Village on the county line; a history of Hinsdale, Illinois
Throughout the past few months I have had an occasional inquiry from Hugh Dugan about some phase or incident of Hinsdale's early life. There is no topic upon which I would more readily or agreeably discourse dealing as it does with a period that in retrospect has become more precious to me with the passing of each succeeding year. Thus when I learned that his inquiries were part of a material gathering prelude to the writing of a Hinsdale history under the sponsorship of the Friends of the Library, my first reaction was one of unmixed gratification that so worthy a project was being undertaken, and by such an eminently constituted and well-qualified group. Upon further reflection however, this initial enthusiasm gradually gave way to skepticism and apprehension. The more I pondered the matter, the more convinced I became that no one less than a Dickens or a Hawthorne could produce a portrait of that beloved Hinsdale of by-gone days, that would satisfy the critical and exacting demands of all those who had had the great good fortune to have been a part of it. Hence it was not long until I found myself hoping that the attempt would be abandoned rather than carried through to what I feared would be an inadequate and disappointing result.
But to convey these reservations to Mr. Dugan without appearing unpardonably presumptuous, posed a problem that I shortly decided I had neither the skill nor the temerity to undertake. And now that he and his colleagues have all but completed their work and I have just had the privilege of reading a final proof of the manuscript, how glad I am that I so refrained. My misgivings are dispelled and though many of the older natives could, like myself, cite countless experiences whose inclusion might add flavor to the story, I feel confident they will agree with me that a remarkable job has been done of recreating the Village as we knew it in our youth as well, as recording its less familiar but equally interesting earlier history back through the first settlers even to the glacial age.
Hinsdale's more recent residents as well as those of the future may find compensation from these pages only to the extent of their exploratory interest in community background but to the "old timers" the book should be an exciting adventure in reading and also a nostalgic one. At least it was for me.
Venerable landmarks and institutions, most of them long since gone, come alive again together with many all but forgotten names and faces. A notable example is the old Garfield School before it was enlarged, where a succession of tolerant and kindly teachers bless them all accorded me twelve hectic but happy years of education, beginning with kindergarten and ending with high school graduation. Another fond memory that the book awakens is that of the water tower on the school grounds that someone was always climbing to its precarious one hundred and fifteen foot summit largely because it was unlawful to do so; likewise the skating at Beckwith's Pond and the more extensive skating as well as the swimming and fishing and boating on Salt Creek particularly before its waters were contracted so greatly in 1916 with the breaking of the dam. Still others were the gay parties at the Club; the coasting on the Garfield and the Sanitarium hills; the hay-rides and the sleigh-rides; the morning paper routes traversed on the run by high school athletes and incidentally, the medium through which more than one young man, myself included, made his debut into America's system of free enterprise; the Saturday afternoon football and baseball games at the "end of Washington" where Hinsdale's "Town Team" usually vanquished its visiting opponent; and finally, the village rendezvous at any and all hours Evernden's Drug Store and its beloved proprietors, William Evernden and Nelson Webster.
How many more such recollections could be recounted recollections of events and places all inextricably woven into the daily existence of a community not yet so grown that its population wasn't individually known each to the other and a newcomer seldom remained a stranger more than overnight.
The particular period of which I reminisce was the decade just before and after the turn of the century and even though the Village had been chartered perhaps some twenty-five years previous, I believe that the adults of that period my parents who came to Hinsdale in 1 886 and their contemporaries could properly be classified among the pioneers of the community. At least they were the later pioneers. These families included prominent Chicago business men who preferred the country, particularly Hinsdale's wooded and hilly regions, to either the city or the flat expanses of its more immediate surrounding sub-urban areas. They were cultured as well as capable and the Hinsdale that they encountered during its formative years and that developed under their influence could hardly have resulted other than in a community of character, charm and distinction. They took over their rich inheritance from the founders the Robbins, the Stoughs, the Walkers, the Ayres they planted more trees; they paved the streets; they put in the utilities; they established churches and schools and most important of all, they enacted ordinances to preserve Hinsdale as a superior residential community. With land relatively low in cost their own roomy houses were surrounded by ample grounds. Every home had its vegetable garden and many had cherry and apple orchards in addition to tennis courts and croquet grounds. And the Village abounded with open fields for baseball, football or any other form of athletics. There was in consequence, vastly more out of door living.
