Mary Curtis

Daniel Warren, accompanied by his son-in-law Frederick Bird, left Westfield New York in April 1 and claimed land two miles north of the Naper settlement at McDowell Woods. In July his son Julius arrived with his sisters, Sarah Warren and Louisa Bird

In 1834 Julius took over the land he had claimed the previous year for a lumber business, with holdings on both sides of the DuPage River. At the same time he built a house, which is among the oldest still standing in DuPage County. In 1835 he put up a boarding house for the men who worked in his newly constructed sawmill.

Religion was to play a vital role in the fledgling community. The fact was evident in 1836, with the establishment of the Second Baptist Church, an offshoot of the First Baptist Church in Naperville. The Third Annual Meeting of the Northern Baptist Association of Illinois in 1838 was hosted by the Warrenville church. At that meeting a resolution was passed condemning slavery because Elijah Lovejoy, an Abolitionist newspaper editor, had been recently murdered at Alton, Illinois.

That year also saw Warren’s recently built tavern at Warrenville and Winfield roads become a social center, renowned for Friday night dances. A frequent visitor was “Long John” Wentworth, editor of the Chicago Democrat and later mayor of Chicago.

Colonel Warren was elected to the state legislature in 1844. The Warrenville Cemetery was incorporated on March 3, 1845.

The Warrenville Seminary, open to persons of all faiths, was incorporated on March 3, 1845 It opened in September 1 under the leadership of Seraph Warren Holmes. Benjamin F. Taylor, the literary editor of the Chicago Evening Journal briefly taught the men. It attracted many students from Chicago, with as many as 200 enrolled at one time. It was closed during the Civil War.

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

The Chicago-Southwestern Plank Road was approved by the legislature in 1849. Colonel Warren operated a stage between Winfield, Warrenville and Naperville, the true link to the outside world.

An important part of the business community in 1847 was the newly constructed Warrenville grist mill, operated by Warren and Franklin Smith, and Alvah Fowler. It was later purchased and run by Rockwell Manning and John Grant. In 1857 Victor Fredenhagen and his brother-in-law, William Lambe, acquired the thriving business. The dam by the gristmill also provided a recreational spot for the area. It served as well as a baptismal font for the churches. The gristmill was destroyed by fire in 1879, but was soon rebuilt.

Invitation to a Warrenville Ball. Courtesy Leone Schmidt.

The Methodists, led by Rev. Charles Wesley Gary, were beginning to make their presence known locally, and organized a congregation of seventeen members in 1854. Most of the wood for the new church, which was built on Second Street in 1858, was cut at Gary’s Mill, near West Chicago. Since the church had a cement basement, it provided classroom space for the public school until 1883, when a new school was built on Winfield Road. After the Methodist Church discontinued, the building was sold in 1910 to the “Live Wires,” a social club which sponsored many dances there. It later housed the studios of Adam Emory Albright and his sons Ivan and Malvin. In recent years it has housed the Footlighters Theatre and the Albright Theatre Company. It is currently being remodeled by the city of Warrenville to provide space for the Centel Cable TV Company, the Warrenville Historical Society and a museum.

Ivan Albright — posing in the model used for his painting provisionally named “The Window.” This was one of many works done during the two decades the artist lived in Warrenville. Courtesy Willis Stafford.

From a population of 250 Warrenville sent fifty of its sons to fight in the Civil War. Seventeen of them gave their lives in the Union cause. Ashley Carpenter, at age twenty, was the first casualty to be buried in the Warrenville Cemetery, in 1862.

When the Chicago, Burlington & Quincy completed the tracks to Aurora in 1864, Warrenville was bypassed. The Chicago, Milling ton and Western Railroad was scheduled to pass through Warrenville in 1873, but the Panic of that year brought the dream to nothing. In 1898 when William Manning had succeeded Colonel Warren as “leading citizen,” he pledged $5,000 for the LaGrange, Warrenville & Fox River Electric Railroad; but again this proved wishful thinking. A railroad was finally brought through the area, a year after the first “horseless carriage” had come to Warrenville, in 1901. The Chicago, Aurora and Elgin Electric Railway began service on August 25, 1902, and served the town until declining revenues forced it out of business in 1959. “Growing pains” found the Manning tract becoming the largest sub-division in DuPage County in 1906.

