written by C.E. Carroll

[This essay was written ca. 1955 by one of the original members of the Libertyville-Mundelein Historical Society.]

Milwaukee26Lake County's first roads were the Indian trails which had been used by these first inhabitants for hundreds or perhaps for thousands of years, for there is good evidence that this area was inhabited by some primitive people in very early times and that it saw the migration of tribes from quite distant places, as they moved from one locality to another. These trails were only paths, for the Indians had no wheeled vehicles and had no need for wide thoroughfares, but it is said that some of these paths had been used for so long that they had become quite deeply indented and were plain to be seen.

It is probable that the earliest Indians traveled them on foot but at some time in their history they acquired ponies. It is recorded that Big Foot's band of Potawatomie at Lake Geneva had a considerable herd, for they sold fifty to Gurdon Hubbard in 1826.

In moving their belongings from place to place it is probable that much of it was carried on the back of the pony or on that of the squaw, but no doubt in later years rude "travois" were made by strapping lodge poles to the pony's sides with their lower ends dragging on the ground. This made a sort of cart on which bundles of household gear and wigwam material could be lashed for transport, and perhaps on which even the small papooses could ride.

For the greatest utility at all seasons, these trails were laid out on the highest and driest ground and they curved to avoid large trees and other obstacles, so they were far from straight. Since it was necessary to cross watercourses at frequent intervals, the trail would aim at the best fording places, where the banks were low and sloped and the streambed most solid.

When the white men came into Lake County in the 1830's these were the only thoroughfares. The first road to be established through what is now Lake County was the Green Bay, first known as the Military Road. Our Government had a military post at Chicago. This was Fort Dearborn, and Fort Howard was the post at Green Bay. The area between these posts was still Indian territory in 1833 when, in the Treaty of Chicago, the tribes ceded it to the Federal Government.

The treaty provided that the area not be opened for settlements by the whites until 1836, but there was a stipulation therein to permit the Government to open a road through the territory to connect the two posts, to facili­tate the transport of mail and supplies. During the summer months this had not been much of a problem since these things were carried by schooners sailing between the two ports, but in the winter when navigation was suspended, the mail was carried once a month by a soldier on foot, who might be several weeks on the journey in bad weather.

This mail carrier tried to find lodgings with friendly Indians when night overtook him on his trips, but was sometimes obliged to sleep in the woods with only a blanket for protection. His food on the long journey was usually such game as he was able to kill, but in case this source failed, he carried emergency rations of parched corn. The Green Bay road was evidently badly needed, and though it was at first merely the widening of the existing trail by the cutting of a few trees here and there to afford passage for a wagon or sled, it was some improvement.

The early settlers in our part of Lake County all came through Chicago and followed the Indian trail that started at what is now Kinzie Street. This ran northwestward to the Des Plaines River and along its eastern side to a point near the present Lake County line and then crossed to the west side. It followed the bends of the river on that side to the present Gumee, where it crossed again to the east side.

After the lands north of Chicago were formally opened for settlement in 1836, the County Commissioners of Cook County, who then had jurisdiction in the new territory, decreed that a road should be opened thru it to the present Wisconsin line and appointed three "viewers" to select the route. These men, after due consideration, decided that there could beno better course than the old trail, which on some early maps is designated as the "Milwalky Trace." The road was accordingly established thereon, and tho there have been some minor changes over the years such as the straightening south of Half Day, the road which is now our Milwaukee Avenue follows very nearly the course of the ancient trail.

After Lake County was established in 1839 with Libertyville (then called Burlington) as the County Seat, a Commissioner's Court was set up, and in August 1839 this received petitions for the establishing of roads. The court then ordered surveys for the following:

1. A road from Burlington west to the McHenry road at the present Ivanhoe. This started from Milwaukee Avenue as our Church Street, and continued as our Brainerd Avenue to present Rte. 176. This became the Mechanic's Grove road, since it ran thru the settlement of that name about the present Mundelein.

2. A branch from the above road to the McHenry road at Diamond Lake. This was the present Lake Street, Mundelein.

3. A road from Burlington northwest to the junctions of Townships 44 and 45 and ranges 10 and 11, at "Willard Jones' land," and then north between ranges 10 and, 11 to Wisconsin. This was evidently Winchester Road and the northern end of file. 45.

4. A road from the Des Plaines River at Saugatuck, west to Squaw Creek at present Hainesville. This is now Rte. 120.

5. A road. from Half Day to McHenry, by way of Diamond Lake. This is now partly 59A, 83, and the west portion of 120.

6. A road from Half Day to the southwest comer of the County. This is now Rte. 22.

These, then, are our oldest roads and they were established to make the county seat accessible from all parts of the County. It will be noted that it was still difficult for those on the east side of the Des Plaines to reach Burlington, since it was not only necessary to cross the river, but there was also a wide swampy area on the east side of it, which in the Spring was virtually a lake.

There were no bridges in the early years. There was a fording place at the present Gumee known as Rudd’s Ford, and it was here that the Milwaukee road crossed to connect with the Green Bay. The bridge on the Belvidere road (Rte. 120)was probably the first but just when it was put in we are not sure. The earliest reference to it is in the “Little Fort Porcupine” of June 25, 1845, which says, “O’Plain bridge burned on October 15 th. New bridge built by subscription.” So it was probably possible to cross the river there prior to 1844.

There was no bridge at Buckley Road. In fact there was no road until 1851, tho there had been a fording place earlier which was reached by driving thru the field on the Henry Cater farm (then Tobias Wynkoop’s) on Milwaukee Avenue and then by a trail to the Madden road near the Oak Grove school house. The Oak Spring road and Park Avenue did not exist until a much later date.

The Madden road was established in 1842. This was the first east and west road in what is now Shields Township. It ran west from Five Points, crossing the big slough on a corduroy bridge and continuing westward to about the present Ascension cemetery. Then it turned southwest to a point on Rockland Road just east of the present bridge where it crossed the river to enter Burlington. There may have been only a ford at first and we do not know when the first bridge was built at this crossing, but the Rockland road was established before 1850 and a bridge may have been put in at the same time. The Madden road was probably the best route to Burlington for those living east of the river.

After St. Mary's Road was established in 1868, the southern leg of the Madden road was abandoned and no trace of it now exists. We might mention that St. Mary's Road was not called by that name until 1897, when the convent of that name was built upon it. Buckley Road was originally "Bulkley," named for the early Libertyville family of that name. This was established in 1851 and ran from Milwaukee Avenue to meet the Madden Road, and at a later date the whole east-west road to Five Points was called Buckley Road. The original Bulkley Road ran to the river along the north line of Adler Park, but this intersection (with Milwaukee Avenue) was moved a short distance to the north in recent times to jibe with Peterson Road, coming from the west.

The County seat did not remain at Burlington very long, and when it was moved to Little Fort in 1841 the emphasis on roads was changed to those serving the new seat of Government. Burlington, divested of the honor, resumed its "maiden name" of Libertyville and retained its eminence as the "hub" of Lake County.

Postcard images provided by the Libertyville-Mundelein Historical Society.