It was essentially a pedestrian community. Nearly everyone walked to the train or to market or to school and thus individuals met frequently if not daily. A community on foot is a gregarious community and such was the Hinsdale of that day a warm-hearted, sociable and gracious one.
Differences in degree of material wealth existed, of course, then as now. There were those who were always referred to as the "well to do" and perhaps there was envy at times and small bitternesses here and there. Yet there was very little class society. If someone was ill my mother or some other mother faithfully visited that home with things to eat. My father's diary frequently records an all-night vigil that he would keep at the bedside of some sick friend. None of this was charity none condescension to ease the conscience it was neighborliness. I don't mean to imply that human kindliness doesn't abundantly exist in our society today. There are undoubtedly many Hinsdaleans who presently are giving as much if not more of their time and energy to public service than did those earlier ones of whom I write, but our welfare efforts of today are largely supervisory and impersonal. They are performed primarily as institutional officers or trustees whereas the ministrations of those days were direct and intimate. And as such, they were symbolic of the compassion and simplicity and wholesomeness that characterized the age.
Half a century has elapsed since those days a half century that has brought probably as many changes as have ever occurred in a similar period of history. Hinsdale is much larger therefore less "homey." The strange faces I see these mornings on the station platform far out-number the familiar ones. But the character that the pioneers gave to the community has changed but little. Its citizens of today impress me as evaluating life much as did their predecessors sharing their love of country and believing staunchly as they did, in Christian living and in the American principles of individual freedom and democratic government.
I count myself as singularly fortunate to have lived in both eras to have had my entire life unfold in this beloved village. This book is an authentic and for me a stirring story of its background bridging the span between those who made it and those who are keeping it. It deserves an important place in every local library and all Hinsdaleans past, present and future will be enduringly grateful to Mr. Dugan and his collaborators for the prodigious effort and skill and vision that its production so manifestly reflects.
Table of Contents
Part One - Background
Land, Stream and Native 3
White Pioneers 9
Black Hawk's Threat 17
Settlement Under Way 29
Part Two - The Village
Brush Hill 45
Coming of the Railroad 69
The Elegant Era 93
From 1900 Onward 141
Symbols of a Good Society 158
The Pivots of Village Life 167
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When, at the request of Mrs. Paul Burt, a history committee of the Friends of the Library was assembled, it was decided that we could serve best by collecting information about Hinsdale's past so it could be made available to all who cared to peruse it. Toward this end a fairly large number of pamphlets, books, personal memoranda, and pictures relating to the subject have been accumulated over many months, and this book is mostly a compendium of those data.
The book makes no attempt to boost the town, or to eulogize anything or any person. It carries no banner for a cause. Its only purpose is to relate, as they happened, those events and circumstances which seem especially pertinent to Hinsdale's origin and growth. It is our hope that this has been done in readable form.
It has been the committee's desire to present as complete a story as possible, but it soon became apparent that there would be restrictions on the size of the book, owing to its limited circulation. So it was decided at the outset to make it a story of Hinsdale the Village; a story beginning with the reasons for its being here, and continuing on through the stages of settlement, early, and mid-period growth, but leaving off at the threshold of modern times; at that point where the interests that are purely historical begin to fade. It seemed especially desirable to record those happenings of bygone years that otherwise might be lost to the memory, never to return.
This plan of procedure has served its practical purpose, that of confining the history within the bounds of a single, medium-sized volume, but it leaves much to be desired; for a great deal of information, that is of interest concerning Hinsdale, has necessarily been omitted. It has been impossible, for instance, to do justice to the service records of those who took part in World War II. Perhaps some day those records will be preserved in another Memorial War Review, such as the one compiled after World War I. Similarly, it is suggested that supplemental data might be prepared dealing with Hinsdale organizations, proceedings of the Board of Trustees, or other phases of village life that are worthy of more detailed treatment.
Certainly some committee of the future should undertake a compilation of the town's history following 1930, at about which year the present story terminates. So many people have arrived in Hinsdale since that year, people who have done much to make the village what it is; and interesting events are occurring daily. Modern homes and buildings would take their places among the illustrations. In view of the possibility of such a future undertaking, the preliminary chapters of the present book are somewhat more comprehensive than might be called for by a single volume.
My parents moved to Hinsdale as recently as 1908, so this history has not been written by a genuine old-timer. This shortcoming has largely been ameliorated by the assistance that has been had in the book's preparation. The writer is most grateful to members of the history committee, and to others who helped furnish the data.