Early Settler History (1832 - 1850)
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Aaron Parsell operated the first saw mill located on the east side of the Des Plaines River where the Chicago Northwestern railway now crosses it. Parsell was the first man to settle in Proviso Township and lived on the banks of Salt Creek in 1832. Another saw mill began operation in 1833 near the same location. It was owned and operated by George Bickerdike and Mark Noble.
A few years earlier in 1828 a few miles to the south and east in what was destined to be Lyons Township David and Barney Laughton, two brothers from Bourbon Springs, built a house near the present day Burlington Railroad in Riverside. In 1829 Stephen Forbes (later the Cook Country Sheriff) moved into the future Lyons Township.
Local residents felt the need for their own ordinances for a long time. Cook County had been part of Peoria County until 1831. That same year Chicago became the County Seat of Cook, but it remained difficult to reach due to poor roads. Vandalia, the state capital, was many days away. Many felt local government could best solve its local problems -- one of the biggest problems being poor roads. It was still years from the day when Marion F. Covell (a son Thomas Covell) would provide the materials for passable roads to the entire region.
Pioneers received their mail once or twice a month from the nearest Post Office — Fort Wayne, Indiana. In 1831, the United States Government Postal Department in Washington, D. C. established a Post Office in the then "village" of Chicago. It required twenty days for mail to be delivered from New York, via Cleveland, Ohio and Detroit, Michigan. Members of the Immanuel Lutheran congregation received their mail on Sundays at church.
In 1832 General Winfield Scott's army arrived aboard the first steamship to reach Chicago. After camping at Riverside for several weeks, 750 men with supply wagons marched along the DesPlaines River to the Native American trail (now Lake Street) and continued west to fight the Blackhawk warriors. Three years later that trail became the Salt Creek Turnpike (Elgin Road). The trail was scraped, ditched and planked much like the Old Plank Road (Odgen Avenue/Road). Both roads served stage coaches. Additionally, the Salt Creek Turnpike carried wagon hauling lead from Galena and returning carrying salt. In 1848 the first railroad west from Chicago was built -- the Galena and Chicago Union Railroad. The next year the first railroad bridge to cross the DesPlaines River was built.
In October 1833, Thomas Reed Covell and his family settled in what was to become Section 28, Proviso Township. He bought a large tract of land covering many sections of the area from the government. The northern boundary line of Covell's property reached the location of Madison Street, the Eastern line, Mannheim Road, and the southern boundary about a mile north of LaGrange. Thomas Reed Covell's log cabin was on the west side of Salt Creek just north of LaGrange.
Nicholas Torode's saw mill was located on Salt Creek (near Fullersburg -- the general area surrounding the current intersection of Odgen Avenue and York Road). In 1848 Torode's saw mill burned to the ground. Not long after, Herr Graue and his partner William Asche, stood among the burnt ruins of their saw mill located near Torode's in Brush Hill, now Hinsdale. Fred Graue vowed then to rebuild on the same spot, not a saw mill, but a grist mill constructed of brick and stone. He bought out his partner and labored for five years. Finally, in 1852, golden cornmeal, whole wheat, white or rye flour and feed for farm animals were available to the entire region. Native Americans wandered to Fred Graue's mill during maple syrup time knowing they would receive corn cakes covered with the sweet syrup.
Fred Graue's mill was one of the few authenticated "Underground Railway" stations in Illinois. It was managed by John S. Coe and Miller Graue who hid the runaway slaves in the mill's cellar. The old Southwest Highway, now Ogden Avenue, became the established route between Chicago, the mill and the boats to freedom. Abraham Lincoln, while in office as the State Legislator, stopped at Graue's mill for a visit while passing through to Chicago.
Most of the future Proviso Township was prairie except for the banks of the Des Plaines River, Salt Creek and two groves:
In 1836 Charles H. Chapman purchased 640 acres 13 miles west of Chicago for $800. Little is documented of Mr. Chapman except in two title abstracts. These documents state he owned much of the land currently known as Bellwood. In the same year a road was completed linking the small village of Chicago with the busy, growing town of St. Charles.
