SCHAUMBURG TOWNSHIP BARNS THEN AND NOW–POST 2

On September 10, 2022 the Schaumburg Township Historical Society conducted a well-received, sold-out bus tour of the barns of Schaumburg Township. Attendees visited five barns that still exist and were also provided with information on five “ghost” barns that have vanished from the landscape.

Researched by the Society’s barn tour committee, this is the second of two posts from the pamphlet that they produced for the tour. This post centers around the bygone “ghost” barns–barns that could once be found on the farms of Schaumburg Township.

The Kern Barn/Home – Robert Atcher Home
Built circa 1860
Meacham Road
Schaumburg, IL

Photo of Kern barn donated by Jerry Kern.

This old barn was on property that is now Lexington Fields. It was built before the Civil War.

Mr. L.D. Kern wanted to have architect Paul Schweikher rehab the farm house on the farm he just purchased, but Paul saw the huge barn and suggested that he rehab the barn into a fabulous home.

Mr. Kern swapped land he owned to the south of his farm to Paul Schweikher in exchange for him building a barn home with 4 levels and 22 rooms for Kern. Schweikher built his own home on the swapped land at 645 Meacham Road that is now on the National Register of Historic Places.

The Kern Barn/Home later became the home to Schaumburg’s second mayor, Robert Atcher. When you slowly drive down Meacham Road by Lexington Fields there may still be smoke in the air. The beautiful Kern Barn/Home and Atcher Home burned to the ground in May of 1963. All of architect Paul Schweikher’s work was in ashes, as well as the Atcher’s treasures they had accumulated over the years. Only the Ghost Barn remains.

The Helen Brach Barn
Purchased from Henry Moeller
East Schaumburg Road
Schaumburg, IL
Build date unknown

Photo of Moeller barn donated by Elfrida Mengler.

Is there more than one ghost here? Helen, also known as the Brach Candy heiress of Chicago, rehabbed the barn and its bright red color was beautiful to see out in the fields, north of Schaumburg Road and west of Meacham Road.

The beautiful horses living in her barn loved her gentle care. On a quiet morning you may still hear the horses whinny. Helen would never hear them again. She is thought to have been murdered. Helen disappeared in 1977. Her body has never been found. Did anyone think to look under the barn?

The Thies Barn
Wise Road
Schaumburg, IL
Built circa 1880

Photo of William and Clara Thies farm. Donated by LaVonne (Thies) Presley

Sadness is a very distinct feeling in the area of this Ghost Barn along Wise Road, west of Roselle. The ghostly herd of milking cows was destroyed when they came down with tuberculosis, and the barn fell silent.

The Palatine or Roselle train cars [or a truck] took them to their end at the Chicago Stock Yards. Mr. Thies never again raised a dairy herd. It was too heartbreaking to destroy animals you love.

Paul Hassell Barn
Jones Road
Hoffman Estates, IL
Built circa 1900

Photo of the Paul Hassell barn. Credit to the collection of the Village of Hoffman Estates.

As you catch a glimpse of movement at this ghost barn, are those people sneaking around the side? Rumors from neighbors tell of gangsters getting water for whiskey stills in Chicago. “The best water in the area” they tell their friends. Was there a still in the barn during Prohibition?

Paul Hassell bought this property just north of Higgins Road, on Jones Road, after all these shenanigans ended. Can you smell whiskey drifting across the fields while you drive down Jones Road?

Johann Sunderlage Barn
Volid Drive
Hoffman Estates, IL
Built circa 1860

Photo of the Sunderlage house and barn donated by the Hoffman Estates Historical Sites Commission

On quiet misty mornings, just before the sun comes up, you may see a ghost barn out of the corner of your eye as you walk down Volid Drive, south of Higgins Road. As you turn to see more, the barn is gone.

The smell of hay and manure seems to be in the air but how can that be? The energy of everything built from stone and wood remains once it’s gone. This is a ghost barn.

The windmill on top of the barn provided the energy to keep the milk cold that was obtained from the dairy herd of the Johann Sunderlage family. He was one of the pioneers to settle in today’s Hoffman Estates in the 1840s.

Special thanks to the Bus Tour Committee of Carole Pye, Pat Barch, Denise Suender Carolyn McClure and Nancy Mamson for their work in putting this brochure together. It is a unique perspective on our township’s history, given the fact that these barns are no longer part of our vista.

SCHAUMBURG TOWNSHIP BARNS, THEN AND NOW–POST 1

On September 10, 2022 the Schaumburg Township Historical Society conducted a well-received, sold-out bus tour of the barns of Schaumburg Township. Attendees visited five barns that still exist and were also provided with information on five “ghost” barns that have vanished from the landscape.

Researched by the Society’s barn tour committee, this is the first of two posts from the pamphlet that they produced for the tour. This post centers around the barns that can still be found today in the villages of Hoffman Estates and Schaumburg.

Hattendorf Barn at Volkening Heritage Farm in Schaumburg. Photo credit to Carole Pye.

Volkening Heritage Farmhouse & Hattendorf Barn
201 South Plum Grove Road
Schaumburg, IL 60194

This property was originally purchased from the federal government by Johann and Sophie Boeger, shortly after they arrived from Germany in 1845. At least 8 more families lived on this farm over the next 100 years.

The Boeger farm was saved from destruction in 1979, when the Cook County Highway Department straightened Plum Grove Road near Schaumburg Road. Various civic organizations raised the money to move it to its current location, where it serves as the farmhouse for the 1880s operating farm. It is called Volkening because of the generous donation of Fred Volkening, a 90-year Schaumburg resident.

The barn dates back to 1883, and was donated by Kennedy Builders when they began to develop land that was the Hattendorf farm. The foundation and timbers are original. The roof and siding are new. The Hattendorf barn was reassembled at Spring Valley in 1993 during a community barn-raising event.

Turret House Barn / Coach House in Schaumburg. Photo credit to Carolyn McClure.

Turret House Barn / Coach House
17 East Schaumburg Road
Schaumburg, IL 60194

The Turret House was built in 1901 by prominent Schaumburg architect Louis Menke, and is an example of Queen Anne architecture. Mr. Menke lived there with his wife and six children.

The coach house, which is a reconstruction of the original barn, but with the original cupola, was used to house the wagon and buggy and also served as a stable for the horses. The shed was heated and was used as Menke’s workroom.

Eventually, Lou Malnatis owned it, but in 2010 the Village of Schaumburg acquired it through a land swap. The Turret House was completely renovated in 2011 and now houses the Schaumburg Family Counseling Center. A cement marker behind the Turret House has been preserved as a marker for Stratford Farms.

Mennonite Church, a former barn on the Stratford Farms property in Schaumburg. Photo credit to Pat Barch.

