Friday, July 11, 2014

The Amazing, Ever-Growing Libertyville, part 2

Welcome back to part 2 of local history librarians Sonia Schoenfield's and Jenny Barry's presentation about the growth of Libertyville presented to the third grade at Copeland Manor School this past May.

Do you ride your bike on the railroad tracks? We do!

The 1920s proved to be another time of big population growth for Libertyville. One of the big reasons for this was improved transportation providing better and easier access to Libertyville. Libertyville’s other rail line carried electric trains and ran through the southern part of the village. (The North Shore Bicycle path takes its place today).

North Shore Bike Path at Fourth Avenue, 2014

North Shore Electric Railroad Depot at Milwaukee Ave and Park Ave, looking east, after 1905
The first electric rail cars ran to Libertyville from Lake Bluff in 1903. About a decade later Samuel Insull obtained control of the electric railway system known as the North Shore Line and began improvements almost immediately. In 1924, due to increased volume on the North Shore Line, another line to the west of the North Shore was needed to accommodate the high speed inter-urban trains going to Milwaukee. The new line opened on June 5, 1926, with inter-urban trains to Chicago from Libertyville and Mundelein which ran once an hour.

In addition to the improved electric train line, there was something else that made traveling by car to Libertyville a whole lot easier…..paved roads.

Milwaukee Ave looking north from Church Street, before 1923

We take many aspects of life for granted in the 21st century, aspects that were not at all guaranteed in the 1920s. For instance, the 1920s saw many streets in Libertyville paved for the first time and parking lines were drawn on Milwaukee Avenue downtown.

On the other hand, some things never change. Motorists complain about the condition of the roads now, and they certainly did in the 1920s. As an example, we submit this letter nominating Milwaukee Avenue as "The World’s Worst Road" published in the Chicago Tribune, August 29, 1920:

"Sir: Allow me to nominate that unspeakable ten miles of drainage ditch they call a road north of Wheeling as Great Grandaddy of all the poor highway species. It is not fair to think of it in the same breath with honest, twentieth century transportation lines. It is the pariar [sic] of the highway family, the leper among even those other road crimes in Lake county.
Let the motorist who leaves Cook county concrete and ventures north through Half Day and Libertyville bid farewell to all he holds dear under his hood. Ten miles an hour over those awful chuck holes is breakneck speed. Faster is suicide. As far as I could learn, neither county nor township has worked the worst part of this disgrace this season. Holes are continuous through Antioch on the way to Lake Geneva."

Milwaukee Ave looking north from Church Street, after 1923

With better access to the town, Libertyville’s population grew by 75% between 1920 and 1930 - from 2126 to almost 4,000 residents .

World War II Veterans return home

Over fifteen million veterans returned to their homes after the end of World War II. After fighting in the war, these veterans could hardly wait to settle down and get back to a normal life. They started by looking for jobs. The public rallied around veterans, and employers were eager to hire them.

One of those companies was The Frank G. Hough Company of Libertyville. At the war's end, Hough made it his policy to hire only returning GIs and to pay them a nickel more than the going wage. With over 90% of the employees having served in the war, the state of Illinois acknowledged the company with an award for this outstanding practice.

The returning veterans needed somewhere to live. Between 1947-1949 over 300 homes were built as the Copeland Manor neighborhood between Milwaukee Avenue and the Des Plaines River and Lincoln Avenue and Glendale Road.

Houses being built on East Lincoln Avenue

The residents of Copeland Manor joined the rest of the country in creating the Baby Boom. Where are these kids going to go to school?

Copeland Manor School, 1957

Copeland Manor School opened in 1957.

Between 1940 and 1960 the population of Libertyville more than doubled  - growing from
3930 residents to 8560 residents!

This is the amazing, ever-growing Libertyville. Kids grew up in Libertyville like you; they went to Copeland School like you;  their dads might have driven on new roads to factories in town or maybe their dads took the train to work like your moms and dads take the roads and trains to their workplaces.

Go out and make some history!



Friday, June 27, 2014

The Amazing, Ever-Growing Libertyville, Part 1

Before the end of the school year, local history librarians Sonia Schoenfield and Jenny Barry were invited to speak to the third grade students at Copeland Manor School. Each spring the third grade completes units on the history of Chicago including the Great Chicago Fire and how transportation impacted the growth of Chicago and the growth of the suburbs.  Ms. Schoenfield and Ms. Barry accepted the challenge to show that Libertyville's growth was driven by many of the same factors. See if you can find the similarities between the developments of the two towns. The third graders at Copeland sure did!

