Mary Lou Mittel

The historic Indian tribes who inhabited Illinois have been classified into several groups: the Illinois, Miami, Kickapoo, Pota­watomie, Sac, Fox, Winnebago, and the Shawnee. The Winnebago were part of the Sioux nation, which originally lived along the central and north Atlantic coast. For many years they were pushed further west, until they reached the Wisconsin River, beyond which the tribe refused to go.

The Winnebago claimed the area called Wood Dale for their hunting grounds. Their range was extensive. Their signal hill was at Army Trail Road, Lake Street and Addison Road. Their main camp was in Beloit, Wisconsin. It was their custom to build a camp near Salt Creek at Thorndale Road and burn the prairie; thus they chased the game into the woods where hunters were waiting. Their continued use of the hunting grounds caused alarm to the first settlers. When Illinois became a state in 1818, the Winnebago signed a treaty giving up these hunting grounds.

The first white settler came to Addison Township in 1833. A native of Hillsborough, New Hampshire, Hezekiah Dunklee met a fellow traveler named Mason Smith. They traveled to Fort Dearborn. Here they purchased supplies and sought information. They followed the path made by General Winfield Scott’s army on its way west during the Black­hawk War. This trail is called Grand Avenue and Army Trail Road in DuPage County. They followed it to a creek where they made their camp.

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

At first light they continued west to the Meacham trading post. The Meacham brothers shared their knowledge of wilderness living, and advised the two men to go back along the trail to the large stand of trees by the Salt Creek, and to make their claim on both prairie and timber.

Dunklee and Smith made their claims on the north end of the forest. Because it was September they decided to share one cabin, which they built on the site of the juncture of Hemlock and Irving Park Road. They attempted to prepare ground for spring planting, but found their tools could not penetrate the vast network of roots that supported the prairie grass, which they described as “shoulder high to a man on horseback.” They then cut trees and prepared the soft forest soil. The forest, which is the largest of three natural stands of trees in Addison Township, became known as Dunklee’s Grove.

Art by Vivian Krentz.

Early in 1834 Ebenezer Dunklee, brother of Hezekiah, arrived at the grove with his wife Amy and three children. A friend, Mr. Perrin, had accompanied them. Mr. Perrin died soon after their arrival. His is the first recorded death in Addison Township. On January 8, 1835, a daughter Julia Amanda was born to Amy and Ebenezer. She was the first white child born in Addison Township.

Thirteen years after his long trek from New Hampshire to the Illinois area which would bear his name, Hezekiah Dunklee was dead, leaving a widow, Eliza, and a one-year-old son, Horace. The 1850 census shows that Eliza, age 39, and son Horace, age 5, were still in the adjacent area called Sagone, living with friends, Nathan and Lucy Packert (Packard).

More is known of Ebenezer Dunklee because three generations of his family remained in the area. He was a member of the Congregational Church, a Whig, and the first Abolitionist in Addison Township. He took an active interest in community activities with his name appearing repeatedly in early township records. His wife Amy died in 1852, when a tornado blew their barn on her. Ebenezer married again in 1853, taking Ruth L. Hanson, a forty-two year old widow as his wife. He died on July 22, 1863.

Another young man arrived in the Grove in 1834. His name was John Lester. He liked the potential of the area and returned to New York to persuade his father to move with him to Dunklee’s Grove. Trusting his son’s judgement, Edward Lester brought his wife and other five sons. They made their claim on an Indian trail, Irving Park Road, at the Salt Creek. Having arrived in November 1835, they quickly built a 14′ X 16′ board shanty, to shelter them through the winter.

The following spring each son staked his claim, which spread the name Lester throughout the vicinity. That summer the Lesters built a home. A daughter, Julia, also requested a small building in which to teach school. She thereby became the first teacher in Addison Township. The building was located at the present site of the Water Treatment Plant.