Stratford Farms / Mennonite Church Barn
888 South Roselle Road
Schaumburg, IL 60194

Stratford Farms, which started around 1913, was originally owned by prominent Chicago attorney and real estate mogul, Levy Mayer, who also owned the Stratford Hotel, at Jackson and Michigan in Chicago. Produce, dairy and meat went to the hotel, “farm to table.”

It was eventually purchased by nationally known orchestra leader Wayne King, famous for his nine year run at the Aragon Ballroom in Chicago. He built the ranch house in front of the barn and rehearsed with his band in the living room. He sold the farm in 1957.

In 1988, the property was purchased by the Mennonite Church to serve as a church and Sunday School. To help the community, they renovated the barn and in 2007, Big Barn Preschool opened its doors.

The cement marker that once identified Stratford Farms has been preserved and stands behind the Turret House.

The Barn in Schaumburg. Photo credit to Pat Barch.

The Schaumburg Barn
231 Civic Drive
Schaumburg, IL 60193

The Schaumburg Barn was part of the farm owned by slot machine magnate, Ode D. Jennings, who bought the 200-acre farm in 1918, as a retreat from the business world of Chicago.

It was eventually purchased by Campanelli Brothers, developers of Weathersfield, Schaumburg’s first subdivision. Campanelli Brothers donated 11 acres, including a large barn, a farmhouse and other buildings to the Village of Schaumburg.

The Barn, which was built around 1920, was renovated and during the 1960s, was Schaumburg’s first police station and jail, and also a circuit court. It is now used as a Senior Center and Teen Center.

Vogelei barn in Hoffman Estates. Photo credit to Carole Pye.

Vogelei Barn
650 West Higgins Road
Hoffman Estates, IL 60169

The Vogelei home and barn were built around 1916 at a cost of $5500. It was owned for many years by Edward and Amanda Sunderlage, who inherited it from her parents, the Giesekes. The original barn burned down in 1937 and a new one was built.

In 1952, the property was purchased by Ida Vogelei. Approached by the Hoffman Estates Park District in 1968, she sold it for $150,000, with the agreement that the park be named for her.

Throughout the years, the barn has housed preschool programs, a teen center, a theatre group and gymnastics programs.

Special thanks to the Bus Tour Committee of Carole Pye, Pat Barch, Denise Suender Carolyn McClure and Nancy Mamson for their work in putting this brochure together. It is a unique perspective because these barns are a symbol of a bygone era of Schaumburg Township’s rural, agrarian history.

Next week there will be an account of some of the ghost barns of the township. Be sure and drop in.

THE PARCELS OF HOFFMAN ESTATES

“Carved from rich, gently rolling farmland, the graceful curving streets fit into a master landscape plan which changes the character of the terrain only where engineering improvements make it necessary… It will be a profoundly practical as well as beautiful city.”

Document credit to the Hoffman Estates Museum

So said the brochure that F&S Construction handed out at their new model homes at the corner of Higgins and Roselle Roads. Ads also began appearing in the Chicago Tribune in 1956 and an even earlier 1955 ad in the Daily Herald headlined the community that was coming to Schaumburg Township.

An article from the November 3, 1955 issue of the Daily Herald, stated that “the first unit of 262 homes, priced at $15,000 is now completely sold out. First families will move in this month with all homes occupied by April.”

The half acre lots where these homes could be found were in the wedge formed by Higgins, Golf and Roselle Roads, in a subdivision known as Parcel A. It’s a simple name and one that was never updated by F&S Construction. (Those half acre lots were never offered again.)

Both the Chicago Tribune ads and the brochure were prolific in their details on the models that were available. It appears that the Country Clubber and the Cleveport–advertised in the March 24, 1956 issue–were the first two models, followed by the Westerner that made its appearance with the Deluxe Country Clubber in the September 16, 1956 issue of the Tribune.

All of the land for the Parcels was purchased by Sam Hoffman who owned F&S. It was rezoned from farming to residential by the Cook County Zoning Board in February 1955 at the request of owners, Werner W. and Irene Kastning, and Dorothy Dalton Hammerstein.

The Kastnings owned the property where Hoffman Plaza, Parcel A and Parcel B were built. Those areas stretch across Higgins Road and are bordered on the west by Roselle Road and on the north by Golf Road. Dorothy Hammerstein, the former silent film star, owned the acreage where Parcel C was developed. It is bordered on the north by Higgins Road, on the east by Roselle Road and on the south by Schaumburg Road.

The Country Clubber model. Document credit to Hoffman Estates Museum

The Country Clubber opened at $17,950 and was a “luxurious home of 1650 square feet under roof.” It had 3 bedrooms, 2 baths, a garage and equipped kitchen. It was their upgraded model and also included a 29-foot living-dining area, Western-Holly built-in gas oven & table-top range, Waste King garbage disposer, Air King vent hood & fan, oak hardwood floors and natural mahogany kitchen cabinets with your choice of interior colors.

The Cleveport model. Document credit to Hoffman Estates Museum

The Cleveport was the smaller model at 1176 square feet and was listed at “just $15,500 and offered 3 bedrooms, 2 baths and a carport.” However, not to be overlooked was the “scientifically planned, stepsaver kitchen and adjoining utility room.” An “open living-dining plan” gave a “feeling of extra space.”

Another, earlier look at the Cleveport when it was listed at $14,950. Note the mention of “Hoffman City.”

By September when the Westerner was advertised, Hoffman Homes had found their in-between model that was offered at $16,950. It was 1477 square feet and included “outside storage and carport, 3 bedrooms with large closets, linen and guest closets, 2 baths, oak hardwood floors, asphalt tile in [the] kitchen and baths, separate utility room, separate dining room, big kitchen with breakfast area, natural mahogany cabinets, your choice of interior colors, central heat with thermostat, brick and siding exterior, concrete driveway and walk.”

And the plusses for this up and coming community?

  • With a 10-mile radius of Illinois communities which provide shopping, entertainment and other services
  • Less than a half-hour drive away from resort lakes
  • Picnic and park areas in every direction
  • The “big game fish” lakes of Wisconsin that are but 70 miles to the north
  • A central municipal water system
  • City sewerage system, central disposal plant
  • Natural gas service through the Northern Illinois Gas Co.
  • 110-volt electric service (220 volt service was available at extra cost)
  • All regular utility service connections including meters
  • Full insulation
  • Loads of electrical outlets
  • School facilities furnished at no added cost
  • Streets, sidewalks, curbs, gutters, driveways
  • Fire hydrants installed
  • Parks, shopping center, community center planned
  • Shuttle bus service for commuters to Palatine and Roselle
  • Beautiful, 27-hole golf course is immediately adjacent
The Roselle Country Club is at the top of this winter photo. Document credit to Hoffman Estates Museum.

The homes in these parcels, begun by Sam and Jack Hoffman, are now over 60 years old and have either remained true to their original footprints, been added onto, or have been torn down so that newer, larger homes could be built on the sizable lots.

