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.

Friday, September 27, 2013

Milwaukee Avenue Through the Years

While scrolling through some microfilmed issues of old newspapers at the library, we happened upon this charming 1927 article extolling the “progress” of enhanced transportation down Milwaukee Avenue.
“One thing that is foremost in the minds of most all people in Libertyville is the vast change that has come about in the last three or four years. This is ever present in their minds, because it is ever before their eyes. It isn’t hard for many of us as we gaze at the never ending cavalcade of cars that roll along through town from sun-up to sundown and long into the night, to go back just a few short years and visualize the few automobiles which toiled and struggled over a bumpy, rutty Milwaukee Avenue…” (The Independent Register, January 6, 1927)
What would the author of this article think of the cavalcade of cars rolling down our main street now, an average of 23,000 to 30,000 vehicles passing through town per day?
Milwaukee Avenue has always been the major transportation artery of our town. It was first an old Indian trail, then the “Milwauky Trace,” the pathway for pioneers who settled here.  From 1836 to the late 1870s the Frink and Walker Stage Coach line began transporting riders on this road from Chicago to Milwaukee with regular stops in Libertyville. At the time, hitching posts lined the street and horses and wagons filled the “parking” spaces, especially on market days.

If the weather was particularly wet, wagons stuck fast in low parts of the muddy street. To solve the problem the road was “corduroyed.” Logs were set into the road surface to prevent deep ruts, but passengers endured a ride filled with rough jolts. Later when wide gravel beds were discovered in Libertyville, this material-at-hand was used to build up the roadbeds.

At the turn of the century, occasional automobiles appeared on the dirt road, kicking up so much dust that it became a huge annoyance. Heavy oil was sprinkled over the surface to blanket the dust, but the gummy residue stuck to shoes and ruined carpets as it was tracked into houses. In 1922 local folks finally appealed to the state for roadwork funding. The cost of paving Milwaukee Avenue with concrete was shared and the new road opened to increased traffic.
The 1920s saw a surge in the sales of automobiles, fueled by cheaper cars and the personal freedom afforded by wheels. This was reflected in the auto dealerships that cropped up on our thoroughfare. The earliest of these was Bernard Chevrolet, established by John N. Bernard in 1914. He opened a small shop at 611 N. Milwaukee Avenue with one mechanic and two hand operated gasoline pumps. Fifteen years later, Ford, Chevrolet, Hupp and Willys Overland Whippet dealers were in business. Dealerships grew rapidly again after World War II and into the 1950s, setting the stage for the extensive car dealer row we have today.
Parts of our modern Milwaukee Avenue would be hardly recognizable by our 1927 author, but who knows what changes might evolve and amaze us in future years.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Strike up the Band!

The Libertyville Band

The Libertyville Village Band is celebrating more than 30 seasons of music this summer, but the origins of a village band go back much farther than that. Although evidence is scant, some documentation reveals clues about a band that existed as soon as 1867. The earliest photo, dated 1898, features a small group of musicians wearing trimmed uniforms. Why the band commenced is a mystery, but one guess is that local musicians were recruited to play at the Lake County fairgrounds, located in Libertyville back then.
An article from the Independent Register dated September 3, 1909, verified that a village band played at the county fair, performed on Thursday evenings in the summer, offered indoor concerts during the colder months and performed at various other large gatherings. The band was dubbed Mitchell’s Military Band, after director George Mitchell. George was a Decatur, Illinois, optometrist who also had extensive musical experience.  His members wore outfits that resembled Spanish American War uniforms.  Any connection between band members and military service has not been discovered. George’s connection to Libertyville is also unknown, but a number of Mitchells resided in town at the time. The photo of a saxophone quintet pictured here shows George on the far right.

During the Jazz Age loose white uniforms replaced the military-style khaki uniforms and the renamed Libertyville Municipal Band thrived. In the 1930s Charles Nicholls assumed band leadership, assisted by F. T. Hiddleson.  According to log books held by the Libertyville-Mundelein Historical Society, the band used part of Ansel B. Cook’s water tower to construct a band shell. Years earlier Ansel had built a water tower for his personal use close to his home in what is now Cook Park. When a new large municipal water tower was constructed near the village hall, the old Cook tower was torn down. Band members cut a shell from the tank and moved the frame to Central Park creating a new performance area that amplified the sound of the instruments.

Percy Snow became director in the 1930s and the band survived the Great Depression. Two factors caused the group to disband: World War II commenced and the township stopped their financial support. More than thirty years passed without a local band.

Libertyville residents, Dick George and Terry Hatch petitioned the village board to reorganize the band in the mid-1970s. The band was approved and started performing under Gail Williams in 1977. At that time Gilbert Stiles was mayor and he and his wife were big supporters, faithfully attending concerts along with many village residents.

David Kublank assumed leadership of the band in 1978 and remained band director for 31 seasons. During this time the band established their tradition of weekly summer concerts and a Fourth of July show at Butler Lake. The Kublank family can boast a long association with the band. David’s father and uncle were band members in the late 1930s and early 1940s. Director Dustin Helvie took over for one season in 2009. New director Corey Ames has a few seasons under his belt as the summe of 2013 draws to a close. Make sure to join him and the whole band in Cook Park next summer to enjoy a tradition that is part of our past.