The Growing Years

written by C.E. Carroll

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

Milwaukee55In the early days of our village the line of demarcation between the urban and the rural was very dim indeed. Before its incorporation, in 1882, there actually was no village and hence no village "limits" and even for a long time after that there was confusion, for one of the village boundaries got lost. But that is another story.

There was a group of houses and other buildings whose center was the present Cook Park. In this park had been the cabin of our first inhabitant, George Vardin, and this became also the home of our first Postmaster and Sheriff, Henry B. Steele [who moved into Vardin’s cabin after Vardin left in 1835], and his cabin contained our first Post Office. Our first doctor erected a frame house there that was his residence, his Apothecary Shop, and was again our Post Office. It was there that the "Liberty Pole" marked the first celebration [July 4, 1836]. On the north edge of the park was the schoolhouse and on the west side of it was the first church. So our Cook Park was always a focal point and the village that became Libertyville grew up around this core.

Land on the north, south and west was taken up by settlers quite early; many of these came even before the legal entry time of 1836. The east side was not settled so early for here the land sloped to the river and was lower, was in fact, quite swampy in places. An old plat, made about 1842, shows that the east side of Milwaukee Avenue was cut up into rather small farms at the southern end of the section which would be, roughly, the area between Hurlbutt Court and Newberry Avenue. Later maps show that Roswell French had a farm of 135 acres on both sides of Milwaukee Avenue south of Hurlbutt Court and that Henry Osborne and E. B. Messer owned most of the land from there to Rockland Road.

Horace Butler, and later his son Josiah, had a large tract running south along Brainerd Avenue to the present Park Avenue. On the North were the farms of Dr. Galloway, Calvin Appley, John Laurence, and Ralph Bulkley, besides the County Farm. Many of those farms were well within the present village limits. There was no Cook Avenue, either East or West, until about 1860, and West Cook was established nearly 20 years later. The school house stood where West Cook Avenue is now and sat back from Milwaukee Avenue, about 150 feet. This building was of squared logs and was at first, only one story high, but at a later time, a second story was added and the whole structure covered with clapboards and a covered porch added to the front. Such stores as the town had were in the block north of the school, on both sides of the street. The first building north of the school was Schanck's first store where, in 1870, George H. Schanck began the hardware and implement business that is still carried on under the Schanck name on the opposite side of Milwaukee Avenue. Until 1880, that corner was occupied by the home of Lyman Sprague, one of the earlier general merchants. Schanck bought the Sprague house and moved it farther east and then moved his store building to the site.

Several other stores occupied space on the west side of Milwaukee Avenue up to the present location of the Gas Company. The area north of this which is now the site of Montgomery Ward’s store was Isaac Heath's furniture store, and his house adjoined it. We come then, to the small farm of Fredrick Grabbe where he raised fruit and kept bees.

On the opposite side of the street the block north of Schanck’s was largely occupied by the "Grove House," later known as the "Fisher House," a huge three-story frame building, a landmark for many years and famous throughout the county as a political and social meeting place. All of the early stores were of frame construction in the familiar "board front" style of architecture and were raised several feet from the ground, making it necessary to climb five or six steps to enter. Many of them had wooden awnings across the front and each had a row of hitching posts along the street.

Several of the stores had hitching sheds in the rear to shelter the customer's horses in bad weather. The churches and taverns had those also. The schoolhouse was also a meeting place, and sometimes, a church. In 1839, the first Probate Court of Lake County had convened in it. After the Union Church was built, in 1868, it was frequently used for entertainments. Dances and parties were commonly held at the "Grove House," which had a ballroom that occupied the entire third floor. There were a number of dwellings along the highway, north of the stores. Lake Street, leading to the lake and the cemetery, had been established quite early and some homes built along it.

A sawmill stood on the southwest corner of Lake and Milwaukee, and at one time, there was a grist mill to the west of it. North of Lake Street was the "Town House," which was formerly the Congregational Church, and just where the Milwaukee Railroad tracks now cross was the cheese factory. Fred Grabbe's feed mill was at Newberry Avenue.

The "showplace" of the town was Mr. A. B. Cook's home. In 1870 Cook bought the 18 1/2 acre tract, part of which is now our Cook Park, from his father-in-law Dr. Jesse H. Foster, and for some years, maintained the area along Milwaukee Avenue as a sort of formal garden, very attractively laid out in walks and flower beds, but in 1878, he built the large house which is now our library and planted the grounds with trees and shrubbery, with stables, windmill and water tank in the rear.

This is pretty much what our town looked like in 1880 when the railroad came. We still had our muddy(or dusty) main street. There were no sidewalks, no street lights, no sewers and no city water. As we mentioned in a previous article [The Booms], the railroad brought a mild boom and the town was never the same afterwards.

Prior to the advent of the railroad, George Schanck had bought land to the east of his store and opened a street through it to the depot grounds. This he named Sprague Street and it is now East Cook Avenue. He built his grain elevator and several houses along this and opened his lumberyard. Just south of the tracks, after they were laid, Woolridge and Wright erected another elevator and a hardware store.

Henry Kern built a hotel across from this and kept a livery stable. Church Street was opened up east of Milwaukee Avenue and was called Orchard Street, since it ran through Caleb Wright's orchard, for his farm was then at the corner now occupied by the Public Service Building and ran clear through to St. Mary's Road. The Presbyterians built their church on Orchard Street, and about the same time, the Methodists erected a small chapel at the west end of Church Street. The first brick store buildings were built at this time when Dr. F. C. Knight put up a double store structure on the present site of Petranek's, and the ones now used by the Gas Company and Montgomery Ward soon followed.

During this "boom" period there were some twenty-five new dwellings erected, including some of the big square houses that still exist. Our first newspaper, “The Libertyville Times,” began publication from quarters above Schanck’s Store in 1881 and a barber shop was in the same location. Other new stores appeared on Milwaukee Avenue opposite the Park.

By 1882 there was a strong sentiment in favor of incorporation, so in a referendum held May 15 of that year, an almost unanimous vote favored this and elected as trustees John Locke, Dr. F. C. Knight, P. C. Kimball, L. E. Penniman, Caleb Wright, Alden Webb, and Edwin Osborne. George Anderson was appointed Village Treasurer, and Martin Freshman, Street Commissioner. W. T. Lake was made Constable.

In 1884 some of our citizens petitioned the Board to build sidewalks, of wood, along Milwaukee Avenue and not long after that oil street lamps were installed at the downtown corners. Henry Williams was engaged at a salary of 15 cents per night to light these, whenever it was necessary to have them lighted (probably on moonless nights). The board was obliged to raise this salary to 25 cents per night when Fred Sandman took over the job in the following year. Fred also demanded and got 25 cents extra each time he filled the lamps.

Now that the ladies could walk to the stores and the Post Office on the new board sidewalks, they petitioned the Board to have the barbwire fences removed along our main street to prevent snagging their long skirts on windy days.

Our town was growing up. Mart Freshman was getting $15.00 a month to keep the holes in the streets filled up and Will Lake was drawing $12.50 just to see that law and order prevailed, but the Trustees were collecting village taxes now and they could afford all these new-fangled things.

Postcard images provided by the Libertyville-Mundelein Historical Society.