The Parcel A, B and C neighborhoods of Hoffman Estates were the beginning of a residential boom in Schaumburg Township that would, largely, run from the late 1950s to forty years later into the 1990s. Sam and Jack Hoffman of F&S Construction saw the potential and got the ball rolling.

Jane Rozek
Local History Librarian
Schaumburg Township District Library
jrozek@stdl.org

If your family was one of those who bought any of the models in Parcels A, B & C–and you still have the floor plans in your possession–the library and the Hoffman Estates Museum would love to acquire scans.

And, actually, we are trying to put together a collection of ALL of the subdivision floor plans in Schaumburg Township and would very much appreciate paper work you can lend, send or donate of any home or apartment model. Hoffman Estates, Schaumburg, Elk Grove Village, Hanover Park–we’re open to it all. Please feel free to email me if you have anything to contribute. We would be so grateful!

THE SCHAUMBURG BANK

Schaumburg Bank. Photo credit to Mark Campbell

This extraordinary photo of the former Schaumburg Bank that once stood at the northeast corner of Schaumburg and Roselle Roads, came our way from Mark Campbell. Given its spooky composition, it seems this is the time of year when an entry would be most appropriate.

In April 1910, thirty local prominent citizens pooled $25,000 in capital stock to build and open a bank to serve the residents of Schaumburg Township and beyond. With this initial capital, they subsequently sold shares for $100.

William Busse. Photo credit to the Mount Prospect Historical Society

The cornerstone of Farmers Bank of Schaumburg–locally known as the Schaumburg Bank–was laid on May 15, 1910 in a ceremony presided over by Hermann Freise, one of the largest stockholders. Other speakers included William Busse, president of the Cook County Board, William J. Rathje, Vice President and Manager of the People’s Stock Yards State Bank and William Thiemann of Arlington Heights who was a former Illinois State Representative and Vice President of the Arlington Heights State Bank. [Cook County Herald; May 13, 1910]

According to an article in the DuPage County Register of May 20, 1910, a copper, zinc-lined box “about 5x6x10 inches was soldered in tight in presence of the audience and deposited in a cavity cut in the stone door case which was then hermetically sealed by a stone slab and cement where it will stay for ages after all the present generation have passed away.” The contents of the cornerstone contained the following: a Palatine Enterprise from May 13, 1910, a Chicago Tribune from May 14, 1910, a Chicago Journal from May 14, 1910, a Farm Journal, a History of the Town of Schaumburg 1850-1910, a history of the organization of the bank, a list of original stockholders, a Columbian half-dollar of 1903, silver coins current (1910), various business cards, and a list of township officials.”

Louis Menke and his crew

The same article stated that local contractor Louis Menke, who built his own Turret House across Schaumburg Road, was commissioned, at a cost of $7900, to “make the plans” and construct the bank.

“It is a substantial 2-story brick building, 25 ft. wide, 44 ft. long and 26 ft. high above foundation with 8 ft. basement and large, heavy walled vault inside. The outside walls are of light grey pressed brick with Bedford stone font, window and door sills and caps also stone cornicer [sic].”

Menke was already operating a bit behind schedule but the bank managed to open in record time on October 1, 1910. Amazingly enough, the first day’s deposits totaled nearly $21,000.

The officers of the bank were: John Fenz, President; Herman Lichthardt, Vice-President; Charles H. Patten, H. Oltendorf, William Scheunemann and Charles Quindel, Directors. Herman W. Freise served as the cashier and Willie Fenz was the assistant cashier and bookkeeper.

An ad in the Cook County Herald from December 8, 1910 stated that the bank had 1.) money to loan on real estate and other securities 2.) safe deposit boxes for rent 3.) home savings banks on hand and 4.) interest paid at the rate of 3 per cent on all savings accounts.

Despite the bank’s rural location, it was not without its problems. In 1914, four years after the bank opened, an embezzlement in the amount of $40,000 occurred that was conducted by Frank Henning, the assistant cashier.

Herman Freise. Photo credit to Norman Freise.

Fast forward another seven years and, in June 1921, an attempted robbery took place while Herman W. Freise, president of the Farmers’ Bank, was acting as teller. He was shot in the wrist but, because of his quick thinking, the robbery was foiled. W.C. Kreft, his head cashier, was away on vacation and Mr. Freise, along with Henry Doehl, a customer, were the only two in the bank. The robbers obtained no money and, moreover, left a dollar that they had tried to exchange for 20 nickels. [Cook County Herald; June 24, 1921]

In 1920, the bank was reorganized from a partnership to a state bank and was renamed Farmer’s State Bank of Schaumburg with assets of $219,732.80.

In a statement to the Cook County Herald on March 27, 1925, William Fenz, bank president stated that, “Reports being circulated that the Farmers State Bank at Schaumburg is about to be sold are absolutely untrue and without foundation.” Two weeks later the bank was sold to the Amlings who also owned the Addison State Bank, Melrose Park State Bank, Bellwood State Bank and Maywood State Bank. Rudolph Amling, nephew of Albert F. Amling who was president of the bank, became head cashier.

Unfortunately, the bank did not fare well during the Great Depression. It managed to hold on for a few years but it was announced in the January 19, 1934 issue of the Arlington Heights Herald that “one of the smallest banks in the state” would close after three years of failing to “operate at a profit and its officials can see no prospect of improved business conditions that warrant the continuance of the bank.” The officials who made this announcement were: Herman Weiss, president; Fred W. Pfingsten, vice-president and Rudolph G. Amling, cashier. Directors were the three aforementioned men as well as William F. Boeger, William Collatz, Paul F. Amling and Herman Lichthardt.

The building stood vacant until Herman C. and Clara Hattendorf purchased it from the Amlings and moved their small general store from a brick building, further south on Roselle Road, into the former bank on March 1, 1940. They named it Hattendorf’s Grocery.

The grocery remained in place until 1955 when an October 6 issue of the Daily Herald mentions that Town Roofers of Mundelein began renting the lower floor of the store from the Hattendorfs.

Around 1963 the Ralph Kelley Paint Store moved into the building and this photo was fortunately captured. In an October 8, 1964 ad in The Herald, it stated that they had been in business for 40 years–presumably operating in other locations prior to this date.

A year or so later, the building housed the first real estate and lawyer’s office in the area. Hoffman Estates residents Gordon E. Kenney ran the brokerage firm, and John P. Kelley, the law firm. They sublet space to Thomas DeBruyne, a State Farm Insurance agent who, as stated in the March 11, 1975 issue of The Herald, purchased the property from Clara Hattendorf, allowing her to continue her residence on the second floor.

Unfortunately, this arrangement only lasted four years because the Cook County Highway Department followed through on their long awaited plans to widen Schaumburg Road to four lanes from Meacham to Barrington Roads. Not only was it necessary to do something about the bank building which was directly adjacent to the road, but the Schaumrose Inn and the former one-room schoolhouse also stood in the way of the proposed road expansion.

