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Friday, July 30, 2010

Ansel B. Cook, Libertyville

Ansel Brainerd Cook (1823-1898), built a name for himself as a state lawmaker and stonemasonry contractor. He is certainly one of the best known individuals in Libertyville's history, due in large part to the fact that the historic Cook House sits prominently at the center of town.

Cook was born in Connecticut and spent his youth on the east coast. He came to Libertyville in 1845 where he met Helen Foster, marrying her in 1849. Ansel B. Cook, circa 1875. (above) (LCDM 94.34.123)

Helen Foster Cook, (1829-1881) (above) was the daughter of Libertyville's first physician, Dr. Jesse H. Foster. (LCDM 94.34.122)

In 1853, Ansel and Helen moved to Chicago. Cook was elected to serve in the Illinois State Legislature from 1863-1867. He returned to Lake County and was elected the county supervisor from Libertyville Township and served in the 26th General Assembly.

After the devastating Chicago fire of October 10, 1871, he returned to the city to help rebuild it. His company's stone yard was operated on the site of the Willis Tower (formerly the Sears Tower).

Cook's stonemasonry business replaced most of the flagstone sidewalks that were wrecked in the great fire. Stereoview of the McCormick residence in ruins after the Chicago Fire, 1871.

About 1870, he purchased his father-in-law's property and began construction on a large mansion along Milwaukee Avenue. The house was completed by 1878, and became a focal point in town.

View of Libertyville looking east from Cook's property, circa 1908.

Chicago, Milwaukee & St. Paul Railroad Depot, Libertyville, 1908. (LCDM M-86.1.647)

In 1872, the Chicago, Milwaukee & St. Paul Railway built a line from Milwaukee to Chicago bypassing Libertyville. In response, Walter C. Newberry and Ansel Cook persuaded Libertyville's business community to fund a three-mile spur line into town, which was completed in 1880. The following year, Helen Foster Cook died after their Libertyville Express train was hit by the night train out of Chicago. Despite the tragedy, but also as anticipated, the railroad brought an economic boom to Libertyville.

In 1882, Cook married Annie Barrows of Connecticut. About 1891, Annie died, and Cook married Annie's sister Emily.

Cook passed away in 1894, and stipulated in his will that a memorial of brick or stone should be constructed for at least $10,000, and a library be attached. In 1910, The Alpha Club opened a circulating library out of this building.

Cook's third wife, Emily, died in 1920, and willed the house to Libertyville to be used as a library. The house's facade was given a facelift, probably to make it appear more like a public library. The front porch was removed and a stucco exterior and pillars were added.

Following the completion of the Cook Memorial Library in 1968, the Cook house became the headquarters of the Libertyville-Mundelein Historical Society. The society uses the house as a museum and archives.

The Cook Memorial Library is undergoing a major re-construction project scheduled to be completed in fall 2010. During construction the Cook house is closed to visitors, since the buildings are connected.

The Ansel B. Cook House was placed on the National Register of Historical Places in 2001. The house is beautifully situated in Cook Park, which features an award-winning rose garden.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Avon Center School (c. 1841 - 1988)

One-room schoolhouses dotted the landscape of 19th century Lake County. By 1861, there were 70 of them, including the Avon Center School (District 47) in Avon Township.

Avon Center School was located in today's Grayslake, east of Route 83 at Shore Wood Road and Drury Lane. The school was built about 1841. The exact date is unknown, because the school’s records were destroyed in a fire in 1886 when Leonard Doolittle’s house burned down. Doolittle, who was the school treasurer, attempted to rescue the school documents from his house, but was overcome by smoke and died in the blaze.

This is the first page from the Avon Township Board of School Trustees's new ledger book, after the school's treasurer and records were lost in a fire. The first act of business on April 5, 1886, as shown on this page, was to "settle with the Administrators of L. Doolittle former Treasurer as follows to wit money in his hand..." and to appoint Emory Adams as the new treasurer. This ledger from the museum's collection dates from 1886 - 1951. The records lost more than likely dated from 1841.