Illinois Bell opened Margaret Mackin Hall as a rest home for telephone operators in 1916. This is now the Warrenville Cenacle, the site of many retreats. The river frontage near the old mill site was sold to the Forest Preserve District. Montgomery Ward established a vacation home for employees in the old Warren mansion.

The Community Building became a reality, thanks to the Men’s Club, which eventually became the Warrenville Community Club. In 1928 it bought land for a town hall, subsequently managing to secure funds for a building from the WPA. This was transferred to the school district as the only taxing body in town. The building was completed in 1938, and a room was set aside for a town library, which was sponsored by the Warrenville Woman’s Club. It has also served as a gym and lunchroom for Holmes School, across the street, and storage for District 200. With the latest remodeling, it now houses the Warrenville Public Library and is the center for many community activities. It is also now “home” for the Albright Theatre.

Raoul Lund, the former gardener on the Julius Rosenwald estate, arrived in Warrenville in 1921. Having paid $300 for used buildings, he opened the R C. Lund Greenhouses on Winfield Road.

Farmers began selling their land to developers after World War I. In 1927 the first addition was made to Warrenville, on the east side of town.

During the days of prohibition, western DuPage County and eastern Kane County had their share of bootlegging activity. The notorious Roger Touhy got his scar from a policeman’s bullet in a shootout in the Warrenville area.

As the town grew, incorporation became a matter of debate. The first referendum, on October 29, 1927, was defeated 158-56. The next referendum, in 1954, was followed by five other unsuccessful attempts. Proponents of incorporation finally realized their dream when the referendum of May 20, 1967, was approved by a vote of 641-518. In the first city election William Stafford, descendant of one of the early Warrenville families, became the city’s first mayor.

It was also in the sixties that the Northern Illinois Gas Company Building on Ferry Road was dedicated Governor Otto Kerner officiated at this event in 1963.

The Chicago, Aurora and Elgin station was remodeled in 1969-70 to serve as the city hall and police station. Another highlight of the 1970s was the annexation of the Triplett property on Batavia Road, when the town’s population was just under 4,000. The Emerald Green and McKeon Development was built on this site later in the decade. The Western Electric Computer Center on River Road became operational in 1972. During the 1970s the Albright Theatre presented plays at the Albright Building. Later it moved to Villa Park; then the theatre returned to Warrenville after the Community Building had been remodeled Standard Oil of Indiana and The Illinois Department of Corrections exchanged property. Subsequently, Amoco Research Center along Warrenville road and a boys’ home on Ferry Road, west of Route 59 were built.

CA&E Station, now Warrenville Municipal Building.

In the 1970s Mount Hoy, nicknamed Mount Trashmore, was built by combining refuse and soil into a hill now popular for tobogganing and tubing. The construction of Silver Lake has made the Blackwell Forest Preserve a very popular recreational area. During excavations for the lake in 1977, a worker uncovered large bones, which he deemed important. These proved to be the remains of the “Warrenville Mammoth,” or sometimes called “Jones Bones,” after the discoverer.

Woodland School was closed in 1978, and Bower Junior High became an elementary school. Wheaton-Warrenville High School was closed at the end of the 1982-83 school year, but reopened as a middle school for youngsters in Warrenville and in the southern section of Wheaton.

Warrenville had a 1980 population of 7,800. It marked its sesquicentennial with a 1983-84 celebration. Citizens look forward to a future worthy of its past.

The Author

Mary Curtis is a thirty year resident of DuPage County, having come as Dean of Women at North Central College in 1955. Since 1967 she has written the “Warrenville News” section of The Daily Journal.

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