After some extended negotiations, the Highway Department acquired the bank building from Mr. DeBruyne around 1977 or 78. The Village of Schaumburg then purchased it from the Highway Department for $1 and, at a cost of $40,000, with the hope of preserving it, moved it to an empty lot bordering Town Square on Roselle Road on July 18, 1979.

The Schaumburg Bank on stilts. Note the Easy Street Pub in the background. Photo credit to Mark Campbell.

It was placed on stilts and according to a November 23, 1981 article in the Daily Herald, “a fire almost two years ago caused about $25,000 to the building.” This is an indication that the fire happened the same year that it was moved in 1979. The structure continued to sit for a few years and was likely demolished in 1982 or 83.

We often lose these historic structures to progress even though local officials, sympathetic to the cause, make many attempts to preserve them. Would that this local bank, designed and built by Schaumburg Township’s own Louis Menke, were still standing 112 years later in 2022. You do have to wonder–did anyone ever open the cornerstone to view the contents of that copper, zinc-lined box?

Jane Rozek
Local History Librarian
Schaumburg Township District Library
jrozek@stdl.org

THE PFINGSTEN PHOTOS: ALBUM #2

Last week we saw the first online photo album of amateur, turn-of-the-twentieth-century, local guy, Fred Pfingsten. His intent was, with his camera, to take photos of his family and farm. The catalyst for the purchase could very well have been his wedding to Emma Rohlwing that took place on September 3, 1903.

Multiple photos were taken by Mr. Pfingsten on his wedding day. This is a continuation of those photos. The earlier blog post can be seen here.

The largest tent at the Pfingsten/Rohlwing wedding. (Photo credit to the Pfingsten family)

It seems this photo, likely taken by Fred Pfingsten near dusk, illuminates the interior, upper structure of the tent. The size of the tent is quite large and probably allowed for a wooden floor to be placed inside for the dancing and merrymaking that would follow. Notice the American flag that is hoisted on one of the poles of the tent. The dining, “Welcome” tent is likely to the right and a young girl stands in front of the tent. The trees in the background almost block the Pfingsten house that is barely visible by its roof line and chimney at the back of the photo.

The two tents at the Pfingsten/Rohlwing wedding. (Photo credit to the Pfingsten family)

Taken from more of a distance, with this photo Fred went beyond one of the farm fence lines and out into the field to capture a longer shot of the location of the wedding festivities. The large tent is to the left, and the dining “Welcome” tent is to the right. The Pfingsten house is in the background. We can just make out the chimney on the left side of the house.

Raising their steins to drink to the newly married couple. (Photo credit to the Pfingsten family)

This group of men, raising their steins to the young couple, don’t appear to be too happy. However, given the fact that holding a smile for an extended period while Fred staged the photo, it is not too surprising that most them look somber. Anyone’s mouth would likely relax from a smile into repose.

To a man, the partygoers are dressed in suits and hats. Even the young boy in front has on a wide-brimmed hat that he wears with his white shirt. One man has a watch chain on his vest and another holds a cigar. Some, as is the fashion today, have beards, while others are clean shaven.

It seems that the beer is dark in color and that they hired someone from the outside to dispense it. The gentleman in the upper left, who is wearing an apron, appears to be the “bartender.” There is a more blurred gentleman in an apron standing to the left of him who probably worked with him.

More curiously is the sign, tent or wagon that has the letters F. S W A. In doing some research, the only company that comes close is T.F. Swan of Elgin whose business, in an 1883 edition of Elgin Daily News, is listed as a type of dry goods store. Maybe by 1903 he had expanded into the line of canvas and tents?

Fred and Emma (Rohlwing) Pfingsten, sitting in the middle, are surrounded by their wedding party. [Photo credit to the Pfingsten family]

This photo of the wedding party was, also, likely arranged by Fred, before he took his place in a chair next to his bride and allowed someone else to “take” the photo. Four bridesmaids, four groomsmen and two flower girls make up the group.

Unfortunately, the wedding party is unidentified though, it is somewhat easy to recognize that two of the women and one of the girls have the same eyes as Emma. The ladies, second from the left and second from the right in the back row, and the young girl to the right of Fred are quite probably Emma’s sisters. She had a large number of siblings who she would have likely included in her wedding.

Fred had only sisters who survived to adulthood so the men standing around him were either cousins or friends. It is interesting to note that both Fred and Emma were the oldest children in their families, though other family members married before them.

Wedding attendees. [Photo credit to the Pfingsten family]

This is another one of the glass plate negative photos produced by the Conant students. We can’t be sure that the photo was taken at the Rohlwing/Pfingsten wedding but it seems somewhat likely based on the fact that the women’s dresses resemble, quite strongly, the dresses on the ladies in the photo above.

The young girls are in their white, Sunday best and the location appears to be the Pfingsten farm, judging by the trees in the background.

What makes this photo so unique and wonderful for its time is the casual posing of two of the couples who have definitely had a good day. Most other photos of the day were often staged in a photographer’s studio. Fred’s informal, unpretentious camera caught these marvelous moments right on his family’s farm. What a treasure.

Jane Rozek
Local History Librarian
Schaumburg Township District Library
jrozek@stdl.org

THE PFINGSTEN PHOTOS: ALBUM #1

Some time in the late 1800s or early 1900s, this young boy who was born in Schaumburg Township, would grow up and indulge himself by purchasing a camera. His name was Fred Pfingsten and his intent was to take photos of his family and farm. The catalyst for the purchase could, very well, have been his wedding to Emma Rohlwing that took place on September 3, 1903.

He most likely developed his photos on dry glass plate negatives. Oregon State University says “dry plate glass negatives were in common use between the 1880s and the late 1920s.” [Oregonstate.edu]

Imagine, though, the forethought that Mr. Pfingsten must have given to the purchase, considering that he “likely needed considerable chemical and technical knowledge, specialized darkroom materials and equipment, and a dedicated work space to develop [his] plates and print photographs.” [Texas State University]

Where in a farmhouse would Mr. Pfingsten have developed his photos? Chances are it was the basement, where he would have also been without electricity and heat. Even in remote Schaumburg Township where there was little ambient light, the basement was probably his first choice. Regardless of where he worked, it couldn’t have been an easy task to bring himself up to speed on the developing process.

While the library owns some of the Pfingsten photos outright, there are others that we were allowed to scan, compliments of the Pfingsten family. In addition, others were developed from some of the original glass plate negatives in 2012-2013 by students in the Conant High School Photography Club that was overseen by Linda Patino-Goergen.

These glass plate negatives were donated to Doug Flett of St. Peter Lutheran Church by Rev. Michael Pfingsten, a descendant of Fred Pfingsten. It was Mr. Flett’s diligence that caused him to seek out Conant High School. After the Photography Club finished their work with the negatives, they were then given to the library as the permanent repository.