The first school was a log building, 16 x 14 feet. The teachers were Tom Whitmore and Miss Cook, who was called “Little Miss Cook” for her short stature. Apparently, her feet could not reach the floor when she sat on a chair. The log cabin school was in use from circa 1841 to 1850.

The drawing was made by Gunnor Petersen for the Avon Center School History compiled in 1918 by its scholars in celebration of Illinois' centennial. (LCDM 2003.3)

Students from the log cabin school period (c 1841 - 1850) had contact with Native Americans who camped under a locust tree north of the schoolhouse. Despite relinquishing their land to the U.S. Government in the Treaty of Chicago in 1833, Native Americans continued to pass through Lake County for many years, returning to ancestral burial grounds. The students noted that the visitors carried a large quantity of dried meat and corn, and had a great many dogs and ponies. The Native Americans also continued to plant corn on islands on nearby lakes.

In 1850, a new school was built for its 70 students, and the log cabin structure became a blacksmith shop. The second schoolhouse was a frame structure about 20 x 30 feet. Teacher, Frances Simens (later Mrs. F.C. Doolittle) provided a globe and a map for study purposes.

The first frame schoolhouse (above) in later years when it was the residence of A. Petersen.

The third Avon Center School was built about 1887. This building was 36 x 25 feet with a brick foundation, and a wooden flagpole out front. Photo of school and students taken circa 1916.

The 1887-built school was remodeled about 1916. The school was raised and a cement block basement put under it for a furnace room and "play" room. The wooden flagpole was replaced with galvinized pipe. Larger windows were added and the porch enclosed. Photo of the improved school and its students taken in 1918.

Interior of the remodeled school, 1918.

In 1950, a two-room brick building was constructed for Avon Center School on Route 83 in Round Lake Beach. The following year, the framed schoolhouse was put up for bid. It sold for $6,700 and became a family residence.

The new brick building marked the end of Avon Center School's one-room school history. In 1988, the school merged with Grayslake District 46, putting an end entirely to Avon Center School.

In 1918, the school's history was compiled by several of its' scholars—Walter Parker, Leo Sheldon, Maybelle Sheldon, Della Bacigalupo, and Bertha Doolittle.

Shown in the photograph (left) are Askel and Gunnor Petersen, holding a kitty and puppy. Gunnor did the fantastic drawings shared in this blog. Many more of his drawings are included in the school history, along with more photographs and information about the school and environs.

I am grateful to the wisdom of school officials in 1918 who created the project to "chronicle" area history from "original sources." The museum holds 52 Lake County school histories, 18 of which have been digitized with grant funding and made available online at the Illinois Digital Archives. Though they are referred to as "school histories" they also document early settlers, businesses and town histories, and often share rare photographs and anecdotes, as seen in Avon Center School's history.

The Avon Center School History can be seen in its entirety online at the Illinois Digital Archives. The museum's online collections recently moved to the IDA, and are accessible on the site's Digital Past link.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Lyons Woods Forest Preserve

In the last few years, the Lake County Forest Preserves has begun a program to celebrate the history of preserve sites by placing historical information panels at the entrance to preserves. These panels introduce visitors to the site's history and include stories of individuals and events associated with the preserve.

The most recent history panel installation was at Lyons Woods Forest Preserve on Sheridan Road in Waukegan. The preserve was named for the Isaac R. Lyon family who came to Lake County from Massachusetts in 1843, and owned land within the preserve. The family established the I.R. Lyon General Store in Waukegan that continued for generations.

Isaac Reed Lyon (1815-1883). Dunn Museum 94.34.239

I.R. Lyon General Store in Waukegan shown at right in this photo taken after a heavy snowfall in 1871. 
Dunn Museum 94.14.61

During World War I, a portion of today's Lyons Woods was used as an airfield. 

