DuPage County, Illinois History

Du Page County Guide was the last brush-stroke in the portrait of America that the Federal Writers' Project set itself to paint. The portrait, of course, remained unfinished when the Project closed. Even had the work continued indefinitely, the picture could never have been completed, such is the infinite variety of the face of our great country. The books brought out by the Project that have been most widely acclaimed and read are the State Guides. This is natural, since they, because of their wide geographic coverage, have the widest appeal. But the multitude of smaller publications, like the present volume, perhaps in the end will prove the most valuable to future historians. The State books deal in broad generalities of a great community's history, culture, politics, and economy, and, of necessity, cannot give a close-up of the local scene such as the local Guides, which view the city, county, or village through the magnifying lens of an historic microscope, are able to do. To me, these local books always had the sharp flavor of the particular territory they covered, and most vividly illustrated the flowing pattern of American civilization.

In New Jersey, for example, the Project most frequently interpreted the small town and city through the history of its fire department, which in that State seems to have been the center around which revolved the eddy of the community's social life. In one town, if I remember correctly, the local pyromaniac kept the volunteer fire force busy, even to the point of burning down the jail in which he had been lodged. In a number of towns throughout the country it is strange how the local conduct-pattern repeats itself the high point and crisis of history was the fight for the privilege of becoming the county seat. In one case the rival town abducted, vi et armis, the county records out of the old county court-house, a procedure which ended unlike the similar happening in Du Page County just short of bloodshed. In many towns the old cemetery is a central point of interest, for in it are buried the town's founders, notables, and "characters." I recall the case of the man who lies buried surrounded by his six wives and whose stone proudly records the fact that he outlived all of them.

We, today, are apt to think of the frontier as having existed vaguely somewhere west of the Mississippi. But actually the first frontier was in the backyards of the Puritan Fathers in Plymouth, and only gradually moved westward across New England, New York, Pennsylvania, and the Middle Western States, and from there receded slowly toward the Pacific.

The general pattern of frontier communities was the same: the coming of the first settlers and the building of log cabins, a log church, and the first schoolhouse; conflicts with the Indians; the building of the first roads; the clearing of stumps; the laying out of a town. The successive gold rushes which claimed some of Du Page County's pioneers actually depopulated some Western towns, but the deserters often returned to transmute their gold dust into enterprises that brought prosperity to the community. In Northern towns you have the development often in opposition to a small but articulate minority of abolitionist sentiment, the establishment of stations of the underground railroad, and mass enlistment in the Union forces during the Civil War. The contest to have the canal and, later, the railroad come to town is another part of the general pattern. On the Pacific Coast that battle was fought between Tacoma and Seattle for the better part of a generation, with Seattle the final victor. The boom-bust is less a part of the pattern of the East than of the West, although many Eastern and Middle Western towns boomed and declined with the wanton cutting of the lumber in the great forests and the exhaustion of coal and oil in certain localities, just as in the West lusty towns of ten thousand and more shrank to ghost towns when gold or lumber sources petered out. Labor conflicts, as labor fought for recognition, have punctuated local history almost everywhere. Du Page County, however, essentially a non-industrial area, has been spared any spectacular part in this unhappy portion of the general picture. The struggle for good government, the fight against local corruption, and the effort to attain to better techniques of local administration are every-where characteristic of small communities as of large. All over America these and many other general developments have taken place, but in each community they have followed along special lines, always differing in this or that point from the generalization.

This is what makes these little guidebooks so interesting. Reading them, one is able to follow the large developments of American civilization; but the survey is never monotonous because of the infinite variety of detail in each community. These little books they are little merely in the sense that they cover only a comparatively small area these "little" books, like the Du Page County Guide, are the living flesh and blood of American history.

Du Page County, A Descriptive And Historical Guide

Table of Contents:

  • County Profile
    • The County Today
    • The Good Land
    • "The Great White Father Must Have Seen A Bad Bird ..."
    • So They Came To Du Page
  • Cities And Villages
    • Downers Grove
    • Elmhurst
    • Glenbard (Glen Ellyn And Lombard)
    • Hinsdale
    • Naperville
    • West Chicago
    • Wheaton
  • Motor Tours
    • Tour 1: Central And South Sections Of The County
    • Tour 2: North Section Of The County
    • Key To Points Of Interest On County Motor Tours Map
  • Appendix I: Changes In Points Of Interest Since 1939
  • Appendix II: Population Figures, 1930, 1940, And 1950 Censuses

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The Plow Boys

One day in the year 1860 a large wagon rattled down Main Street in Downers Grove. It was followed by most of the townspeople, children, and dogs. In the wagon a flag pole towered 40 feet in the air, sup-porting a large American flag. Arranged in tiers around the pole were 45 young men of the village, dressed in white trousers, patent leather belts, red flannel shirts, and glazed caps. The townspeople gaped and cheered. These were the Plow Boys, a political organization led by the Republican, Sheriff Theodore S. Rogers. They held banners which pro-claimed: "Lincoln for President!" . . . "Vote for Old Abe." Four years before, their banners had exhorted: "Buchanan for President! Vote for James Buchanan!" Into every nearby town and community they went, banners flying, bringing the townsfolk all the excitement of a political campaign. A generation later, the sons of the original Plow Boys organized a similar group to serve during the campaign of Benjamin Harrison.

A few months after campaigning for Lincoln, the men of Downers Grove were called upon to give more serious proof of their loyalty than the forming of a political society. When Captain Theodore Rogers was commissioned to organize the first company of 100 men in Du Page County for service in the Civil War, 138 men promptly enlisted. Captain Rogers was put in command of Company B, 105th Illinois Infantry, a regiment which participated in Sherman's march to the sea and in the siege of Savannah.

Captain Walter Blanchard, also of Downers Grove, commanded Company B of the 19th Illinois Infantry. In the Battle of Ringgold Gap he was mortally wounded, but rallied his men as he fell. In his report on this battle, General Hooker said of this company: "It has never been my fortune to serve with more zealous and devoted soldiers." In an engagement at Missionary Ridge the Thirteenth, although outnumbered, captured an entire Confederate regiment.