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Friday, March 25, 2011

Aptakisic - Half Day

The historic town of Half Day claims many firsts in the annals of Lake County history—the first post office (1836), the first school (1836) taught by Laura Sprague in her family's log cabin, and the county's first non-native settler, Daniel Wright.

Perhaps most intriguing about Half Day is its name, which provokes more interest and debate than any other place name in the county.

You may wonder why there's debate. Ask anyone and they'll tell you it got its name because, "It took half a day to get there from Chicago." That may have been true back in the day of horsedrawn transportation, but Half Day was named for Aptakisic, a Native American leader of great standing.

Aptakisic's name (also spelled Aptegizhek), was translated as "center of the sky," "sun at meridian" or "half day." He was known to the settlers as Half Day. Both Daniel Wright (1778-1873) and Henry Blodgett (1821-1905), who knew Aptakisic, documented that he was "known as Half Day." Wright went on to say that the village took its name from Aptakisic.

A depiction of Aptakisic (Half Day) waving goodbye to the settlers he had led to Fort Dearborn in 1832. Painting by Les Schrader, courtesy of Naper Settlement. For more on Les Schrader:

Blodgett had met Aptakisic in 1832, during the Black Hawk War, when Aptakisic protected the settlers in Downer's Grove from an impending attack.

Wright became acquainted with Aptakisic and his tribe of Potawatomi in 1833 when he settled along the Des Plaines River.

Wright remembered: "When I stuck my stake in the banks of the Aux Plain [Des Plaines] River I was surrounded by the native tribes of Pottawatamies [sic]. They helped me raise my first rude cabin, being the first house built in the county." These native people also assisted Wright in planting crops, and tending to his family when they became ill.

According to James A. Clifton in The Prairie People: Continuity and Change in Potawatomi Indian Culture 1665-1965, Aptakisic was present at the negotiations for the Treaty of Chicago, which took place in September 1833. "Apparently wearing Meteya's [Mettawa's] moccasins, Aptegizhek stood and informed Commissioners Porter and Owen that the Potawatomi had no wish to consider moving west of the Mississippi until they had been given the opportunity to inspect the country there... He insisted the Potawatomi had assembled merely to enjoy their Great Father's beneficence and liberality. Could the annuities due the Potawatomi be distributed quickly so that they might go back to their villages to tend their gardens?"

Ultimately, the treaty was signed by Aptakisic (twice!) and other leaders of the United Chippewa, Ottawa and Potawatomi Indians on September 26, 1833.

In 1918, the students of Half Day School wrote a history of their school and community. In it, they recounted that "Half Day was named so in honor of an Indian chief, Hefda, who some people say is buried in this locality." They went on to say that Half Day was a "half way station" between Chicago and the northern part of Lake County.

Excerpt from the Half Day School history, 1918. Dunn Museum Collections. 

When and how did the origin of the name change?

Postcard of "Hotel Halfday," circa 1910. Dunn Museum 97.18.3

It is my assertion that the confusion was started by visitors to Half Day, possibly as early as the 1840s. In 1843, the Half Day Inn (shown above) was established on the Chicago and Milwaukee Road (today's Route 21) as a stagecoach stop. The rutted and muddy road would have most certainly made for slow travel, leading travelers to surmise the town's name came from its distance from Chicago.

The Wisconsin Central Railroad arrived in Prairie View in 1886. It later became the Soo Line. Postcard view circa 1900. 
Dunn Museum 94.47.5

In 1886, train service was available on the Wisconsin Central Railroad to Prairie View, several miles west of Half Day. That trip would have taken at least two hours, and then a buggy ride over to Half Day, again leaving visitors to believe the name was a matter of travel time. Even with the advent of the automobile, travel was slow until roads were paved in the 1930s and beyond.

Travelers not knowing the true origin of the name, adopted a new meaning. As the people who knew Aptakisic died, and generations passed, the connection to Aptakisic faded, and the new tradition took root with no one around to contradict it.

In a letter written late in his life, Henry Blodgett once again recalled his friend, Aptakisic:

"In the fall of 1837, Aptakisic's band was removed to a reservation on the west side of the Missouri River near the mouth of the Platte and later were moved into what is now a portion of the state of Kansas, south of the Kansas River. I well remember the sad face of the old chief as he came to bid our family goodbye. ... We all shed tears of genuine sorrow ... his generous kindness to my parents has given me a higher idea of the red man's genuine worth." 

Photograph of Henry W. Blodgett from the Autobiography of Henry W. Blodgett, Waukegan, Illinois, 1906.
Dunn Museum Collections. 

Aptakisic's legacy continued in the names Aptakisic Road, Aptakisic Creek, and the former community of Aptakisic located in today's Buffalo Grove. Aptakisic was a railroad stop on the Wisconsin Central line at Aptakisic Road (west of Route 21), and had its own post office from 1889 to 1904.

The town of Half Day never incorporated, and in recent years was absorbed into the Villages of Lincolnshire and Vernon Hills.