Between 1880 and 1890, the population of Libertyville doubled!  Why?

On May 31, 1880, the Chicago, Milwaukee, and St. Paul Railroad pulled in to Libertyville for the first time. With daily freight service and, not much later, passenger service, commerce grew and so did the population.  Between 1880 and 1890 the population of Libertyville doubled from 221 to 550 people. Read more about Libertyville’s First Railroad in a previous blog post at

In 1895 an entire block of downtown Libertyville had to be rebuilt. Why?

The Great Libertyville Fire of 1895
Cigar maker Max LeBeau was up late working to finish cigar orders.  Around midnight, Max rose from his chair, walked to the front of his shop and looked out the window. What he saw sent a cold chill up his spine. Huge flames were leaping skyward in back of Schanck’s Hardware store on the corner of Sprague (now Cook) and Milwaukee (Rolland’s Jewelers, across from Picnic Basket). Max called “Fire! Fire!” rousing many people from their sleep.

Bucket brigades quickly formed because there was no fire department. Despite the efforts of the people carrying buckets, and primarily because of a lack of a readily available water supply, fighting the fire proved a losing battle.  What started at Sprague Street ended one block north at High Street (School Street today). Buildings on the west side of Milwaukee were untouched, but on the east side, 27 frame buildings were completely destroyed.

Instead of being defeated, the citizens of Libertyville rallied. Downtown Libertyville was stronger than ever as evidenced by a 1903 Lake County Independent article stating:

“Libertyville’s remarkable growth within the last few years is mainly the result of the great fire of 1895, which wiped out the entire business section. Since then the grit and energy of its businessmen have materialized into what might be termed a united effort to build a new and ideal city on the ashes of the old town.”

Between 1890 and 1900 the population of Libertyville grew by over 50% from 550 to 846 residents.

Libertyville’s Connection to the Great Chicago Fire
One of the only buildings standing after the Great Chicago Fire was the Water Tower of which the masonry was done by Libertyville’s own Ansel B. Cook.


Stay tuned for a look at the 1920’s and post-WWII Libertyville population booms in our next post.



Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Wet or Dry in Libertyville?

On June 26, 1913, Illinois Governor Dunne signed the Illinois Municipal Voting Act granting Illinois women the right to vote for Presidential electors, all local offices not specifically named in the Illinois Constitution and on any “local option” issues. Clara Colby of Libertyville became the first woman in Illinois to cast a ballot under the new law by voting in a July 5, 1913 election seeking approval to take out bonds to build a new village hall. Mrs. Colby’s vote and the votes of other Libertyville women carried the election and construction on the new village hall was approved. This was just the beginning of the influence of the women’s vote in Libertyville elections.

In early 1914, effort began in earnest to place a local option issue on the ballot for the April election. The question to be answered by the voters of Libertyville Township was “Shall this town become Anti-Saloon Territory?” or, should Libertyville ban the sale of alcohol and become a “dry” town. At a January 4 meeting, the Reverend George McGinnis, an officer of the Illinois Anti-Saloon League, predicted that Libertyville would be the site of one of the fiercest wet/dry battles in Illinois and that it was likely that women’s votes would push through the dry agenda. Needing 127 petition signatures to put the issue on the ballot, the local dry supporters gathered 159 signatures. The wet/dry battle in Libertyville was on.

Citizens sprang to action. At a Citizenship meeting at the Methodist Church ladies were invited to learn more about the voting process and listen to a speaker explain “The Relation of the Citizenship to the Temperance Cause.” Dr. A. H. Churchill permitted his office to be used for the preparation of literature for mailing. Said one of young women stuffing envelopes, “If the town goes dry we girls ought to get quite a bit of credit for it, and I think the newspaper should say so too.”

