennsylvanian, purchased the Morton homestead and other land tracts. Either through luck or a sense of the future he found himself the possessor of much land in what was to become Lombard. But he was to give back to the town two pieces of property which were essential to its development. The first, located on Main Street at Washington Boulevard, was deeded to the small community for a burying ground. The earliest recorded burial was July 1. The second piece of property, located on St. Charles Road near Mr. Mink’s home, was given for the first permanent schoolhouse, built about 1861. The schoolhouse, built in two sections, still survives in part. One portion, exhibiting Greek Revival characteristics, is now a private home located at 210 South Lincoln, across the street from St. John’s Lutheran School.
During the 1850s Babcock’s Grove saw a period of development as a farming community. The earliest settlers in the area were from New York and New England states who had come west with the opening of the Erie Canal.
But soon names of other origin began to appear in the early land records. German immigrants, refugees from civil and religious strife in their native country, began to take up land. Soon York Township was dotted with farms owned by persons with names like Backhaus, Stueve, Meyer, Schoene, Klusmeyer and Heinberg. They would prove to be industrious and supportive of education. An early school was established by the German community on the Schoene farm, just east of Sheldon Peck’s house, with Julius Schoene as teacher.
An influx of Irish settlers had its beginnings in this period as well. Although many came as laborers on the canals and railroads, others, with a typical love of the land and the money to purchase it, were able to pursue the occupation they knew best, farming, James Sheahan took up land on the western outskirts of Babcock’s Grove. This farm, later purchased by Danish immigrant Peter Hoy, was to be one of the last operating farms in the area. Scheduled for development in the 1980s, the old Hoy barns, visible from Route 53 in Flowerfield are the last reminder of this period of agricultural growth. Of the early Irish settlers, only the names remain on the tombstones in little old St. Mary’s Cemetery on Finley Road.
The 1850s saw other firsts. Dietrich Klusmeyer’s three-story stone hotel, at the present intersection of St. Charles Road and Park Avenue was erected in 1858. It still stands today, housing a handful of commercial establishments. Its wide porches, bracketing and popular Dram Shop are gone; but the building has survived, a silent observer of years of Lombard’s development.
Nearby, to the west, stands another survivor of those early days. J. B, Hull, the town’s first postmaster, operated the first store, depot and post office in a small board and batten building next to the tracks.
Nationwide, the slavery issue had erupted into Civil War. The farmers of York Township joined the cause. While the women folk knitted and rolled bandages at home, a number of Babcock’s Grove men marched off to war.
General Benjamin Sweet, a retired Civil War general, once charged with the direction of Fort Douglas in Chicago, where captured Southern soldiers were held, moved to a farm on the outskirts of Babcock’s Grove. As pension agent in Chicago, he may have been acquainted with Josiah L. Lombard, a successful realtor who became interested in the yet untapped possibilities of the area. Joined by Captain Silas Janes of Danby, the three platted the town in 1868 and petitioned the state for a charter. The townspeople, impressed with Josiah L. Lombard’s plans for the area, voted to name the town after him. The town of Lombard was organized in short order, after the granting of a charter in 1869. Isaac Claflin was named president and Colonel William Plum of Civil War fame, became clerk.
Josiah Torrey Reade followed Issac Claflin as president. He is remembered also for founding the first town library from his own personal collection of books. That first library had its beginning with a peach basket full of books carried by Reade between his home and the First Church, where a room behind the sanctuary was donated as a library.
That wooden Gothic chapel, a symbol of Lombard’s beginning, still stands on the corner of Main and Maple Streets. When dedicated in 1870, it was the home of the First Congregational Church. Today it is known as the First Church of Lombard, United Church of Christ, a landmark which attracts photographers and artists alike with its board and batten exterior, lancet-shaped calico stained glass windows and classic lines. It is on the National Register of Historic Places.
By 1870 Lombard had become a “commuter” town, with many residents traveling by rail daily to Chicago. A small frame building on Park Avenue served as ticket depot, waiting room and freight office. Nearby was a small stockyard which held cattle being transported to the markets at Chicago.
Although the railroad offered a modern, up-to-date means of transportation between towns, the horse-drawn wagon and buggy were still an essential part of every day living. John Fisher came to Lombard in 1874 and built a carriage and blacksmith’s shop at 19 West St. Charles Road.
Fisher served as the town’s justice of the peace for twenty years, setting up a courtroom in the basement of his house. As there was no lock-up in Lombard, prisoners had to be taken to the jail in Wheaton. Fisher once averted what might have become the town’s only lynching by spiriting his prisoner, a man named Bo Creek, who had killed his foreman in a dispute over wages at the stone quarry west of town, to the relative safety of the jail in Wheaton.