You may also be interested in my post on the Treaty of Chicago 1833.


Ben C said...

Thank you so much for this. I've unwittingly passed along the "half a day's travel" myth many times, but the real story is much more interesting. I had no idea such a notable chief lived so nearby.

Anonymous said...

Diana, about 30 years ago, a gentelman who was in his 90's told me about where Aptakisic was buried. Where was the old half day school?

D_Dretske said...

I have not come across where Aptakisic died and is buried. Henry Blodgett stated that Aptakisic went west to Kansas with his tribe. Some have said that Aptakisic was part of the Potawatomi Trail of Death march to Kansas in 1838.

The Half Day School was located in the triangle of land where the school is today-West of 21/45, north of 22 and south of Half Day/Olde Half Day Road.

nichdele said...

Thanks for the interesting read - My father's grandmother was of the Halfday line as well as the Potawatomi Caldwells on the other side - connecting more and more pieces of my lineage.

Thanks Nicholas

Anonymous said...

Are there photos of the old Aptakisic one room school house of Aptakisic road??

Diana Dretske said...

The museum has a drawing of Aptakisic School made by a student in 1918, and a photo of a school interior that may or may not be Aptakisic School.

Please email me at for a copy.

Thank you!

Vicki LP said...

Thank you. As a traveler to this part of the world, visiting cousins, they have lived and worked here for 40 years without knowing the origin of this name ... your explanation is fascinating.

Anonymous said...

Do you have any more information about the owner of the Half Day Inn (Hotel Half Day) circa 1912?

Diana Dretske said...

The closest plat map we have to that date is 1915. It appears the property was owned by the Estate of J.G. Sexaner. Please email me at and I can send you a copy of that section of the plat.

Thanks for reading!

Craig said...

I too had a conversation about the area history with an older gentleman (90+) about 20/25 years ago from Half day.
He told me where Chief Aptakisic was buried, it is right here in Half Day, (ok Lincolnshire)but it will always be Half Day to me. Could that be accurate?

Diana Dretske said...

The legend that Half Day is buried here is intriguing.

Here's what we know:

Half Day's good friend, Henry Blodgett, wrote that Aptakisic went west with the Potawatomi (about 1838). Dr. James A. Clifton, Dept of Anthropology at Western Michigan University wrote in his book "The Prairie People" that Aptakisic/Half Day was in Oklahoma in 1843 and in Council Bluffs, Iowa in 1847.

I've not come across a death date for Half Day, but it was most likely pre-1860.

There is no known documentation or tradition that Half Day's remains were returned for burial in Lake County or Illinois.

Anything's possible, but we need more information to confirm.

If you come across more information, please let me know.

Thank you!

Diana Dretske said...

Another possibility for the older gentleman's comment about Half Day being buried here, is that in 1910 a Native American burial was found in a local gravel pit. Your gentleman would've been about 10 at that time, and if he was living there, would've heard about the find.

According to the Aptakisic School History written in 1918 (just a handful of years after the find): "These skeletons must have been very old for as soon as they were handled they crumbled."

No mention was made of Chief Half Day, and the condition of the skeletons suggest a burial much older than the mid-19th century.

Anonymous said...

On the demise of the Chief:

Long Grove Historical Society's Sep 2010 newsletter:

"Whatever happened to Chief Half
Day? In the 1830’s as settlement
increased in Indiana and Illinois,
settlers became increasingly
nervous about living in such close proximity to native Americans. They lobbied the
government to do something to control and prevent possible uprisings. A serious of
treaties, some signed by Chief Half Day, led to the Potawatomi being forcibly relocated
further west. Locals here were sad to see Chief Half Day leave—he was very well liked
and respected in this area. After a brief relocation to near Kansas City, the chief ended up
near Elmont, Kansas (just north of Topeka). A bit further north, near Mayetta, Kansas,
exists today the Prairie Band Potawatomi Nation Reservation, which is home to about
5000 tribal members.

Apparently, the Chief was as memorable and as well liked in Kansas as he was here. A
creek there is named in his honor (Half Day Creek), as is the cemetery where he is
buried—Half Day Cemetery. The funny thing is, if you Google the origins of this creek and
cemetery, you’ll find a story that involves their location ―being a half a day away‖ from
that Potawatomi Reservation in Mayetta.

Diana Dretske said...

According to information posted on for Topeka, Kansas:

>> After settling on the reservation north of Topeka Chief Half Day, his wife and their daughter often camped along Halfday creek that bears his name on trips into Topeka. The three are buried in a pasture near the creek at N.W. 39th Street and Button Rd. The graves are unmarked. <<

Interesting! More research is needed.

Anonymous said...

Correction that area or "triangle" where Half Day Inn stood, was absorbed by Vernon Hills...not Lincolnshire.

To my knowledge, the last family that owned the Half Day Inn, was a family from Vernon Hills by the last name of Garvanian...of which they also have a park named after them in the Deerpath subdivision/ area in Vernon Hills.