The Dry forces did not rest on election day, April 7. A thorough canvas was made of the country districts; cars, surreys, buses and single rigs were used to bring farmers and their wives to town to vote. The ladies rest and instruction room in the Jochheim bakery building was besieged all day by women seeking direction on how to mark ballots.
At the end of the day, Libertyville voters had spoken. The vote fell out along gender lines:
Women voting dry – 312, wet -137
Men voting dry – 341, wet - 402
Total dry - 653, total wet - 539.
Libertyville was to become a dry town by a 114 majority. Had women not voted in this election, the men’s votes would have assured Libertyville remained a wet town.
The Wets immediately filed a protest claiming that women were instructed right at the polling station and friends stepped in to the booth to help. Their biggest argument was that since the Illinois Supreme Court had not yet ruled on the constitutionality of the Illinois Municipal Voting Act, all of the votes cast by women were illegal and should be thrown out. Ultimately, the Illinois Supreme Court upheld the Illinois Municipal Voting Act and the election results stood. The six saloons in Libertyville were forced to cease business and the sale of alcohol became illegal.
The Wet/Dry issue was once again on the ballot in 1916. This time the men’s majority was also in favor of a dry town. Libertyville remained dry until the end of National Prohibition in 1933.

Saturday, January 25, 2014

W. W. Boyington

In the nineteenth century a well-known Chicago architect was commissioned to design buildings in Libertyville, most likely through his association with Ansel B. Cook. Mr. Cook of course, was a town dignitary and the benefactor of the Cook Memorial Library and Cook Park.  In the 1850s he was a successful stone mason and building contractor.  Ansel Cook laid the first flagstone sidewalks in Chicago and held the masonry contract for the Chicago Water Tower pumping station. This station, a landmark on Michigan Avenue today, was designed by noted architect William W. Boyington. No doubt the collaboration between Mr. Boyington  (below, left) and Mr. Cook (below, right) sealed their friendship through a mutual love of construction and design.

William W. Boyington was born in Massachusetts, but he learned his trade as a young man in New York. He trained first as a carpenter, then studied engineering and architecture.  He practiced in New York and served in the state legislature before he was drawn to the burgeoning metropolis of Chicago. Throughout the nineteenth century Mr. Boyington designed many notable buildings in Illinois. The new Illinois State Capitol building, Joliet Prison and the entrance to Rosehill Cemetery are still-standing examples of his work.

In 1868, about the same time as the Water Tower construction, W. W. Boyington designed a new church for Libertyville. The Union Church Movement originated after the Civil War as an early ecumenical movement. Such churches were often built in small communities, offering people from different religious traditions the opportunity to join together and worship as a community.

In Libertyville, Presbyterian, Methodist, Congregational and Universal groups combined their resources to build a church on Church Street west of Milwaukee Avenue. Pictured above, the tall, stately Union Church was a fixture in town until it was destroyed by fire in 1916. Later, St. Lawrence Episcopal Church was built in its place.

Around 1870, Mr. Cook bought a tract of land from his father-in-law Dr. Foster that included all of what is now Cook Park. Although documented proof is yet to be found, it is thought that Mr. Boyington had a hand in designing the Ansel B. Cook house and the original gardens that graced the property on Milwaukee Avenue.

William Boyington’s last commissioned project was our old town hall, still standing at 715 N. Milwaukee Ave. At the time, Ansel Cook was chairman of the village’s building committee and he joined forces with Mr. Boyington to construct the Romanesque structure in April 1894. For many years the town hall was used for meetings, lectures, entertainment and Lake County political conventions. The American Legion bought the building in 1982 when the Libertyville Township offices vacated the site and opened a new office on Merrill Court. In 1996 a metal replica of the original wooden cupola was set in place. A 2002 restoration removed about 26 layers of paint from the exterior brick and stone, restoring the original surface.

The next time you drive down Milwaukee Avenue through Libertyville, observe the buildings erected by Boyington and Cook and remember their interesting architectural legacy.

Friday, November 8, 2013

Here Comes the Railroad

Trains: we love them when they take us quickly to Chicago, we curse them when they halt our progress along Milwaukee Avenue. Once upon a time, however, Libertyville’s first train was cause for major celebration.


Back in the 1860s and ʼ70s in Libertyville, local farmers raised sheep and hogs which had to be driven by foot to the markets in Chicago at the slow rate of about 12 miles a day. The Chicago, Milwaukee and St. Paul Railroad ran tantalizingly close to Libertyville but on the east side of the Des Plaines River. Herding animals to a safe crossing of the river to the railroad there was almost as time-consuming as walking them to Chicago.