Curtiss JN-4 "Jenny" airplane parts were assembled in Waukegan during World War I. The biplane was one of North America's most famous war planes and used to train U.S. Army pilots. The JN-4 was test flown on the Curtiss Flying Field on the north side of the forest preserve. For more, read my post on the Curtiss JN-4

Curtiss JN-4 at Curtiss Flying Field north of Waukegan in today's Lyons Woods Forest Preserve. 
News Sun Collection, Dunn Museum

Another land owner was Murl Shanyfelt (1896-1987), who purchased property on the northwest corner of Sheridan and Blanchard. From 1927 to 1947, Shanyfelt lived in Waukegan where he owned and operated People Cash Market. He moved to the site of today's Lyons Woods and established a trailer park on either side of Sheridan Road. 

Aerial view of Shanyfelt trailer parks at Sheridan Road and Blanchard Road, 1961.

The most significant landowner in the preserve's history was the Pavlik family. In 1940, George and Eugenia "Jenny" Pavlik purchased 25 acres of open land and established an evergreen nursery. The mature evergreens in the preserve were planted by the Pavliks as six-to-eight inch seedlings.

George Pavlik and Eugenia "Jenny" Van Honder on their wedding day in 1923. 
Photo courtesy of Virginia Pavlik Bleck. 

According to the family, George and Jenny "believed it was important to have a good work ethic, to respect the stewardship of land, and to create beauty on earth. They planted thousands of trees so that people could enjoy them forever."

Pavlik's Nursery shipping trees to the Air Force Academy in Colorado, 1950s. 
Photo courtesy of Steven Roy. 

In the 1950s, George supplied large pines from the nursery for the new Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, Colorado. The huge pines were balled and loaded onto semi-trucks for transport to the Academy. 
Aerial looking north of Blanchard Road along Sheridan Road of Pavlik farm, nursery and orchard, 1946.

Be sure to visit Lyons Woods to learn more of the story of this site and to enjoy over 200 acres of open space.
Trailhead and welcome/history panel at Lyons Woods Forest Preserve.
Other preserves to visit with history panels are Van Patten Woods, Grant Woods, Greenbelt, Independence Grove, Wright Woods, Lakewood, and Cuba Marsh. For more information please visit the Forest Preserves's website

Friday, July 9, 2010

The Civil War and a Tale of Two Henrys

This weekend the Civil War will be recreated at Lakewood Forest Preserve. The annual event brings hundreds of re-enactors, sutlers, and entertainers, and thousands of visitors who delight in a chance to immerse themselves in those times.

In the spirit of remembering the War Between the States, I thought I'd share the tales of two Lake County men. Henry Fiddler and Henry Kern never met, but they share a name, settled in Lake County in the same year, and both had a desire to fight for their country.

Henry Fiddler (1844-1864), was a German immigrant to Avon Township, arriving in 1854. He settled with his parents along Grand Avenue on the north side of Sand Lake, and farmed the land. Henry was too young to enlist when war broke out in 1861. The enlistment age was 18 (though younger men often did enlist).

By 1863, a desperate call for new recruits rang out, and on January 25, 1864, Henry went to Waukegan and enlisted with the 39th Illinois Volunteer Infantry. The 39th was called “Yates’ Phalanx” in honor of Governor Yates of Illinois.

Fiddler headed to Chicago where the regiment was in the process of recruiting 300 men. Members of the regiment appeared at Bryan Hall, a public auditorium on Clark Street in Chicago, where citizens enthusiastically applauded them. Henry officially mustered into the ranks of the 39th on January 31.

Interior of Bryan Hall during Douglas's funeral from the pages of "Harper's Weekly" June 22, 1861.

Bryan Hall became a rallying point for many Civil War events, including a memorial service for Colonel Ellsworth held on June 2, 1861, and where Stephen A. Douglas lay in state just days later.

On leaving Chicago, Henry marched with the 39th Illinois to Washington, D.C. From there they sailed to Georgetown, Virginia and were assigned to General Butler.

On August 16, 1864 the 39th charged the enemy at Deep Run, Virginia, fighting hand to hand. The regiment broke the enemy’s lines, capturing many. In this battle, the 39th suffered 104 casualties. Henry Fiddler was among them. He died of his wounds, and was buried near the battlefield.