A town named Sagone (sa-go-na) developed north of Dunklee’s Grove, between Thorndale and Wood Dale roads to Devon Avenue. It was built on another Indian trail, which became a stagecoach line. It boasted several homes, a blacksmith, inn, general store, post office, jail, a German Lutheran school (at Wood Dale Road near Devon), and a public school for English speaking children (at Central and Thorndale roads).

Among the early settlers in Sagone was Smith D. Pierce. He became the first supervisor when Addison Township was formed in 1850. He also served as postmaster, justice of the peace and constable. The post office and jail were in his home. While he had held many offices during those formative years, the most important gift he left the area is his diary from 1836 through 1859. In it are the details of his life and that of his neighbors. There are also lists of the plants of the area and home remedies for humans and animals.

The 1850 census conducted, following the organization of Addison Township, showed a population of 818. This was also the first record of family names. Some of the names of the first settlers are not listed because they had moved from the area or had died. A cholera epidemic in 1 848 claimed several lives, including that of P. T. Barnum’s cousin, Cyrus Barnum, who had settled near Addison Road and Irving Park.

On May 31, 1852, Frederick Lester married Julia A. Dunklee. He built a home for his bride facing Salt Creek at Irving Park Road, the oldest remaining house. Here they raised the four survivors of their eight children. Frederick was the youngest of Edward Lester’s sons. Although he had his leg amputated following a threshing machine accident at 18, he went on to become a respected businessman, farmer, and dairyman.

In the two decades before 1860, a large influx of German immigrants came to the area around Dunklee’s Grove. These new residents were fleeing a nation in which conscription was mandatory and where parents often saw their sons sent to fight as mercenaries in foreign wars. Those parents who could afford to do so sent their sons and their families to the United States. Another reason for their emigration was that in Europe only the oldest son was the family heir. This new group also produced merchants, doctors, lawyers and teachers. They built churches, schools, hospitals, stores, and banks; thus they brought culture and prosperity to the area. Germans claimed the remaining land in the township and created a bilingual community.

In June 1847 a hail storm swept across northern DuPage, stripping the fruit from the trees in Dunklee’s orchard, uprooting or leveling half of the crops. In 1854, another hail storm struck the area causing much destruction. This storm led to the formation of the Addison Farmers Mutual Insurance Company in 1855, which continued as Mutual Fire Insurance Company.

The Civil War was declared in 1861. Not every man could leave his farm, but many did sponsor young men who fought in their names. They rewarded them with a team of horses, a wagon, a cow, and a cash bonus with which to start a new life.

The first enlistee from Addison Township was Frederick Fischer, whose family had settled on the south end of Dunklee’s Grove at Church Road and Grand Avenue. Frederick’s brother, August, lost his life in the war.

After memorial services and the return of the soldiers, the work of establishing the township continued with only a few differences of opinion, usually over the placement of roads. The deep prairie loam, which made the area a farmer’s dream, was a road builder’s nightmare. Many methods of road maintenance were tried, such as towing a huge log over the rutted road to “smooth” it. Corduroy roads, made by laying logs across the road, were tried. They were a dismal failure.

What the area needed was a railroad. Frederick Lester joined a syndicate, comprised of businessmen from each community, along a proposed line. This group met with the owners of the Chicago and Pacific Railroad and persuaded them to build the track through their properties. Lester gave the right-of-way across his land and donated the site for a depot next to his home on Salt Creek. He then contributed toward its construction. The line was completed in 1873, a single track from Chicago to Elgin.

Despite the fact that the nation was again in financial trouble, Mr. Lester and Frederick Heuer built a cheese factory next to the depot. This was the first industry in the area

In February 1874 a postal franchise was granted in the name Salt Creek, and President U. S. Grant appointed Frederick E. Lester postmaster. The area at the north end of Dunklee’s Grove became known as Lester’s Station or simply Lester. Frederick Lester deserves the title of “founder,” because his actions made commercial growth in the area possible. In the spring of 1874 the Lester land east of Salt Creek and north of the railroad was subdivided as residential lots. In 1878 a mercantile store was opened on the second floor of the cheese factory. On July 13, 1886, Newton Lester, Frederick’s son, became postmaster of Salt Creek.

