The Booms

written by C.E. Carroll


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

Milwaukee20Libertyville has enjoyed periods of unusual prosperity at different times in its history. Several times, however, when it seemed that prosperity was just around the corner, it failed to make the turn, as witness the County Seat fiasco in 1840. This was true again in 1854, when a railroad was supposed to be built but wasn't. That was the sad story of the Chicago and Des Plaines Railroad. The roadbed was graded as far as Butler's Lake. You can still see the cut on the north side of Park Avenue just west of Vincent Baldwin's. No Boom that time.

Again, in 1872, hopes of a boom were aroused by the building of the Chicago, Milwaukee and St. Paul R.R. through the township. Everyone hoped it would run on the west side of the river and through our village, but no, it went through Sulphur Glen instead (that's Rondout, you know) and that Boom died aborning, for that was three miles from us and just too far away to do much good, but our citizens were dead set on having a railroad, even if they had to build it themselves.

So one evening, along in 1878, some of our prominent citizens held a meeting in Schanck's Hardware Store, (that was where most of the important affairs of the time were settled) and a committee of three was chosen to confer with the officials of the St. Paul R.R. with the idea of persuading them to build a branch from Sulphur Glen to Libertyville. The result was, the railroad agreed to equip a spur track and run thereon, one train a day, provided that the people of Libertyville should grade the roadbed, build a bridge over the river and provide suitable depot grounds.

A company was at once formed to take advantage of this "generous offer" and the officers proceeded to raise funds by soliciting subscriptions of cash and labor. Since the farmers of this and neighboring townships would be benefited by the shipping facilities, they were induced to donate the services of themselves and their teams for the grading.

They were asked to pledge, one hundred dollars each, in labor, at the rate of $2.50 per day, and many of them did this. In fact, they were generous and some exceeded their pledges. C.C. Bulkley for one, gave $150.00 in work. Money was raised by various social functions for the benefit of the road; one dance produced $200.00.

Building a railroad with only subscribed cash and donated labor was a difficult job. The company had to meet claims, get rights of way, pay workers, (at least some of them), fight law suits, etc. One of the petty annoyances was the habit of some of the volunteer teamsters of pounding down the grade stakes so they wouldn't have to move so much dirt, but despite all the difficulties the work was completed.

Nature cooperated; the winter of 1879-80 was a mild one and it was possible to work on the track nearly every day. The Spring of 1880 saw the task finished and the first locomotive blew its whistle in the village early in May, touching off a big celebration in which all joined.

Libertyville was never the same after that. The coming of the railroad marked the transition of a sleepy hamlet into an up and coming railroad town, for in that era the possession of a railroad was a distinct mark of status. The long expected Boom had arrived.

Of course we still had only one train per day, that is passenger train, and that consisted of an engine and one coach which was a combination of express and passenger car, but there was freight service, in and out, for the merchants and the farmers and that was what really counted. Things began to hum.

One of the first results of the Boom was real estate development. Josiah Butler subdivided part of his farm and sold lots on both sides of “Division Street” which is now Maple Avenue; George Schanck opened up "Sprague Street" (Cook Avenue to us), down to the depot, built his mill and elevator and some houses along it. Caleb Wright opened "Orchard Street," now east Church; Doctor Samuel Galloway and General Newberry laid out subdivisions north of the railroad. People bought lots and built on them.

In the next two years there were at least twenty-five new dwellings erected, costing all the way from $400.00 to $3,500,00. In addition to the residential building, our earliest brick business buildingswere erected. The one occupied by the Gas Company is of this vintage as is the one to the north of it.

The Methodists built a chapel on the site of the present parsonage; the Presbyterians put up their first church down in Caleb Wright's orchard; Henry Kern built his hotel and livery stable near the depot; the Wrights and John Woolridge started a second elevator and lumber yard in the same area and we even acquired a newspaper, for in 1881 "The Libertyville Times" was started by Henry L. McCullough. This was a weekly and published until 1886, though it changed hands several times.

Industry in our village had its inception at this time. There was the cheese factory, about where the Milwaukee tracks are now and there was Fred Grabbe's flax mill, feed mill and saw mill, all on Newberry Avenue and there were several blacksmith shops and wagon makers.