Multiple photos were taken on the Pfingsten’s wedding day, which was a Thursday. In those days, most large weddings in the area took place on Thursdays. One of the reasons may have been that families did not want to interfere with church services that were held on the weekend.

Fred and Emma (Rohlwing) Pfingsten stand behind two of their flower girls outside of St. Peter Lutheran Church in Schaumburg. Reverend Gustaf Mueller stands on the right of Mr. Pfingsten. (Photo credit to the Pfingsten family)

While we can’t be one hundred percent sure that Mr. Pfingsten and his camera took these clearer photos, the fact that the above photo has a typed description at the bottom is a good indication that he did. It is likely Mr. Pfingsten staged the photos that he was a part of and then someone else, with his instructions, took the picture. This photo was taken outside of St. Peter Lutheran Church. Reverend Gustaf Mueller stands to the right of Mr. Pfingsten. He served as pastor of St. Peter’s from 1883 to 1905.

Horses and wagon that likely brought the newly married couple to the Pfingsten farm after the wedding. (Photo credit to the Schaumburg Township District Library)

This photo, taken on the Pfingsten farm (the barn, with its double cupolas, is distinctive) could have been taken either before the wedding or as the festivities began. It is most likely the former, based on three reasons. If Mr. Pfingsten was setting up the camera he would have had more time to do so before the wedding than after. Also, it would have been easier to gather the men and boys together in the wagon on the way to the church, rather than after they arrived back at the farm for the merrymaking. And, thirdly, the aprons on the men look crisp and snowy white. It is difficult to imagine that that pristine condition would have continued through the day and night of celebrating.

The “Welcome” tent at the reception on the Pfingsten farm. (Photo credit to the Pfingsten family)

This photo is one of those developed from the glass plate negatives that were donated to the library by the Pfingsten family. It is a virtual guarantee that Mr. Pfingsten took the photo himself, given the somewhat blurred image.

Through details gathered by the Conant students, family members stated that this was likely taken the day after the wedding. To a certain extent, we might dispute this fact, given the more stylish nature of the ladies’ dresses. It is difficult to imagine they would be cleaning up in such dressy dresses.

If it’s not the day after, it is possible it is the morning of the wedding. In either case, it must have been early in the morning given the tidy nature of the women’s clothing. We also have to assume that most of the people in the photo are part of the immediate Pfingsten family who were on the premises for the wedding or members of the Rohlwing family who came over to help.

The “Welcome” tent at the reception on the Pfingsten farm. (Photo credit to the Pfingsten family)

This is another photo taken outside of the Welcome tent at the wedding. It, too, has a typed description below the photo. With the blurred gentleman on the left, Fred Pfingsten likely took the photo.

It is unique in that we can see that this is one of the dining tents on the premises. Both men and women are sitting elbow to elbow around the table that is wide enough to accommodate two chairs at either end. Others are waiting to take their place, including young ladies who wore their best white dresses. These girls still wore their dresses at or slightly below their knees as it was not considered unseemly to show their legs. The men and boys all wore suits, with many of them also sporting hats.

The corner of another tent is in the upper right corner. Next week, we will see that tent as well as more photos of this famous wedding in Schaumburg Township.

And, thus begins a look at the photos planned, staged and developed by a man who clearly was interested in photography as a hobby. We are fortunate, as it is a look at every day occurrences in a Schaumburg Township world that is far removed from ours.

Jane Rozek
Local History Librarian
Schaumburg Township District Library
jrozek@stdl.org

THE TROPICANA SWIM & TENNIS CLUB

Photo donated by Linda Beach Fridae. Ca. 1991-1993

Shortly after the village of Hoffman Estates was incorporated on September 23, 1959, a group of residents began investigating the possibility of building a private membership swim club within the village’s boundaries. According to a Hoffman Herald article on October 15, 1959, “the impetus for the development of a swim club in Hoffman Estates came as a result of a story on private swim clubs in the Herald’s Suburbia Today section” as stated by Otto Handwerk, who was the chairman of the pool’s steering committee.

In addition to Mr. Handwerk, the steering committee consisted of Dick Eckert and Carl Rauchenberger. An article in the October 1, 1959 paper stated that the three members met with “the five directors of the Villa Park Swimming Pool, Inc. who provided answers to pool maintenance and operating questions.”

A membership drive began in September and, by October 15, a door to door canvass of homes in Parcels C, D and E garnered not only 100 members, but also promises from residents who agreed to assist in future committee work. In addition, Marne Bibo, the publicity chairman, was actively seeking submissions for the “Name The Pool” contest from the members. They were encouraged to send a post card or give her a call by October 15.

The committee had investigated “all facets of a privately owned swimming pool… and will be presented for members’ approval. All state regulations and safety of members will be observed.” [Hoffman Herald; October 15, 1959] The attorney for the group was Lee Tennyson who lived on Washington Boulevard in Hoffman Estates.

Initial fees for club membership were set at $150 per family, $35 of which was payable initially as earnest money. The balance could be paid in monthly installments.

And, by November 1, at the “first general meeting… when articles of incorporation were officially accepted and a full slate of officers elected,” the club also had its name. It officially became known as The Tropicana Swim Club, Inc. The slate of officers elected were: Richard Eckert, president; Lou Zwartverwer, vice-president; Carole Gibbs, secretary; William Bibo, treasurer and directors were Otto Handwerk, Jack Noble, William Bennison, Fred Schimmelman and Merilyn Rauchenberger. [Hoffman Herald; November 5, 1959]

In a later article in the December 17 issue of the Hoffman Herald, it was obvious by the fact that they issued a statement to the public that they had received even more questions now that the project was up and running. They clarified a few things in the statement. For instance, they stated, “The Tropicana Swim club is a not for profit Illinois corporation organized by the citizens of Hoffman Estates for the purpose of alleviating, in part, the lack of recreational facilities available to residents and their children… As a non-profit club we will not create a tax burden nor necessitate the solicitation of donations.”

They further explained, “Of the 7554 residents in Hoffman Estates the club will represent 12% of the present population… The club, being composed of Hoffman home owners, respects their neighbors and will do all in its power to reduce or eliminate any source of objection… The club has contacted other similar clubs in Chicagoland and have found that a swim club is not a source of community nuisance. Memberships are open to residents of Hoffman Estates and openings are still available.”

By the end of March, 1960, the Tropicana had its first victory when they were “granted special use zoning for the construction of a swimming pool, wading pool and related structures within the municipal limits of Hoffman Estates by a six to one vote of the village board…” [Hoffman Herald; March 31, 1960]

Prior to the village board vote, the proposal had come before the zoning board. Appearing as a witness on behalf of the Tropicana was Lawrence Siff, a vice-president of F&S Construction. Not only did the developer give their overwhelming approval, but they sold a 1.25 acre parcel to the swim club for its location. It would front on Audubon Street “at the east extremity of Parcel B in back of the construction company lumber [site].” [Hoffman Herald; March 31, 1960]

[Brochure contributed by the Hoffman Estates Museum]

The article further stated that the club had awarded the contract for the pool to Jensen Pools of Barrington “who submitted a bid for pool construction (including bathhouse) of $30,000. The revenue of the full 200 members will produce $30,000 and funds for land purchase, partial cost of parking lot installation, building permits and other miscellaneous expenses will be raised either through a mortgage or bond issue among the members.”