The temperance question continued to plague the townspeople. Dr. Richard Oleson, son of the town’s first doctor, sums it up this way:
The temperance-dram shop fights had been long and bitter. It always was an issue at election time. When the town was incorporated, the wets prevailed by one vote. The next year the opposition won by one vote. One year the town would have prohibition, the next year it wouldn’t, until Rev. Caverno … got the boys together.
The Rev. Charles Caverno, pastor of First Church for many years after his 1870 arrival, pointed out to the New Englanders that the Germans who wanted their beer were honest, law-abiding citizens, and who were they to deny them. His argument prevailed. It was decided that dram shops might operate between the hours of 4:00 a. m. and 11:00 p. m. each day; the early opening accommodated farmers bringing their milk to town to meet the railroad “milk run.”
In 1877 Dr. Charles Wilmot Oleson came to Lombard to serve for many years as the town’s first doctor. Many people in later years remembered the compassion of this gentle man. He built a stylish Victorian home on North Main Street in a section of town which had come to be called “Quality Row.” In later years Dr. Oleson suffered a stroke and was followed in his practice by his son, Dr. Richard Oleson.
Lombard continued to attract persons with leadership ability. In 1878 twenty-four year old William Hammerschmidt came from Naperville and bought land to develop a clay pit. He started manufacturing tiles and bricks. Many of Lombard’s homes and commercial buildings were built of Hammerschmidt brick, which was sold widely throughout six midwest states.
In spite of the town’s residential nature, a few small industries did operate in Lombard. There was a boot factory, with shoemaker Phil Carroll employing several men. Well drilling was an important business. Lightning rod salesmen did a brisk door-to-door business. Butter and cheese were made in the home until another early Lombard businessman arrived in 1879 and built a cheese factory on the south side of Lake Street, at the western edge of town. William Stuenkel’s name appeared frequently in the town board minutes during the five years he operated his cheese factory. He had often to be advised to control the “offensive odors” coming from his establishment. But keeping 300 lbs. of cheese a day from smelling was an insoluble problem. The cheese factory continued after Stuenkel’s tenure under the directorship of a corporation of local businessmen, including Frederick Marquardt. The name was changed to Lombard Butter and Cheese Company, and moved by Frederick Marquardt to the north side of Lake Street.
In 1880 Frederick Deicke operated a creamery near his home, adding to it a small general store. He married a local girl, Regina Goltermann, and took a special interest in the establishment of Trinity Lutheran Church at York Center, where he lived. His son, Edwin, has been instrumental in the development of many educational and cultural efforts throughout DuPage County.
Mention should be made at this point of those local craftsmen like William Zabel, Karl Mech, the Assmans, and others who used their hands and their talents to erect many of the homes and business establishments of Lombard. In many cases their names have been forgotten while Historical Society plaques commemorate the buildings which they embellished.
Telephone service in Lombard began in 1882. The town was fortunate in being situated on the Chicago-Geneva toll line, the Chicago Telephone Company’s first experimental line.
Also in 1882 Colonel William R Plum’s The History of the Military Telegraph Corps During the Civil War was published. Copies were placed in the Federal Archives, and Lombard had its first published author!
In 1886 the town “saw the light” in the form of gas street lamps. The residents celebrated by hiring a band and holding a street dance. A tightwire was stretched from roof to roof of Gray’s Hardware and Marquardt’s Grocery, across the street, and a tightrope walker pranced across it.
The tracks were laid in 1886 for a second rail line, the Chicago and Great Western Railroad. The first train arrived August 1, 1887.
Peter Hoy, a native of Denmark, came to America in 1880. By 1890 he had saved enough to buy the old John Sheahan farm southwest of town where he operated a dairy farm, bottling and selling the milk in Lombard and surrounding towns. He often invited the children of the Lombard School to his property to observe first hand the operations of a real dairy farm. At Christmas he would take Lombard schoolchildren for horse-drawn sleigh rides. His barn was often used to shelter vagrants, who had no other place to sleep. Jobless men often followed the rail tracks through Lombard, looking for work. Today Peter Hoy School commemorates this hardworking, gentle man.
Lombard enjoys the distinction of being one of the first towns in the nation where women voted before the passage of the 19th Amendment. However, this distinction lasted only for 1891. In that year, Ellen A. Martin, a woman attorney residing in the community, marched into the polling place and demanded to be allowed to vote, basing her claim on the fact that the town charter enfranchised all citizens, with no mention of sex. She and fourteen wives and daughters of prominent Lombard residents voted that day. But the men of Lombard won out by “reorganizing” the town charter in line with the state charter. The ladies did not vote the following year in the town election. As a result of ensuing litigation, women were allowed to vote in school elections. Unfortunately, Ellen Martin did not live to see the passage of the 19th amendment, since she died in 1916, having returned to her native New York State.
