One of Schaumburg Township’s most intriguing photographed structures is a building that no longer exists. In fact, it lasted for as little as ten years and as long as twenty. Let’s go back to this iconic bridge photo taken by William Thiede of Des Plaines around 1907. This time, take a look at the building in the background. This is the Wilkening Creamery. It was on the northwest side of Salt Creek where East Schaumburg Road crosses. There is still a bridge there today.
In a number of published records found on Google Books and in articles from the Cook County Herald, the owners are listed as L. Wilkening, Louis Wilkening and W.C. Wilkening. Not knowing how these two gentlemen were connected, I posed the question on the Schaumburg Rootsweb mailing list. The responses I received confirmed that Louis Wilkening was the father and W.C. or William Carl was his son.
The earliest report of the Wilkening Creamery is listed in the Illinois State Dairymen’s Association Annual Report of 1898 and in the National Creamery Buttermaker’s Association Report of the Annual Meeting for the same year. A creamery owned by L. Wilkening in Roselle, DuPage County, is noted in both publications. In the Dairymen’s report there are other listings for Schaumburg so can we assume he started his business in Roselle? The fact that there is no Wilkening on the corner of Schaumburg and Plum Grove Roads on any of the maps prior to the 1901-1906 map seems to confirm this.
However, given the fact that there was much blurring of the lines between Roselle and Schaumburg at the time, and that the maps could be inconsistent in their timing, one wonders if, in this instance, Roselle meant Schaumburg? At the turn of the century Schaumburg was merely a crossroads and the citizens of the township frequently attached their names to Roselle, Palatine, Elk Grove, Ontarioville, etc. The assumption could be made that Mr. Wilkening’s creamery was in Schaumburg and he was calling it Roselle because that was the nearest town.
Another bit of evidence that seems to suggest his business was always located in Schaumburg is this scan donated by LaVonne Presley. It is a cover of a farmer’s ledger that actually advertises the creamery in 1900 in Schaumburg.
In Marilyn Lind’s Genesis of A Township, she also makes mention of Louis Wilkening’s creamery bringing business to the area in 1901. And, it is the 1901-1906 map that confirms that L. Wilkening owned property on both sides of Schaumburg Road at Plum Grove.
Details of the creamery really get interesting, though, in the Schaumburg columns of two Cook County Herald articles from 1905. On September 15, 1905, there is this mention: “L. Wilkining’s artesian creamery has been nicely painted a rich yellow.” A week later, the same paper states in their September 22, 1905 issue, “Aug. Kelem has finished painting L. Wilkening’s Artesian Creamery which now looks handsome in artistic gray with white shutters.” So, was the yellow a primer paint or was the newspaper confused with another creamery?
Then, on November 24, “Helper in Creamery wanted. Apply to W.C. Wilkening at Artesian Creamery, Schaumburg, address R.F.D. No. 1, Palatine.” Why an artesian creamery? The Wilkening property was very close to what is now the Spring Valley Nature Sanctuary. Spring Valley is thus named because of the number of artesian springs that existed in the area for many years prior to development and the gravel pits that were dug to the south. (Spring Valley Nature Center and Volkening Heritage Farm: A Timeline on STDL Local History Digital Archive) The water table was always known to be quite high for this area and is, in fact, discussed in the oral history with Mary Lou (Link) Reynolds whose family lived on the nearby Redeker farm from the 1930s forward.
The water from the artesian springs was ideal for cooling the milk that the local farmers brought to the creamery. The milk had to be kept at a cool temperature in order for it to be processed into butter and/or shipped to a larger facility.
These articles are followed by a mention in the April 20, 1906 column, “Louis Wilkening says as soon as Henry Quindel gets the Elk Grove and Hanover Electric R.R. built through Schaumburg he will change his artesian creamery into a bottling factory as he can make more money selling pure mineral water from his unfailing artesian spring than any creamery. There will be less work and greater profit.”
Although this railway never came to fruition—and neither did the bottling factory—the creamery continued to operate because W.C. Wilkening of Schaumberg is mentioned in the 1908 Illinois State Dairymen’s Association Annual Report of 1908 and L. Wilkening is listed as the name of a creamery in Schaumberg, Cook County, in the Illinois Food Commissioner’s Report of 1911.
What happened to the building and the business after that is unknown. According to an account by Herman Redeker who lived across Schaumburg Road on the Spring Valley property, the building was destroyed by fire around 1919. I think he’s close.
Although there was no mention of a fire in the Cook County Herald, it is interesting to note this. In the 1915 and 1917 Annual Report of the Illinois Public Utilities Commision, W.C. Wilkening is listed as the Secretary, Treasurer, Chief Engineer and General Superintendent of the Cherry Valley, Illinois Light and Power Company that was organized in October 1, 1914.
My assumption is W.C. left the area following the burning of the creamery or he decided to move on and strike out on his own. In either case the Wilkening Artesian Creamery seems to have come and gone in the space of twenty years. We are fortunate to be left with a partial photo—thanks to a new bridge and a local photographer who was there to note the occasion.