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Friday, August 21, 2009

Mundelein Turns 100!

This year marks the village of Mundelein's 100th birthday. Actually, Mundelein was settled in 1835, but the village incorporated in 1909, making this the centennial celebration. Curt Teich large letter postcard for Mundelein, 1950 (OCH-1817).

There are three things that stand out in my mind about Mundelein: St. Mary of the Lake Seminary, International Eucharistic Congress of 1926, and the community's long struggle to find a permanent name.

Since I've already addressed the Eucharistic Congress in an earlier post (2-20-09), I'll explain the town's search for the perfect name.

The first name associated with Mundelein was Mechanics Grove in 1835. The name is straightforward and refers to its people who "worked with their hands," and "grove" indicates there was once a large stand of trees.

When the Wisconsin Central Railroad came to town in 1885, land was needed for a depot. John Holcomb, a prosperous local farmer, donated 20 acres for the depot and the community became known as Holcomb. That name did not last long as people quickly realized that a stakeholder in the railroad was William Rockefeller (John D.'s brother), and forthwith renamed the town Rockefeller in 1886.

They may have hoped that by adopting that name, the town would receive some special compensation from the Rockefellers. Local legend claims that William visited
once. He rode the train to the Rockefeller depot, got off the train, and got right back on. Postcard of the depot in Rockefeller, circa 1905. Courtesy of private collector.

In 1909, Arthur Sheldon bought acreage in Rockefeller for his business school. He had buildings constructed and a large number of students came from across the country. The school's motto was: Ability, Reliability, Endurance, and Action. The people of Rockefeller were so taken by Sheldon and his motto that they adopted the acronym AREA for the town's name. Postcard of summer session at Sheldon's School of Business, circa 1910. Courtesy of private collector.

That name sufficed until 1920 when Sheldon's school went bankrupt. Conveniently, around that same time, the Catholic Archdiocese of Chicago, under the direction of Cardinal Mundelein, was looking for a considerable amount of land on which to build its new seminary. Construction began in 1920 of St. Mary of the Lake Seminary.

It is believed that the citizens of Area were so enthused about the seminary plans, and the new firetruck they received from Cardinal Mundelein, that they agreed to rename their town Mundelein in 1924. Though not everyone was happy. The non-Catholics, and there were quite a number of them, did not think the name was appropriate. Postcard of Cardinal Mundelein at seminary cornerstone ceremony in Area, 1920. Courtesy of private collector.

The stage was now set for the International Eucharistic Congress to arrive in 1926, and for the town of Mundelein to be put on the world's map.

After eighty-five years, I think we can be fairly certain that the people of Mundelein will keep this name.

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