The club expected to employ a full-time life guard, pool manager and one part-time life guard. Their total expected operation cost for the 1960-61 season was estimated at $9000 and the income was to be derived from membership dues, guest privileges, concessions and swimming lessons. They also expected to have fundraisers like the semi-formal dance that was to be held April 22 at the Glendale Country Club. [Hoffman Herald; March 31, 1960]

With the village board approval, the Tropicana got busy and immediately began the construction phase. By the July 28, 1960 issue of the Hoffman Herald, they announced they announced that the grand opening of the Tropicana Swim Club would be Friday, August 5. The membership roster was 190 out of 200 due to some who had moved from Hoffman Estates.

Jerry Becker, who would be a sophomore at Iowa Wesleyan College, had been hired as pool manager. The Club was seeking a girl lifeguard, 16 years or over, who would also serve as a girl’s locker room aid. In addition they had hired Lance Lindquist of Skokie and Jim Hall of Chicago to serve as lifeguards.

The hours of the Club would be 9:00 a.m. to 12 noon for Monday through Saturday lessons followed by open swim hours from 1:00 p.m to 5:00 p.m. and 6:00 p.m. to 9:30 p.m. Sunday hours would be 12 noon to 5:00 p.m. and 6:00 p.m. to 9:30 p.m.

Even before there was no official building, it didn’t stop the group from organizing their first social function. A box supper and dance to the music of Peter Kallaf was held December 4 at the Roselle Gardens. [Hoffman Herald; December 10, 1959] It was only the beginning of many functions that the Tropicana held.

Linda Fridae who donated the aerial photo said that they had multiple themed parties every month to raise money. It was everything from Toga parties to the Love Boat to Country & Western.

She also said that Dave Arneson who was heavily involved with the Tropicana, knew Gary Campbell of the Chicago Bears. With that connection, every year, through much of the 1980s and before each season began, they threw a Bears party. Players like Walter Payton and Dan Hampton showed up for the festivities. It was a chance for the members to meet and greet the players.

Reverse of the brochure contributed by the Hoffman Estates Museum

Also, according to Linda, the Tropicana had a float every year in the Hoffman Estates Fourth of July Parade. They participated from, ca. 1978-1986 to show their community support. The club also had Teen Nights and Adult Nights and sponsored fundraising steak stags and dances at other locations.

By the late 1970s, a movement began between the Club and the Hoffman Estates Park District to bring the Tropicana into the Park District. As part of a bond referendum in February 1978, a proposal was made for the Park District to purchase the Club for $55,000. This would give the Park District “three tennis courts, a basketball court and a small but usable swimming pool at modest cost.” [Daily Herald; February 22, 1978] The referendum did not pass and the Park District dropped it from future proposals.

The Swim Club continued to operate until the early 2000’s when the necessary repairs became insurmountable. According to a story in the July 26, 2001 issue of the Hoffman Review, “the club’s basketball and tennis courts have already been sold to builders to offset the costs of maintaining the pool.” Membership had rebounded “from an all-time low of 32 family memberships to 45 family memberships.” This, though, was down significantly from the all-time membership high of 250 families when a waiting list was kept for future openings.

The Club closed around 2002 or 2003 as that is the last time there was any mention in either the Daily Herald or the Hoffman Review. The next mention was a legal notice in the July 25, 2007 Daily Herald when a bid notice was published by the Hoffman Estates Park District for the demolition of the pool. It was that year, according to an October 26, 2012 Daily Herald article, “the park district took ownership of the park, which amounts to less than an acre… after the Tropicana Swim Club offered to donate it, saying it could not maintain it anymore… The facilities were in such disrepair that the park district decided it would be best to demolish them, plant grass and wait until funding was available before moving foward with a project that would involve the input of neighbors.”

After successfully winning a grant, the Park District opened Tropicana Park, the most eastern park in their district, on October 27, 2012. It offered “two bocce ball courts,… a volleyball court, horseshoe pit, chess table, benches, picnic tables and a drinking fountain.” And, best of all? In honor of its former existence, the District put in “a ‘splash pad,’ which will spray water in the summer and carry on the park’s history of providing a place to cool off in the heat.” [Daily Herald, October 26, 2012]

From a 1965 Hoffman Highlands brochure. Contributed by Larry Rowan.

The Tropicana Swim Club essentially served as the family room for many of its members for years. Families gathered there most every day during the season. One of the best perks was that food and drink (no glass) could be brought in. Linda Fridae said her family was there almost every night to eat, swim and enjoy the company of other members. They became best friends who still meet and keep in touch to this day. The Tropicana meant so much to its members that you can even find it mentioned in obituaries.

Send in your comments if your family was a member and/or someone held an office on the board. And, if any of you know who and how they came up with the phenomenal name, that would be a bonus!

Jane Rozek
Local History Librarian
Schaumburg Township District Library
jrozek@stdl.org

THE BANK BUILDING THAT IS NO MORE

BMO Harris Bank on Higgins Road in Hoffman Estates. Photo credit to Jane Rozek.

Our guest contributor this week is Pat Barch, the Hoffman Estates Historian. This column originally appeared in the September/October 2022 issue of the Hoffman Estates Citizen, the village’s newsletter. The column appears here, courtesy of the Village of Hoffman Estates.

I knew eventually that the beautiful building was to be torn down, but when I saw the slow deliberate demolition begin, there was sadness in my heart. 

Each time I drove by the old Lincoln Federal Savings and Loan building, presently BMO Harris Bank, I’d slow down to see what progress had been made. It began on the inside. Through the tall windows you could see the tear down begin. As with all demolition work, I’m sure what could be salvaged was salvaged for reuse somewhere else. 

Then one day as I drove down Higgins Road, headed to the post office, the large piece of machinery with a wrecking ball was on the south side of the building, beginning its tedious work of taking down this graceful and stylish building.

Through my research at the Schaumburg Township District Library, I learned about the details of its beginning at 1400 N. Gannon Drive in Hoffman Estates. 

Lincoln Federal Saving and Loan of Berwyn made the announcement in 1973 that they would be opening a new branch in Hoffman Estates. Its postmodern style was designed by Godfrey L. Duke, an architect from Wheeling. Original plans were for two buildings but the plans were modified and it finally opened in June 1975.   

The graceful colonnades supporting the roof overhang were pre-cast concrete of white quartz aggregate. It had two round fountains near the entrance and eight drive in lanes.