Henry Kern, (1833-1918), was an American-born farmer who came to Fremont Township from Pennsylvania in 1854. On August 15, 1862, Kern enlisted with the 96th Regiment Illinois Volunteers. Fortunate for Kern, his military service was cut short.

The end of Kern's military service is documented in The History of the Ninety-Sixth Regiment Illinois Volunteers: "While the steamer which conveyed the command from Louisville to Nashville was being loaded he was in the hold, assisting to stow away the goods, when the corner of a mess-chest struck him in the groin, injuring him so that he was forced to go to hospital at Nashville. He was discharged from service on May 11, 1863."

After returning home, Henry and his wife Mary, farmed in Fremont Township from 1865 to 1881. They then moved into “town,” to Libertyville and purchased a hotel, naming it the Kern Hotel. The hotel was very accessible to the Chicago, Milwaukee & St. Paul Railroad depot. In its day, the hotel had quite the reputation for hospitality.

Among the Kern’s many guests were Charles Nestel and his sister Eliza Nestel of Fort Wayne, Indiana. The Nestels were little people, and known respectively by their stage names of Commodore Foote and the Fairy Queen. They toured the world in Vaudeville shows, gaining notoriety among Europe’s royalty, and even visiting President Lincoln in the White House. They became friends of Henry and Mary Kern and spent many summers at the Kern Hotel, enjoying the water from Libertyville's mineral spring.

Commodore Foote as photographed for his 87th birthday from the news site

Friday, July 2, 2010

Early Days of Road Construction

When settlers began making Lake County their home in the mid-1830s, they traveled on Native American trails, or on the only road through the region—the Greenbay Military Road, established in 1833.

New roads were established according to the guidelines in the Illinois Road Law of February 1841. A new road, or alterations to an existing road, required a petition to be submitted to the County Commissioners Court (predecessor of today's County Board of Commissioners). The petition required the signatures of at least 35 voters residing within 5 miles of the proposed road.

If the petition was accepted, three "viewers" were appointed by the court to lay out the road. A report was brought back to the court for final approval or denial.

Road laborers working on Wadsworth Road,
Wadsworth, IL in 1906. (LCDM 92.27.180)
The Road Law required the service of all voters between the ages of 21 and 50 to help lay out and construct the roads. Before you picture hardy pioneer women out there with their shovels and wheel barrows, remember that until the passage of the 19th Amendment in 1920, only men could vote. (As an aside, on June 26, 1913, the State of Illinois approved women’s suffrage, giving women the right to vote in state elections). So, the Road Law only required the service of men. This was necessary since funds were not available to hire road laborers.

A rare example (above) of a summons for road service, addressed to Alfred Peats of Chicago, 1849. "Appear at 7 o'clock, A.M.... with a shovel, for the purpose of laboring on the Streets and Alleys..." I suspect Lake County used a similar form. (LCDM Frank Peats Collection 94.5.15)

If a man could not perform the work, he could pay $1 for each day of service that was assigned to him. In Lake County, road service lasted for 2 days, but was increased to 5 days in 1845.

Sheridan Road, Lake Bluff, August 7, 1913,
C.R. Childs, photographer. (LCDM M-86.1.462)
One example of an early road improvement was Lake Road (now known as Sheridan Road for General Philip Sheridan) which was approved by the McHenry County Commissioners Court in 1837. (From 1836-1839, Lake County was part of McHenry County).

In 1841, Lake Road became a state road and was widened to four rods (66 feet). Over the years, the road has been improved and the route altered, but much of today's Sheridan Road in Lake County, follows the original route of Lake Road.

"Famous Sheridan Road," Waukegan, circa 1911. (LCDM 92.27.444.1)

Sheridan Road became known for the beautiful homes and tree-lined scenery along its route, and its meandering path.

This postcard of North Sheridan Road in Waukegan was collected by Lizzie Schlager Wandel of Waukegan about the time of its printing in circa 1910. By then, communities had funds to hire road laborers and no longer used "voters" for road service. (LCDM 61.8.167)