In 1842 P. H. Fippinger, his son and Glos family, settled in the area. P. H. Fippinger purchased farmland from Charles Chapman. According to an interview with John Fippinger, Jr. (P. H. Fippinger's grandson) the Fippinger farm extended from St. Charles Place to Butterfield Road, from 30th Avenue to Mannheim Road, although other people recall the Fippinger farm as being somewhat smaller. In 1857 John Fippinger (Sr.) married Elizabeth Glos and the two had seven children.
To the south La Grange was laid out on a 440-acre tract owned by Robert Leitch. (He had moved from New York in 1842.) At that time people were reluctant to move that far from Chicago. As with the surrounding areas transportation was a major problem. The stage coaches between Chicago and the western settlements passed through every two or three days. The stage line ran along the Chicago and Dixon Road (later named Odgen Avenue.) In the early 1860's Leitch chose the name Kensington Heights for his development project, but soon after he suffered some business reverses and was forced to abort the project.
In 1845 Charles G. Puscheck (Germany) settled in the north of Roosevelt Road and east of Mannheim. Henry Evers came from Germany in 1850 and settled on a farm one block south of Roosevelt on Wolf Road. Henry Bohlander, the father of George, ran a harness shop in Brush Hill. George was a harness maker and was also talented with the violin. Irving Porter, in the northwestern area (now Hillside), started a horse trading business on his farm during the Civil War.
Mr. Graue and his family must have been elated as they welcomed the "Franzosenbusch" German settlers who purchased forty acres for a school and a church on the corner of 22nd Street and Wolf Road. These were his friends and townspeople from Hanover, Germany, and were the neighbors of Christian Thiele and Ferdinand Klaas. Christian Thiele started his trading post and a general store where Fresh Meadows Clubhouse now stands. Ferdinand Klaas, the blacksmith, was also a postmaster. His blacksmith shop stood on the opposite corner from Thiele's trading post and general store on 22nd and Wolf Roads (the former the site of Lilac Lodge – now just north of the Walgreens). Ferdinand Klaas later became one of Hillside's first trustees.
In 1848 a cemetery was begun on the Peter Bohlander property. This cemetery is now known as Old Settler's Cemetery and is located at St. Charles Road and Taft Avenue in Berkeley.
A census was taken in 1850. In that census is listed the value of land owned by some of the landowners.
The combined values of these lands today (even excluding the structures on these lands) is in the many, many millions.
To continue with the story see Life in Proviso (1850 - 1900). For more background information, see America in the Mid-1800's and What the settles may have seen and Savanna Views.
Why did the area attract so many settlers in the 1830's?
Most of the growth came as a result of plans to build a canal from Lake Michigan at Chicago and the Illinois River at Ottawa. This link, along with the Erie Canal, the Great Lakes and the Mississippi River would open the interior of the United States to the East Coast. In 1830 the Illinois State Legislature established square-mile tracts of land along the canal's projected path. The revenue from the sale of this "canal land" was to finance the construction of the canal. Land speculation was instantly the big business of the area. (See Lincoln and Early Growth South and West of Chicago.)
But there was one major problem with the plan.
The land near the proposed canal's path was part of the five million acres surrounding Chicago which belonged to the Potawatomis. In 1833, under pressure from local and federal governments, the Potawatomi exchanged their holdings for land in Iowa and one millions dollars in goods. Much of the 'goods' went to creditors -- a scandalously bad deal for the Native Americans deplored in many contemporary accounts. By 1835, the vast majority of the Native Americans had moved from the Chicago area and new settlers arrived.
The primary sources of this information are:
"Bellwood, 1900-1975, The Heart of Proviso Township, A Diamond Jubilee History From the Beginning to the Present with an Emphasis on the Formative Years", by the Bellwood Public Library, copyright 1975, compiled by Kathryn Zygowicz
"Cobbs Directory - Pre 1900 Maps Springfield Historical Society", Proviso Township Library", 1898
"Melrose Park -- 100 Years of Progress"
Last Modified: 09/28/2007