All of this new prosperity entailed responsibility and the need for regulation, so in 1882 the people voted to incorporate, to provide police protection and street maintenance. They elected John Locke to be the first President.

The Board met at Schanck's Hardware Store, as we might have guessed, and they hired Will Lake for constable; had to pay him $12.50 a month too, but he was a good officer and kept everything peaceful and orderly, and they hired Mart Freshman for street commissioner for a like sum and he kept the holes in the road filled up.

They had to levy village taxes to pay for all of this and then the women got to agitating. They wanted sidewalks. If they were going to pay taxes they were not going to walk in the road any more, so they got sidewalks, wooden ones, but that didn't satisfy them. They wanted the barbed wire fences taken down along Milwaukee Avenue because they said the barbed wire snagged their long skirts when they walked on the new sidewalks on windy days. So Constable Lake had to persuade the property owners to humor them.

After that they wanted street lights, so our Village Board put up a kerosene light at each intersection on the main street and they had to pay Henry Williams 15 cents every night to light them, unless it was a moonlight night, but Henry wouldn't take the job after one year and they had to pay Fred Sandman 25 cents to do it and he demanded, and got, 25 cents extra when he filled the lamps. There was always something to spend the taxpayer's money for.
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This was probably Libertyville’s most significant Boom but it wasn't the last. In the late 1890's the St. Paul R.R. began surveys for its Madison Division through Libertyville; this would really put us on the map. We would then be eligible for regular commuter service to and from Chicago and would be readily accessible to people in the towns west of us. At the same time the Electric R.R., then operating from Waukegan to Evanston, through the North Shore towns, let it be known that they would shortly build a branch from Lake Bluff to Rockefeller (Mundelein) and maybe farther.

That was when some wealthy Chicago men began to buy farms in the area. Men like F.E. Marsh, John R. Thompson, Austin Clement, J.W. Luttrell, D.N. Hansen, John G. Neumeister and Ernest Hecht bought thousands of acres from farmers whose fathers or grandfathers had bought from the Government, at $1.25 an acre, the land which now brought $100.00.

The farmers moved into town and built more houses so we had a Boom then. It was at this time, which really extended past the turn of the century, that our village acquired the Warren Heath building, where Taylor and Seiler are now, and the Newcastle Hotel building, the North Shore station and several other Milwaukee Avenue store buildings.

It was in 1906 that Samuel Insull first got Libertyville in his sights. In that year he bought his first farm, the J.N. Barr place, just south of the E.J. and E. tracks. From that he went on to acquire the W.W. Carroll farm and the rest of the half section that comprised the original Farnham homestead.

That was just the beginning. He kept buying until he had 6,000 acres of the best land in Libertyville and Vernon Townships. To tell of all the other things he did would be needlessly repetitious.

As we look back to that era now and think of all the many and varied things this man was concerned with, it seems fantastic; his huge farm operation with live stock of all kinds and there was the railroad, the utilities, the banks, real estate, building, and even our hospital, that bore his imprint. We can only say that was a Boom time. Yes, that was a Boom, while it lasted.

As monuments of that Boom we have the Public Service Building, the Bartholmay Building, the Condell Hospital, the Dall Building and the Masonic Temple, to mention just a few.


And now it looks like we are in another Boom period.
There is no railroad in prospect to trigger this Boom. In fact it looks like we might stand to lose one this time, instead of gaining a railroad as we have in other times, but we are going to prevent that if we can. We need our North Shore Railroad. We need it now more than we ever did. In spite of the changed time in which we live, this form of mass transportation is still the best for the suburban dweller, the commuter, and that is what we are getting in ever increasing numbers, so let's hang onto it.

The Boom this time is an "up surge" of a great movement that has been going on for some time, a vast hegira from city to country. The larger families, the larger incomes, are bringing hundreds of new people into our midst to build new homes and as each period of prosperity has done something to our architecture (for man has ever sought to tell the world, by the greater bulk of his dwelling or the red paint on his barn, that he has prospered), so, we have the big square houses with hipped roofs, to mark the first Railroad Boom of 1882. The farmers who sold out and moved to town at the Century's turn built the tall ones, with tower and cupola and long front porches. This time it is ranch houses and tri-levels.We wonder what will come next?

"Build thee more stately mansions, O my soul."

Postcard images provided by the Libertyville-Mundelein Historical Society.