Elmhurst Places/Neighborhoods

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Q: Where did Carl Sandburg's family live in Elmhurst?
A: Circa 1857, when Elmhurst was known as Cottage Hill, Elmhurst carpenter Peter Torode built a home for his family on York Street located just north of St. Charles Road. Within a few years of construction, Mr. Torode moved a 20’ x 24’ frame structure (which had served as a former public schoolhouse) and added it to the back of his house. Over the years, the home (pictured left) was owned by various residents until the family of Carl Sandburg moved in at 331 S York Street circa 1919. The Sandburgs added an upstairs room to serve as Carl’s study. After the Sandburgs moved to Michigan circa 1928, they continued to own and rent 331 S York Street until the Earl Little family bought the property from the Sandburgs in 1949. In late 1964, the First Baptist Church at 343 S York Street was planning an expansion to the north. The church purchased the Sandburg/Little house, which was north of the church property. The church was willing to give the house to anyone free for the asking if they would move it. There were no takers, and the house was torn down in 1965.

Q: I have seen an old photograph of ponds in Wilder Park. What happened to them?
Elmhurst History Museum has a photograph like you are describing (at right) The image is circa 1936, and the ponds were at the north end of the park which extended to Virginia Street at the time. The Elmhurst Press (June 20, 1951) reported that “the ‘lily pond’ that has grown weeds in Wilder Park for the last 10 years” would become a lawn area. The park board had tried unsuccessfully to apply a waterproof material to the bottom of the pool, and the only water-proofing solution was too expensive. So the park board agreed to convert the pond to lawn space.

Q: Is there any history on Hahn Street? Is it named after someone of that name?
Hahn Street is named after Johann Hahn, an early Elmhurst settler, who was born in Germany. When he died in 1906, he was one of Elmhurst’s oldest residents. He was a cabinet maker/carpenter. He built his family’s home at 144 N York Street (left) as well as the original St. Peter’s Church. The 1904 Du Page County Atlas shows Hahn Subdivision between Third Street and North Avenue; and between York Street and Addison Avenue.

Q: I grew up on Fairfield Avenue in Elmhurst in the 1950s. I could have sworn that Fairfield continued on through the (Eldridge) park area, and I see on a map that it now comes to a dead end.
You are correct about Fairfield Avenue The Elmhurst Historical Museum has a 1958 street map of Elmhurst, and Fairfield and Hillside go south to Butterfield Road. Elmhurst Park District started developing Eldridge Park in 1960, and those streets were closed off.

Q: Can you please tell me about the Wilder Mansion? 
The home (pictured at right) was built circa 1868 for Seth and Elizabeth Wadhams, who named the estate White Birch(es). It was a two-story square building with a central hall, parlor and bedroom on the north, a sitting room on the south side and a dining room in the southwest corner, and four bedrooms upstairs. The kitchen and the pantry were in an L on the south side of the house. The second residents of the house, Mr. Henry W and Mrs. Aurelia King, took ownership circa 1890. They enlarged the house, adding a wing on the north side as well as a veranda on the east and north sides. It appears that Harry (or Henry) and Rosalie Selfridge owned the property next, although they did not live in the house.Thomas Edward and Annie Wilder purchased the building and property in 1905 and moved in with their family. The Wilders named the property Lancaster Lodge, after Mr. Wilder’s hometown in Massachusetts. Mr. Wilder passed away in 1919, and Mrs. Wilder remained in the house for about a year before moving to Lake Forest, IL to be near her grown children. In 1921, the newly-formed Elmhurst Park District acquired the Wilder estate and offered the former Wilder residence and the surrounding one-acre of land to the City of Elmhurst for $14,000. The former Wilder home housed Elmhurst Public Library from 1922 to 2003. The Wilder Mansion was remodeled inside and out 1936/37 as part of the Elmhurst Centennial program. The library made an addition to the west of the Wilder Mansion in 1965, which was torn down in 2008 as part of the Elmhurst Park District’s renovation of the Wilder Mansion. As the result of an intergovernmental agreement in 2000, the Elmhurst Park District now owns the Wilder Mansion and it is used for special events and programs.

Q: Would you know where the Wilder family lived after selling the mansion?
According to Anna (Mrs. T. E.) Wilder’s obituary in the Elmhurst Press, Mrs. Wilder moved to the North Shore to be closer to her sons circa 1920, a year after her husband’s passing. Mrs. Wilder was living in Lake Forest when she died in 1940.