The year 1890 brought a change which turned Lester’s Station into a business “corner.” A request was made of Frederick Lester for property next to the station on which to build an inn. Mr. Lester, a teetotaler, refused to have such an establishment on his property. Because he had done so much for the community through the years, the town’s people did not want to upset him. However, they were not dissuaded from their desire for an inn. They simply waited for the ice storms of early January to glaze the ground, and then moved the station building east along the tracks to the northeast corner of the junction of the present Wood Dale Road and Irving Park Road.

Although Mr. Lester was a man of principles, he was not a vindictive person. After the station had been moved, he arranged for a small house to be moved to the northwest corner, across from the depot, for use by the stationmaster. It was only a few days after the moving took place that Frederick Lester died on January 21, 1891, at age 63.

Also in 1891, Mr. and Mrs. Henry (Hy) Timm had a barn moved from the Lester farm to the southeast corner, next to the inn. It was remodeled into a general store with family living quarters above. The store had a post office section, and Mr. Timm became postmaster in 1895. Mrs. Timm was the widow of August Hoppensteadt. Fred Hoppensteadt, her son, married Adele Mess on December 16, 1893, in Zion Lutheran Church in Churchville. They had four children – Edwin, Fred, Alvinia, (Mrs. Alfred Rosenwinkel) and Edna (Mrs. Monroe Fischer of Wood Dale).

Mr. Hoppensteadt became storekeeper in 1898. It has been said that he had the three best jobs in town. He was a storekeeper, a carpenter contractor, and the owner of a beer franchise in a German community. He left much of the store tending to his family. Among the buildings he erected were the original school on north Wood Dale Road in 1922, and the Adolph Rosenwinkel house in 1921, now Yesterday’s Farm Museum.

Before the turn of the century, land speculators named a proposed subdivision in the forest, south of the tracks and east of Wood Dale Road, Wooddale. The area residents liked the name, and in 1 899 the station name was changed from Lester to Wooddale. The post office remained Salt Creek.

The area around Wooddale Station changed slowly. Although Frederick Lester had subdivided a small portion of his land, hoping to attract new residents and businesses, the Depression of 1892 slowed the development.

Wood Dale Station on the Milwaukee Line. Courtesy Wood Dale Historical Society.

The railroad was responsible for what development had occurred and it very thoroughly regulated the people’s lives. At 9:15 a.m., the “mail” train stopped to pick up dairy products, and each evening the “can” train returned the empty milk containers. The owners of the railroad were aware of the dependence of the people on their service. In 1916 a special “Theater Train” ran each Saturday from Elgin to downtown Chicago, where the passengers could attend a stage-show at the McVicker’s Theater. They would then return to the train for the “late run” home.

A few homes were moved from Sagone, as the Wooddale station became the shipping point for the surrounding farms. The children still attended school in Sagone, both Lutheran and public.

An enterprising man named William O’Beirne came to Wood Dale in 1915. He was employed by a real estate company in Elgin to sell land in the area. His enthusiasm was sparked by the promise of a large bonus if he sold a given number of lots. The view from the station did little to encourage a prospective buyer. The original corner buildings stood facing an ill-kept Irving Park Road. The streets were muddy, or had just received their first coat of gravel. Often a potential customer could not leave the station because of the mud. Mr. O’Beirne attached strips of white cloth to trees on land parcels, and then expounded on the obvious desirability of any lot within sight of the station.

He was successful! Between the lots he sold and those he claimed for himself, he qualified for the bonus which, in turn, paid for his property. He purchased the Blieze farm for his home. The house was west of Grove at Commercial. He promptly subdivided the remainder of the land and advertised it as “suitable for chicken farms.”

The Ernest Julius Heinrich family were the first residents in the new subdivision. Ernest was originally from Michigan. His wife, Elizabeth Marie, was from England. The Heinrich purchase was on Commercial Street west of Wood Dale Road. They put their own battery operated electric plant in the basement, the first in the area.