By 1893, after many long battles, Lombard finally reached an agreement with the Chicago and Northwestern Railroad, and a viaduct was constructed at Main Street under the tracks. Lombard was one of the earliest towns to deal with the problem of traffic flow in this manner.
In 1899 the Aurora, Elgin and Chicago Railway was authorized to build a railway through the south end of town. Begun in 1902, the railway, variously known as the Chicago Aurora and Elgin, the “Roarin’ Elgin,” or “the Third Rail,” sped past the back yards of the town’s residents at a decent clip, lights flashing and bells ringing warning stragglers to clear the track.
On October 19, 1903, Lombard was reincorporated, now as a village. Instead of a town council a board of trustees served the village.
At the turn of the century several churches were well established in Lombard. Diagonally from First Congregational Church, a Methodist Church organized in 1909, and a building subsequently erected. Several blocks west stood St. John’s Lutheran Church with its two tall steeples and classic design; it has served the area’s Lutherans since 1893. In fact, when the Roman Catholics erected their combination church-school on Maple Street at Elizabeth Street in 1912, Maple Street’s name could as well have been changed to Church Street!
In 1959 Sacred Heart parish welcomed the grandson of Martin Hogan to the dedication of the new Sacred Heart Church, located on his grandfather’s farm. The grandson, Rev. Martin D. McNamara, had grown up to become the first bishop of the newly-created Joliet Diocese.
Although a few automobiles were beginning to be seen regularly in town, throughout the early 1920s horses were still the common mode of transportation. When in 1914 the Methodists requested permission to set hitching-posts in front of their church, the request seemed reasonable.
But Lombard did have an up-to-date silent movie theater in a building on Parkside between Main Street and Park Avenue. And in 1928 the Parkside Theater, as it was called, was replaced by a new movie house on Main Street. The DuPage Theater, had gilded pillars, and a starlit sky, complete with drifting clouds. Outside, the “waterfall” marquee has been restored, recreating this Lombard landmark as it was in the thirties.
The end of World War I brought a return to simpler pleasures. One source of hometown pride was the comic strip “Little Orphan Annie,” created by Harold Gray in 1924. The comic strip, which became a part of American life by way of the Chicago Tribune, was created by Mr. Gray when he lived in Lombard on South Stewart Street. He was later to purchase a spectacular Victorian home at 119 North Main Street for his parents, with whom he lived for several years between marriages.
The house, which has retained nearly all of its original gingerbread trim and bracketing, was built by William LeRoy, one of the original town board members, and had formerly been known as “Chateau LeRoy.”
With the return of soldiers from the war, a building boom was in the making. Townspeople began lobbying for a park and general beautification. On April 28 ,1927, during lilac time, Colonel William R Plum died, leaving his house and grounds to the village with the provision that they be used for a library and public park. Josiah Reade’s small library, which had outgrown its quarters at the First Church, finally had a permanent home. Mr. Reade lived to see his collection of 3,000 books moved to the Helen M. Plum Memorial Library across the street.
Jens Jensen, a prominent landscape architect, having a special interest in Lombard and Lilacia, agreed to design the park for the modest sum of $600. His crowning touch was the limestone waterfall and pool designed especially for the new park.
In November 1929 plans were laid for holding the first annual Lilac Pageant. The highlight of the pageant was the choosing of the first Lilac Queen, Adeline Fleege.
In 1931, when the Depression was in full swing, both Lombard banks were forced to close, and several emergency measures were necessary to sustain the town. A canning project, set up by Father Jones of the newly organized Epiphany Mission, provided food for the needy, as well as assisting the townspeople. In a cooperative venture the churches lent pots and kettles, while the village supplied the gas. Canning equipment was procured, and farmers donated their surpluses. All who could pay were charged 3 cents per can, and every 20th can went on the shelf for the destitute. Government agencies like the WPA and the CCC stepped in to provide jobs for local men grading streets, removing and planting trees, and repairing village property.
Building in Lombard almost came to a standstill during the Depression, and many houses ended up on the market, or were repossessed when their owners were unable to meet monthly payments. Some residents argued for local beautification as a means of raising town morale. Shrubs and trees, dug from the Churchill farm west of town, were planted on the fringes of the village hall grounds, along streets, and around the sewage disposal plant by unemployed men. Seventy trees, purchased by individuals at $3.75 per tree, were planted along North Main Street between North Avenue and Pleasant Lane. Each tree was a memorial, and “Memory Lane” was the result.