Q: What information do you have about the hill/concrete tank bomb shelter in Ben Allison Park?
The City of Elmhurst had plans to convert a former water reservoir on Scott Street into a Civil Defense Communications Center in 1962; however, it did not carry out the plans. A well was built for the City of Elmhurst at Scott Street and St. Charles Road circa 1927. In 1934 a WPA project built a 200,000-gallon reservoir at Scott Street about 900 feet from the well. The structure in Ben Allison Park is a former water reservoir. When a water tower was built on the southeast corner of St. Charles Road and Route 83 circa 1953/54, the reservoir was no longer needed. In the late 1950s City crews knocked a hole in the former reservoir for the purpose of establishing a civil defense center. Architectural plans were drawn up to convert the reservoir into a Civil Defense Headquarters, but they were never carried out past the initial construction phase and the project was abandoned. The Elmhurst Historical Museum has a copy of the architectural plans to convert the old water reservoir into an Emergency Operating Communication Center on Scott Street, dated November 15, 1962.

Q: What does the stone marker on the NE corner of Cottage Hill and St. Charles Road commemorate?
Hill Cottage stood on the north side of St. Charles Road at Cottage Hill Avenue for many years. It was built circa 1842 as a tavern, hotel and rest stop for a stagecoach route that went from Chicago to the Fox River Valley. It also housed the first post office in the community. Hill Cottage later became a private home. In the early 1890s, the house was moved to 413 S York Street where it remains today as a private home. In 1936, when Elmhurst was observing its centennial, the local chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution placed the marker on that site (pictured at left).

Q: I am doing a report about Pioneer Park, and I was wondering about its history?
Elmhurst Park District purchased 4 acres of land at Mitchell Avenue and Prairie Path Lane in 1974. The park district held a Name-A-Park contest. Out of more than 60 submissions, a citizen’s advisory commission selected Pioneer Park as the winning entry. The naming ceremony was held on Labor Day, 1974. For more information on Pioneer Park, please go to http://www.epd.org.

Q: What can you tell me about the Great Western Railway depot in Elmhurst?
The depot (pictured at left) at 511 S York Street served the Chicago Great Western Railway from its founding, as the Minnesota and Northwestern Railway in 1887, until service was discontinued in 1968. The CGW primarily transported freight, with some commuter service. In 1971 the Elmhurst Park District purchased the depot and the railroad right-of-way and developed Wild Meadows Trace. The renovated depot was dedicated at a community-wide celebration of the United States Bicentennial in 1976.

Q: My mother recalls being placed in the Elmhurst Cradle after her mother’s death in 1922. Where was it located?
Elmhurst did have an orphanage from 1920-1924; however, there is no record of it being called The Cradle. It was located on the former Thomas B. Bryan estate on the southwest corner of York Street and St. Charles Road, and it was run by the Sisters of St. Mary. The St. Mary’s Home for Children was an Episcopalian institution. When the Elmhurst facility closed, the children were moved to an orphanage at 2822 Jackson Boulevard in Chicago, which was also maintained by the Sisters of St. Mary.

Q: Please tell me the history of the Bicentennial Fountain in Elmhurst.
Elmhurst had a three-day celebration to observe the United States’ Bicentennial in 1976. Saturday’s events included a parade, memorial service, drum and bugle corps competition and a Free Street Theater performance. The festivities continued on Sunday with a Pioneer Picnic at Eldridge Park and an outdoor concert, followed by fireworks, at Berens Park. The festivities culminated on Monday, July 5 with the dedication of the Bicentennial Fountain (pictured right) and the restored Chicago Great Western Railway Depot in Wild Meadows Trace.

Q: I have lived on Harbour Terrace since 2004. My understanding is that the street is named after Frederick Harbour. What can you tell me about him?
Frederick C. Harbour was a prominent Du Page County attorney and long-time Elmhurst resident who served as Elmhurst City Attorney under three different administrations: 1910-1911, 1929-1931 and 1933-1939. Although an active Democrat, according to Elmhurst Mayor Claude Van Auken, “In all of his long service, Fred Harbour was never known to let partisan political considerations influence his opinions or decisions. When his counsel or interpretation were asked, he gave his answer based solely on what he believed to be the facts and the law, regardless of whether or not such interpretation was popular with political interests or the public…” Mr. Harbour and his family lived at 229 Cottage Hill Avenue. When Mr. Harbour passed away in 1943 at the age of 75, he was the oldest practicing lawyer in the county, and had been in the legal profession for 50 years.