The interior of the bank housed an automatic, 24 hour self- service post office, a welcome addition for the Hoffman Estates residents.  The vending machines offered stamped envelopes, stamps, postcards and weighing scales for packages. A convenient coin change machine was also available.

This has been a sad tear down of a lovely building. Our village changes each time we lose some of our early buildings.  I’m remembering our village hall on Gannon and Golf and the bowling alley on Higgins and Roselle.  

The tear down of the south end of Hoffman Plaza was very dramatic as it was not a complete tear down, but a redesign of the building that was built in 1959.  Hoffman Plaza now has the beautiful Burlington Store and Lofts.

Hopefully we’ll have new and exciting buildings to take the place of those that fell to the wrecking ball.

Pat Barch, Hoffman Estates Village Historian
eagle2064@comcast.net

JAMES AND MYRA COLBY BRADWELL AND THEIR STRUGGLE ON BEHALF OF MARY TODD LINCOLN

They were a power couple before the term was even invented. Myra Colby Bradwell and her husband, James Bradwell, were some of the top minds of the Chicago legal community in the late 1800s. Not only had James been elected to the Cook County judicial bench in 1861, but he was also elected to the Illinois General Assembly as a representative from 1873 to 1877.

Myra studied law, passed the bar exam in 1869 and applied to practice before the Illinois Supreme Court. She, however, was denied by that body, as well as the United States Supreme Court. She eventually acquired her law license retroactively to her initial application year of 1869. Perhaps, though, her greatest achievement is her initiation of a major publication in the legal world entitled Chicago Legal News. It was published from 1868 until 1925.

In 1875, however, an event occurred in Chicago that was personal for the Bradwells. After the assassination of Abraham Lincoln in 1865, his wife, Mary Todd Lincoln, and her son, Tad, moved back to Illinois and lived in Chicago. Following the untimely death of Tad in 1871, her behavior became more erratic.

A young Mary Todd Lincoln. Photo credit to Wikipedia

It finally reached a point that her remaining son, Robert Todd Lincoln, an aspiring lawyer in Chicago who hoped to enter politics, instituted legal proceedings to have her institutionalized. On May 20, 1875, a jury found her unfit and committed her to Bellevue Place, an asylum in Batavia, Illinois.

Bellevue Place in Batavia, IL. Photo credit to Shaw Local

After residing there for three months, she approached her friends, Myra and James Bradwell, who she knew from their earlier years in Illinois.

In a reasonable assumption, it is possible Myra and James knew the Lincolns going as far back as the 1850s. While growing up in Schaumburg Township, Myra came into contact with Francis A. Hoffman who was pastor of St. Peter Lutheran Church. Pastor Hoffman left the church in 1851 and moved to Chicago where he became an attorney. This was around the time the Bradwells also began their legal work.

Lieutenant Governor Francis A. Hoffman. Photo credit to Wikipedia

Hoffman helped to found the Republican party in Illinois and was a political supporter and friend of Abraham Lincoln. Undoubtedly, the Bradwells, the Hoffmans and the Lincolns were cohorts in the Illinois legal and political worlds.

More than twenty years later, Mary Todd Lincoln secured the assistance of the Bradwells. Myra made a trip to Batavia to meet with Mary, according to the book, Women In Law by Cynthia Fuchs Epstein. She was denied admittance and “she turned then to the press, where she began publishing articles in, for example, the Bloomington Courier and the Chicago Times about Mary Todd Lincoln’s unfair detention.”

Ms. Epstein states that Mrs. Bradwell ultimately succeeded in visiting Mrs. Lincoln and “wrote to her almost daily, and penned letters to both Robert Todd Lincoln and to the custodian of Bellevue Place.” The Bradwells were eventually denied any contact at all and, once again, “turned to the press to publicize the detention. James Bradwell also gave a newspaper interview to the Chicago Post and Mail, attesting both to the incompetence of the doctor attending Mary Lincoln and to her sanity.” It is probable his seat in the Illinois General Assembly at the time was also of benefit to the cause.

In the publication, Rosehill Cemetery and Mausoleum: The Civil War At Rosehill, it states, “At first unsuccessful, but unable to bear the disgrace brought to that whom she testified was merely a victim of circumstances, the intelligent, middle aged activist secured the President’s widows’ release from [the] asylum and into a dignified private care.” Women In Law further clarifies that “she [Mary Lincoln] was allowed to live with her sister in Springfield and was subsequently declared sane by the Illinois courts. After some years in France, she died in her sister’s home in 1882.”

Were it not for the early contacts between the Bradwells and the Lincolns that, quite possibly, had a portion of their roots in Schaumburg Township, it is difficult to say whether the outcome would have been as successful for Mrs. Lincoln. The Bradwells remained loyal to their friend from the 1850s and worked every possible avenue to secure her release.

Jane Rozek
Local History Librarian
Schaumburg Township District Library
jrozek@stdl.org

MYRA COLBY BRADWELL: OUR TOWNSHIP’S CLAIM TO THE FIRST FEMALE LAWYER IN ILLINOIS

When Johann Sunderlage died on April 25, 1873, he left his estate to his wife, Catherine A. (Greve) Sunderlage. The couple had married in 1838 in Addison, IL and, eventually, moved to Schaumburg Township where they built a farm and home. Today, you can find the Sunderlage House on Vista Lane in Hoffman Estates.

Following Johann’s death, Catherine secured the services of attorney R.S. Williamson of Williamson & Miller in Chicago. As part of the probate proceedings, it was necessary to publish a public notice, alerting potential creditors to the death. One of the places this notice was published was in the Chicago Legal News.

Legal notice of John (Johann) Sunderlage that appeared in the Chicago Legal News

Note the name signed on the legal notice. It is a very bold signature. Myra Bradwell. Note, too, that she is also listed as the president of the Chicago Legal News Company. This early legal publication and its president, in fact, has a Schaumburg Township connection.

Myra was born on February 12, 1831 in Manchester, Vermont to Ebenezer and Abigail (Willey) Colby. She was the youngest of six children: Abigail, Ebenezer Franklin, Lucy Philenda, Rachel Horatia and Marietta Belinda. Her given name was Almira but she was called Myra in most documents.

The family moved to western New York after the children were born and then decamped for Illinois in 1843, the year Myra turned 12. By 1845 the Colbys had purchased their Schaumburg Township land patent and were farming in Section 12, which is in the upper right portion of this 1842 map.  According to their land patent, they bought the 80-acre parcel that is the left half of the lower quarter of the section.

Mr. Colby became active in local politics and immersed himself in the various posts of township supervisor, assessor and chairman. Undoubtedly, he was at the 1850 meeting when the name “Schaumburg” was given to the township. He served in the post of township supervisor from 1851 to 1855, simultaneously farming his land.