By 1879 Libertyville had grown to the point where both businessmen and farmers could see the benefit of a railroad in their community. They gathered and elected three of their most trusted associates to approach the railroad officials and ask for an extension to be built into town from Libertyville Junction, known today as Rondout.


Colonel E. B. Messer, George Schanck, and Dr. Sam Galloway were Libertyville’s chosen representatives. When they returned from their meeting with the railroad officials, they had a deal. The railroad promised to lay tracks into Libertyville and provide one daily trip to Chicago. Libertyville’s side of the bargain was a little more work: they had to acquire the right of way for the tracks to come into town, grade the roadbed, build a bridge across the Des Plaines River, and provide the land for the depot.


Undeterred, the businessmen formed a company to get started right away. General Walter Newberry was the president of the company and he headed up many of the fundraisers, including several popular dances. Obstacles to obtaining land were determinedly overcome. Local farmers volunteered their labor as well as the use of their horses and wagons, and George Schanck and Caleb Wright donated land for the end of the tracks which, incidentally, was right next to their stores and grain elevators.

Work progressed apace. Thankfully the winter of 1879 was a mild one so construction continued with little delay. The railroad company ended up helping with the bridge. And on May 31, 1880, the first train whistle sounded in Libertyville. You will not be surprised to learn that the first freight included a carload of reapers for George Schanck to sell at his store.


The frequency of trains increased and passenger cars were added to the line. Within a few years Henry Kern built a boarding house on the southwest corner of First and Church Streets and George Schanck started a lumber yard and mill right near the depot. Libertyville businesses benefitted from the faster connection to Chicago and beyond, all because a few men had a vision and were willing to support it with money and sweat equity.


The original tracks ran from Libertyville Junction/Rondout into Libertyville along a path that now leads behind the Foulds factory and ended up at First Street between Cook and Church Streets. The end point of those first railroad tracks is but a shadow now, a hidden memorial to the diligence and entrepreneurial spirit upon which Libertyville was built.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Behind the Gate


If you’ve ever driven on North River Road, as the road takes a sharp jog to the right, you may have noticed an old gate hidden by overgrown trees. Beyond the gate lie fields and trees but not much else. The curious mind wonders, what’s back there?

Ask around and you’ll get answers akin to urban myths concerning murder, nuns, a mental asylum or summer camps, tales about ghosts, blood, and mysterious sounds. Librarians Jenny Barry, Arlene Lane and Sonia Schoenfield set out in 2012 to uncover the truth. We found a few tragic accounts but mostly tales of people who wanted to use the land to help others less fortunate than themselves.

Early owners of the land dating back to 1846 include farmers William Boardman and Solomon Kelsey. The gate’s history begins, however, with Britton I. Budd (above left), a Chicago railroad executive and president of the Public Service Company, whose wife Katherine (above right) was well-known for her work with disadvantaged children. Upon Katherine’s death in 1925 Budd bought 200 acres along the Des Plaines River north of Libertyville for the purpose of building a summer camp for children from (Episcopal) St. Mary’s Orphanage in Chicago.

The Katherine Kreigh Budd Memorial Home for Children was dedicated June 27, 1926. The camp consisted of 15 buildings including dormitories, a dining hall, a recreation hall, a chapel, an infirmary and an outdoor swimming pool and playground.

Also known as Doddridge Farm, the camp welcomed girls from the orphanage for several years. It was also used by Episcopalian clergy as an annual retreat location and by other groups such as the Illinois Emergency Relief Commission who hosted convalescent women on relief rolls during the Depression in the early 1930s.

In the late 1930s the camp was leased to the Boy Scouts by the Episcopal Church; later they sold the property to the Catholic Church and the Catholic Youth Organization (CYO) so that the camp facilities could be more fully utilized.

The Catholic Church invited a European, Catholic lay woman's organization, The Ladies of the Grail, to establish their U.S. headquarters at Doddridge Farm in 1940. Some of The Ladies are pictured above at Doddridge Farm. The organization was tasked with readying the camp buildings first for war refugees (who never arrived) and then for summer camps for inner city children.
Dissatisfaction arose, however, as the Ladies of the Grail felt that the initial camp repairs had been mismanaged and that their authority at the camps was undermined by the CYO. In addition, The Grail preferred to spend more time developing their own programs instead of the children's camps. They left Doddridge Farm in 1943.