In 1916 Wood Dale Road was stoned from Lake Street to Irving Park Road. This provided better access to the Village of Addison and the south DuPage area. The need for rapid improvement was made imperative because of the many automobiles in the area.

The years following World War I brought more land speculators to Wood Dale. The huge William Heuer farm was divided. The farm stretched from Wood Dale Road east along Irving Park Road to encompass the present site of Fenton High School and Plentywood Farm.

In 1923 a citizens’ committee requested electric service for the area. Upon hearing the number of homes and the population, the company denied the request. The committee returned home and made plans to purchase the poles and wire, and to prepare the area from their homes to the nearest company owned connection site. Their determination so impressed the company that they assured the homeowners it would not be necessary to carry out their plans. Electricity came to Wood Dale in April. Mrs. Monroe Fischer recalls the first time the electric lights were turned on as the most exciting memory of her childhood.

Telephone service came at about the same time. The exchange office was located on the top floor of the Green Street School in Bensenville. In 1923 Joseph Culec purchased the Frederick Lester home, and soon became the first police marshal of Wood Dale.

Another resident of the period was Joseph Kleppner, who operated a basket company. The work was done in a building behind his home on north Wood Dale Road Mr. Klep­pner raised his own crop of reeds from seeds shipped from his native Pennsylvania. The reed farm was on School Street near River Road In 1928 the Village of Itasca announced that it would build a sewage disposal plant on the west bank of Salt Creek to accommodate an anticipated population increase.

The crash of the stock market in October 1929 plunged the nation into the Depression. Owners of the farms which had been incorporated into the Village of Wood Dale sought relief from the state. They were permitted to withdraw from the village, which shrank to a few blocks around the original “corner.”

The fire department was organized in 1937 after obtaining a unique charter from the State of Illinois which permits them to “fight fires wherever needed.” The charter was so written following a fire in which two children had perished. The neighboring Bensenville Fire Department, village owned, was not permitted to leave the village limits, which ended at that time on the south side of Irving Park Road, without receiving council permission. The burning building was on the north side of Irving Park Road in a section then called Georgetown. When the men proposing the formation of a Wood Dale fire department learned of this tragedy, they determined that such an experience must never happen to them; this accounts for the unique wording of their charter.

Pearl Harbor was a shock to the nation, just starting to emerge from the Depression. Once again Wood Dale residents tightened their belts. They collected radios, metal, fat and paper for reprocessing. They hung service flags in the windows, while husbands and sons went to war.

Wood Dale’s post-war population growth was so slow until the sixties that chief of police Adolph Sofka could still operate with messages taken at his home. His wife Helen would then relay them to him in his car by means of a walkie-talkie.

But major changes were in store as the population almost tripled in a decade from 3,071 in 1960 to 8,831 in 1970. The 1980 census showed a total of 11,262 people residing in the village.

Housing construction expanded rapidly to accommodate the newly arrived. Among the notable buildings are the Brookwood Green high-rise condominiums, 190 W. Wood Dale Road. It is the consensus of fire inspectors, architects and such specialists from other parts of the nation and world, who toured the complex during construction, that it ranks among the safest anywhere. Very much like a submarine, in which flood and fire damage can be contained in one section, Brookwood is compartmentalized. Developer Richard Fend was willing to construct a model in high-rise safety for the nation. He also donated $125,000 for the purchase of special equipment for the Wood Dale Fire Protection District.

From the Winnebago’s burning of the prairie to the fire protection of the present, Wood Dale’s history has been long and varied. A representative of its achievement, Jim Spivey, a world-class miler, aspired to the 1984 Olympics, and thus symbolized the high expectations of Wood Dale, his hometown, for the future.

The Author

Mary Lou Mittel is Curator of the Yesterday’s Farm Museum, and served as first president of the Wood Dale Historical Society when it was formed in 1971.

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