Myra lived with her parents for a time on the farm in Schaumburg Township. As stated in Illinois History & Lincoln Collections, a blog of the University of Illinois, she attended a finishing school in Kenosha, WI while living with her married sister. The name of the school is unknown.

Another book, Reminiscences of Early Chicago by Edwin Oscar Gale, states that “Myra Colby taught school in Schaumberg [sic] before it was a town. The school officer who examined her and gave her a certificate to teach was Francis A. Hoffman, then a minister of the gospel stationed in Schaumberg.”

Francis A. Hoffman served as the first pastor of St. Peter Lutheran Church in Schaumburg Township from 1847 to 1851. The time frame certainly fits for Miss Colby. We also know that the church was using their 1848 building as a school for their Lutheran youth during the week. Was she, then, their teacher? Or did he certify her to teach children at a public school? Given it is such an early time in the township, these details are unknown.

Elgin Female Seminary surrounded by a fence. Carlos H. Smith, Photographer. Photo credit to Gail Borden Public Library

In 1851 or 1852, while in her early 20s, Myra made the decision to move to Elgin to attend and/or teach at the Elgin Female Seminary. According to  E.C. Alft’s Elgin:  An American History, the seminary “was established in the spring of 1851 by the Misses Emily and Ellen Lord.”

Photo credit to the Glinda Project

Shortly thereafter, she met James Bolesworth Bradwell in Elgin. According to the University of Illinois blog post, he was a law student from Palatine, Illinois. In the book, America’s First Woman Lawyer: The Biography of Myra Bradwell by Jane M. Friedman, she says, “Theirs was not an easy courtship. The entire Colby family, with the exception of Myra and her sister, Abbie, took an immediate and intense dislike to James. The reason for their animosity is not clear, but it was probably related to the fact that James was ‘the penniless son of English immigrants.”

Ms. Friedman follows this up with “Several months after their initial meeting, and pursued by Myra’s brother Frank who was armed with a shotgun, Myra and James escaped from Elgin and eloped. Their marriage took place in Chicago [on May 18, 1852].” They moved to Memphis, TN where, Encyclopedia Britannica states that “they taught and then operated their own private school.”

By 1854, after the birth of their first child, Myra, they came back to Illinois, settling in Chicago where, in 1855, James was admitted to the Illinois bar. Britannica says further, “he enjoyed considerable success, rising to the Cook County bench in 1861 and to the state legislature in 1873.” It was also during this time that, according to the University of Illinois blog, he “formed a law practice with Myra’s brother, Frank Colby.” Clearly the earlier family discord had evaporated by this time.

The couple had three more children: Thomas (1857), Elizabeth (1858) and James (1862). Only Thomas and Elizabeth lived to adulthood.

However, the law ran thick in the Colby and Bradwell families and Myra was not content to stay at home. During the years surrounding the Civil War and the birth of her children, Myra became interested in pursuing her own legal career. Per the University of Illinois blog, “under James’ guidance [Myra] began reading and studying [the law]. She firmly believed that a married couple should work as partners and share in each other’s interests and work.”

In 1868 she founded the Chicago Legal News where the legal notice for Mr. Sunderlage appeared. In this post written by James Martin, Senior Legal Information Analyst at the Law Library of Congress and taken from In Custodia Legis, a blog of the Law Librarians of Congress, he says:

The Chicago Legal News has the distinction of being the first legal publication in the United States that was edited by a woman, Myra Bradwell.  In 1868, Myra submitted a prospectus for a legal newspaper for Chicago.  This paper was launched in the same year and quickly became noted for its authoritative reporting on legal developments and commentary.  In 1869, the State of Illinois enacted a law providing that the state’s courts could take judicial notice of the statutes of Illinois and the decisions of the state’s Supreme Court that were published in the paper.

The Law Library has a copy of the first volume of the Chicago Legal News, which was donated by Susan B. Anthony to the Library of Congress. 

Photo credit to the Glinda Factor

The year 1869 was a prominent one for Myra. Per Enyclopedia Britannica, “she helped organize Chicago’s first women’s suffrage convention, and she and her husband were active in the founding of the American Woman Suffrage Association in Cleveland.” 

In addition, she studied for the Illinois bar examination and passed. In a major disappointment, her application to the Illinois Supreme Court, requesting admission to the state bar, was denied on the grounds that she was a woman.

She pushed back and eventually brought a lawsuit against the State of Illinois. The case climbed its way to the United States Supreme Court in April of 1873 where the Illinois Supreme Court decision of Bradwell vs. The State of Illinois was upheld. Ironically enough, the prior year, Bradwell, Alta Hulett and Ada Kepley “drafted a bill that would prohibit sex as a barrier to any profession. On March 22, 1872, the Illinois legislature passed this bill which became the first anti-sex-discrimination law in the United States.”  [Illinois History and Lincoln Collections]

In the great Chicago Fire of 1871, the offices for the Chicago Legal News burned down–as did their home–but the paper continued publication. Per Encyclopedia Britannica, “as editor, Bradwell supported women’s suffrage, railroad regulation, improved court systems, zoning laws, and other reforms… Later she supported her husband’s successful efforts to secure legislation making women eligible to serve in school offices and as notaries public and to be equal guardians of their children.”

In doing her civic duty, she served as a representative of Illinois to the Centennial Exposition in Philadelphia in 1876 and, as a result, helped bring the World’s Columbia Exposition to Chicago in 1893.

The city of Chicago celebrated her gravitas in the legal and civic world by naming a new elementary school for her in 1890. It is still open today on South Burnham Avenue and is known as the Myra Bradwell School of Excellence.

James Bradwell. Photo credit to wikipedia.com

The year 1890 also saw the Illinois Supreme Court, on a request from her husband, take up her 1869 bar application and admit her to the Illinois State Bar, retroactive to her original application. Two years later, she was admitted to practice before the U.S. Supreme Court–the first woman to do so. 

Myra died of cancer on February 14, 1894 and is buried in Rosehill Cemetery and Mausoleum where her husband and all four of their children are also entombed.

Photo credit to E. Smith on findagrave.com

Their daughter, Elizabeth “Bessie” (Bradwell) Helmer, followed in her parents’ footsteps and earned her law degree from Union College of Law (later Northwestern University) in 1882. She eventually took over the helm of Chicago Legal News and ran the paper until 1925 when it ceased publication. She also named her only child, Myra Bradwell Helmer.

In the 1850 United States census, the population of Schaumburg Township was 489 people. It is remarkable to consider that one of those was a young Myra Colby Bradwell, arguably one of the most brilliant female legal minds of the 1800s.

Jane Rozek
Local History Librarian
Schaumburg Township District Library
jrozek@stdl.org

An account of Myra’s parents, Ebenezer and Abigail Colby, published in this blog, can be found here.

Next week the blog will detail the Bradwell’s work on Mary Todd Lincoln’s behalf in securing her release from a mental institution.