The CYO took over running the camp, followed by Catholic Charities in 1954. In 1955 Franciscan brothers repurposed the site as St. Francis Boys’ Camp until 1973. The camp was opened to girls until 1979 when the camp closed for good and the buildings were demolished.
The Lake County Forest Preserves had been purchasing land north of Libertyville along the Des Plaines River throughout the 1970s, and in 1982 they acquired the site of the former camp. Since 1985, volunteers have set about reclaiming the land and restoring it to its native state. Volunteers regularly participate in clearing and cutting invasive species, replacing them with native plants.


Today the land now known as St. Francis Woods is connected to Independence Grove via the Des Plaines River Trail. Walking and horse trails provide access through the environmentally sensitive area.

The land behind the gate is not without misfortune. In 1943 a watchman from Doddridge Farm was arrested for armed robbery; he subsequently escaped from the Lake County Jail but did no harm to anyone. In 1961 a toddler drowned in the Des Plaines River after wandering away from his family. In 2002 a woman’s remains were discovered on the property, disposed of by her husband who worked at nearby stables and who confessed to her murder in 2008.

Despite these tragedies, the gruesome legends and urban myths perpetuated about the property do not hold up. The enduring legacy of the property behind the gate is one of good will and good works. Today, under the stewardship of the Lake County Forest Preserves, a part of the land is currently accessible to the public, and the rest is being restored as open space.

For more information, see Jenny Barry's March 2031 presentation to the Libertyville/Mundelein Historical Society.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

The Public Service Building

The story of the Public Service Building in Libertyville is very much connected with Samuel Insull, founder of the Public Service Company of Northern Illinois, Commonwealth Edison, and owner of numerous banks. In 1907 Insull bought a large acreage south of Libertyville and built and lived in the house now known as the Cuneo mansion.

Insull wanted to build a commercial building that would house his bank and promote the potential uses of electricity. To this end, the Public Service Building was constructed in six months in 1928 at a cost of $250,000. The architect, Hermann Valentin Von Holst, had designed many buildings for Insull, including the original Condell Hospital. The Public Service Building was the last structure on which they collaborated.

The new structure graced the southeast corner of Milwaukee Avenue and Church Street. Architecturally, the Public Service Building combines several styles, mostly featuring Tudor Gothic and Spanish Plateresque, but incorporating elements of Old English, Moorish, and Asian Indian.

Notable features of the new building were an open arcade near the center of the building, topped by a dome and a lighted clock. Through the arcade was a courtyard featuring a sunken garden, a fountain, and landscaping decorated with (what else?) electric lights.

Tenants of the building included Insull’s Libertyville Bank and Trust as well as The Frock Shop and Lindroth Millinery, upscale retail shops. The Public Service Store was located in the northwest corner of the building, a showcase for electrical appliances. The northeast corner of the building housed Countryside Motors, a Chevrolet dealer, the entrance of which faced Church Street and featured an 8-foot doorway so cars could be brought into the showroom space.

The second story of the Public Service Building was home to offices, including two dentists, a beauty shop, an excavating company, a realty and a lawyer. Three-, two- and one-room apartments rounded out this early multi-use building.

The building opened to great acclaim on November 17, 1928. It was the height of the booming twenties, and optimism reigned. Boy Scouts gave tours of the new structure, and young ladies handed out cigars to the men and roses to the women.

Unfortunately, the confidence of the era didn’t last long after the Public Service Building was built. When the stock market crashed in 1929 Insull lost everything, including the Public Service Building. In the years following, the building and grounds gradually deteriorated due to neglect.

In the early 1950s the building was purchased and “modernized” with a marble façade to hide any memory of the failed Bank and Trust. The Libertyville Federal Savings Bank and Harry Taylor’s Drug Store were some of the new occupants.

In 1982 a complete restoration of the building was undertaken. The following year it was added to the National Register of Historic Places.

Today the courtyard is gone, with a parking lot and bank drive-through in its place behind the building. The arcade is filled in but the outline of its magnificent walkthrough can still be seen by the keen observer. Despite changes over the years, the Public Service Building remains a town landmark and fine example of unique architecture.