In time the economy began to recover, and newcomers discovered the town, moving into the long-empty houses. The State Bank reopened in 1945. A Village Hostess program was initiated, with Estelle K. Wasz as the first hostess, greeting newcomers and answering their questions.
World War II brought the need for a Municipal Defense Council to Lombard. The East St. Charles Road pumping station was protected against sabotage by being fenced and lighted. Air Raid Wardens were appointed, and first-aid kits distributed. The townspeople were asked to salvage rubber, metals, waste paper and rags to aid the war effort. Even the cannon on the village hall grounds, a memorial to the veterans of the Spanish American War, was turned in for scrap. Ration coupons were carefully counted out on Lombard dinner tables, and even the smallest child in the family could aid the war effort by flattening tin cans.
As World War II ended and the veterans returned, there was a need for new housing. Shell houses with unfinished second stories, pre-fabricated housing, tri-levels and ranch houses were soon being built throughout the area. Lustron enamelled steel houses, introduced early in Lombard, became very popular.
Public buildings, as well, were being erected or added to. Green Valley School, closed during the Depression because of declining enrollment, was re-opened in 1947.
The building boom continued into the fifties. The small shopping center on South Main Street was enlarged Begun in the late twenties, it developed on both sides of the Chicago, Aurora and Elgin Railroad crossing at Main Street.
As the population grew, the school system began to feel the pinch. There was now a definite need for additional schools, and a number of present day Lombard schools had their beginning during this period.
In 1954 Mildred Robinson Dunning decided to record the history of her home town, as told to her by native-born and long-time residents of Lombard. Her effort, The Story of Lombard 1833-1955, was a simple recounting of the highlights of the town’s history. Others had thought the events of the town’s growth of sufficient interest to preserve them for future generations. Frank Peck kept a journal for many years. Amy Collings wrote a series of newspaper columns in the 1940s for the local paper, The Lombard Spectator. Hubert Mogle chronicled the growth of American Legion Post 391.
Katherine Reynolds, editor of the Lombard Breeze and author of several novels, used thinly disguised local residents for some of her characters, much to the enjoyment of the townspeople. Her best-known work was entitled Green Valley, with the subdivision and school named for this work. Lillian Budd, also an established author and former Lombard resident, was approached in 1973 by the Lombard Historical Society to do an updated version of the town’s history as a bicentennial project. The result of her labors was entitled Footsteps On The Tall Grass Prairie.
Lombard adopted the city manager plan in the spring of 1955. Lombard’s first city manager, Hugh T. Henry, took office the following fall. A special census that year showed the village to have a population of 16,284. In 1962 the village received the highest rating in Illinois municipal waterworks operation from the American Waterworks Association. A design for a new village flag was selected, the result of a contest that year, with Susan Mills, a Willowbrook student, submitting the winning design.
In 1968 Yorktown Shopping Center was completed. It took four years of construction. Yorktown, encompassing 100 stores, covers 130 acres.
On the 100th anniversary of the founding of the town, the Centennial Lilac Parade depicted events and personalities reminiscent of the town’s history. As the 1969 celebration drew to a close, Lombard Centennial, Inc. donated its assets to the establishment of a Lombard Historical Society. Today, the Lombard Historical Society maintains its museum in an 1870s style frame cottage at 23 West Maple.
Other recent changes include the closing of Lincoln School, built in 1916 near the site of the old brick Lombard School, and the still older frame school house. The village hall was also closed; it has been replaced by the Lombard Civic Center, a complex of modern buildings of pre-cast white quartz, located at 255 East Wilson.
Morris the Cat, star of Nine-Lives Cat Food commercials, has passed on to his reward from his home in Lombard. Morris’ replacement also lives in Lombard.
Today Lombard is a village with a population of 38,500. It covers 10.5 square miles, on which 8,950 single family homes and 3,650 multiple family units have been built. Almost forgotten are the log cabins of the Mortons, the Babcocks and the Churchills. Faded into the past are the small clapboard cottages along the St. Charles Trail. Yet, in 1976, in celebration of the nation’s bicentennial, a local group erected a permanent symbol of Lombard’s past, a log cabin which is used today by all the groups in town. Thus the community has come full circle, from the little log cabin of the 1830s on the banks of the DuPage River to its sentimental recreation in a Lombard Park.
Margot Fruehe is Director of the Midwest College of Engineering Library in Lombard. She is a member of the Lombard Historical Society and DuPage County Genealogical Society.