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Friday, May 27, 2016

Mother Rudd's Temperance Tavern

The historic Mother Rudd House stands on the corner of Old Grand Avenue and Kilbourne Road in Gurnee. The building is a testament to Lake County's settlement period and the county's role in the national Temperance Movement.

Mother Rudd House, Gurnee, Illinois. Built in 1843.
Photo courtesy of Warren Township Historical Society. 
Wealthy Buell Harvey Rudd (1793 - 1880), endearingly known as "Mother Rudd," was Lake County's first woman innkeeper, a temperance supporter, and one of the county's best known citizens. She founded the O'Plain House (today's Mother Rudd House), as a temperance tavern in 1843.

Temperance taverns developed in the 19th century out of the Temperance Movement, which initially railed against hard liquor, but soon advocated abstinence from all alcohol.

This social movement was mostly made up of women, who saw the ills of menfolk drinking whiskey, rum and hard cider at all hours of the day. Drinking hard liquor was culturally accepted and widespread, but by the late 1830s, temperance taverns were established as an alternative to public bars where alcohol was served.

The Temperance Movement, which had its start in New England in the early 1800s, was transplanted to the Midwest by settlers. Among those newly settled Lake Countians were Wealthy and Jonathan Harvey.

Wealthy and Jonathan had married in 1813 in the prosperous whaling port of New London, Connecticut. They lived in Litchfield, Herkimer County, New York, and later in Summit County, Ohio before coming to O'Plain (now Gurnee) with their 10 surviving children, aged 6 to 29.

It is generally believed that Jonathan and Wealthy Harvey arrived in O'Plain around 1842, following Wealthy's brothers, Horatio and Abel Buell.

The settlement of O'Plain was appealing due to its location at the intersection of the Milwaukee Road, and the Fox Lake and Little Fort Road (now Grand Avenue). Innkeepers, grocers, and blacksmiths converged at this point to provide services to travelers and the influx of settlers.

Milwaukee Road and Grand Avenue intersecting at the iron bridge
over the Des Plaines River, circa 1900. Mother Rudd House in distance.
In 1843, the Harveys purchased 77 acres from Isaiah Marsh at today's Kilbourne Road and Old Grand Avenue. (Kilbourne Road had originally been part of the Milwaukee Road). Along with having acreage to farm, the property included a settlement house built by the New York Land Company, which provided temporary housing to settlers.

Shortly after their arrival, Wealthy and Jonathan set about building a new home for their family with accommodations for travelers, across the road from the settlement house. It is probable that part of the original settlement house was used in the new structure.

When planning the new frame structure, a carpenter offered to build it for free if the couple paid for the doors at a rate of $1 for the first door, $2 for the second door, $4 for the third door, and so on. Initially, the Harveys thought this was a good deal until a friend calculated that the last door (there would be 22) would cost them $2,097,152!

O'Plain was not a dry community, and Wealthy took a stand against her alcohol-serving tavern neighbors, by opening her temperance tavernthe O'Plain House. A nearby public bar with one of the worst reputations was Barney Hick's "California Exchange." Hick's place was so raucous that the one-room school situated across the street had to be re-located because "people resented having their children forced to see the drunken men who frequented the tavern."

"Woman's Holy War" an allegorical political cartoon representing the Temperance Movement.The Saint Joan of Arc-styled leader is part of a group of "holy women" destroying barrels of alcohol. (Published by Currier & Ives, New York, 1874. Library of Congress online)
Sadly, on January 22, 1845, Jonathan Harvey passed away. He was 55 years old. After her husband's death, Wealthy dressed in black as was the custom, and after two years of mourning, she could've added a touch of color. 

On November 14, 1856, Wealthy married Erastus Rudd. Rudd farmed the land while Wealthy ran the Temperance tavern, which became known as "Mother Rudd's."

From the start, Mother Rudd's O'Plain Tavern was a place for the community to come together, and was used as a Town Hall for local elections and meetings. At Christmas, Wealthy offered customers elaborate dinners that included oysters and pastries, and entertainment such as sleighing parties.

Intersection of the old Milwaukee Road/today's Kilbourne Road (left) 
and Grand Avenue, showing Mother Rudd House at right. Circa 1910.
Courtesy of Warren Township Historical Society.
During the Civil War, the Rudd's were strong Union supporters. Local legend states that the Rudd's barn, and possibly the tavern's basement, were used to hide runaway slaves.

In June 1870, Erastus Rudd died of dropsy (edema). After her second husband's death, Wealthy dressed in black for the rest of her life, adding a white lace cap on her head after an appropriate length of mourning.

Now in her late seventies, Wealthy discontinued operating her home as a tavern. She lived there until her own death on August 8, 1880.

Wealthy's daughter, Nancy Harvey Mutaw, re-opened the house as an inn, continuing her mother's legacy. According to the Warren Township Historical Society, Nancy operated the inn until about 1894. She died in 1915.

Nancy Harvey Mutaw (1830 - 1915),
daughter of "Mother Rudd," circa 1890. Findagrave.com online
After Nancy's death, the property was sold to the McCann family, who for a time, had a candy store on the front porch.

After a series of owners, in 1984, the Village of Gurnee purchased the historic building and three acres. An agreement was made to partner with the Warren Township Historical Society in the restoration and operation of the house. For over 30 years, the Society has exhibited its historical collections and given tours and programs at the Mother Rudd House, while the Village continues to maintain the building and grounds.

For more information on touring the Mother Rudd House contact the Warren Township Historical Society info@motherrudd.org.

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Sources:

A History of Lake County, Illinois, John J. Halsey, 1912.
A History of Warren Township, Edward S. Lawson, 1974.
Warren Township Historical Society, Gurnee, Illinois.