Hope this helps a bit

Anonymous said...

This is absolutely amazing!!! Sad part is the younger generation does not care or could care less about history :-( being a young man myself I unfortunately knkw what I'm talking about... thanks everyone for your input!!! Awesome read!!!

Anonymous said...

regardless, my dad lived in the austin neighborhood of chicago. it took them a half-day to drive up there in the 20's.

Unknown said...

Me and our family lived across highway 45 just to the north of the Half Day Inn. It was the mid 1950's then and we could hear the comings and goings and activity around there sometimes well into the night and early mornings. It had a mysteriousness fueled by stories in newspaper reports of incidents that happened in and around it and people's imaginations filling in the unanswered questions of each curious incident. I, some years latter, entered the inn's saloon and was stuck by its wooden bar and furniture- it was like entering another age when frontier venturing was a way of life. I visited the Inn for the last time just before it lost its presence on that corner of history and modern space and chills went up and down my spine, I was over-whelmed with dread and awe for being alive in the old Inn for the last time.

Tom W said...

I enjoyed hearing Diane Dretsky today on WBEZ's Curious City: Half Day Road and the Origins of a Semantic Slip-up. I grew up in Highland Park at the east end of Half Day Road. I was always told the time-to-travel story. I wish I had known the real story earlier and taken the opportunity to see the Half Day Inn before its demise.

Don said...

Fascinating story=--that I never knew though I lived for many years at the NW intersection of Half Day Road (Route 22) and 83 (now a golf course community;then farmland rotating alfalfa with corn.)
Where we lived was (and is) considered Long Grove; still a beautiful place. My dad would drive Half Day Road to the Highwood station and take the train to work in Chicago. I never knew the Indian stories of Half Day and Aptakisic but I do remember signs entering Aptakisic that boasted the human population of the town as far less that the population of chickens.
Don MacKay

Sctt said...

Diana Dretske said...

Thanks for the link, Scott. This location info is referred to in my January 7, 2014 comment.

Unknown said...

HalfDay creek is North of the Kansas River rather than South. I found this statement on Find-A-Grave:

After settling on the reservation north of Topeka Chief Half Day, his wife and their daughter often camped along Halfday creek that bears his name on trips into Topeka.
The three are buried in a pasture near the creek at N.W. 39th Street and Button Rd. The graves are unmarked.
The Half Day Cemetery that sets about two blocks east of Hwy 75 and 62nd Street also bears the name Half Day.

William Luzzi said...

Wow, NPR just aired a piece on this again this week (10/07/2019) that brought tears to my eyes. I live in Chicago Heights, about an hour from Vernon Hills and decided to find out more and maybe pay a visit to see anything left remaining like graves, the Inn, schoolhouse, etc., and I found this page. Thanks so much for posting this information. Is there anything historically remaining from these days in the town that makes it worth visiting?

Unknown said...

I remember having more than a few beers at the Half Day Inn back in the day. It was called Foots tavern back then. Later in life I was employed by Culligan water to improve their water quality. They pulled water out of ground that had a high level of H2S (sulfer). This would give an odor of rotten eggs when you walked in.
The stairs to the cellar where well worn from the 170+ years of use. The foundation walls were made of field stone and mortar. It was a magical place that had so much history.
Man if the walls could talk!

Anonymous said...

Wow, I'm actually a little stunned now. My family moved to Lincolnshire in the late 70's and I attended Half Day School, Daniel Wright Junior High, Adlai E. Stevenson H.S., and my younger sister attended Laura B. Sprague elementary. I frequently traveled down Aptakisic Road to see friends. As a guy who's always liked learning about history, I'm ashamed to say I knew very little here. Always believed the half day's travel explanation too, ha! Very interesting and enlightening. Thank you!!

Jill Ruschli Crane said...

My great grandfather and great grandmother owned the Half Day Inn in the early 1900's. Sarah Kelly sold it in 1920 or 1921 when he died. I do have pictures of it. I'm not sure when they bought it, but in 1914, he was arrested for selling 2% beer as the territory was dry at the time. He went to court as women votes contributed to making the territory dry, and women did not have the right to vote at the time. I'm still researching this. Ed and Sarah Kelly had moved from Chicago where Ed was friends with Mayor Big Bill Thompson and the myth my grandmother (Ed and Sarah's daughter) told me was the mayor drove to the Half Day Inn for Sunday dinner and it took a half day to get there. Obviously, it doesn't take too much sense to realize that it was called Half Day before it was realized it took a half day for the mayor to get there, right? Ed Kelly was born in the southeast corner of Warren Township (Waukegan) in 1866.

Jill Ruschli Crane

Diana Dretske said...

Thanks for sharing your family's story, Jill!


Anonymous said...

My dad lived in the Belmont/Austin neighborhood and he said the same thing. The road was rutty and they had to stop several times to repair the tires (inner tube). He said there was a big ball suspended by wires over the intersection of Half Day Rd. and Milwaukee Ave.