I received an email from the village of Schaumburg not too long ago asking if I knew anything about Stratford Farms. A few years back, a Public Works crew was doing some work on property the village owns on the southwest side of town and they unearthed “a very solid marker” with the words “Stratford Farms” on it. The village wondered where this farm was.
Well, thank goodness for the oral histories that have been done. Ralph Engelking grew up next to the Stratford Farms and he mentioned this farm in his oral history. In a followup call with Ralph, he distinctly recalls two of these markers delineating the Stratford Farms property that was along Roselle Road, just north of Wise (Wiese) Road where the Christ Community Mennonite Church now stands.
In taking a few more steps back in time, the first mention of Stratford Farms is in a DuPage County Register article from August 29, 1913. It says, “Rural mail carrier Vaas has resigned as carrier to take effect September 1 and has taken a position as superintendent of the Stratford Farm in Schaumburg.” Another article from 1913 says that “Theo Vaas, manager of Stratford farm has bought some of the best registered Guernsey cattle that can be found in Wisconsin and New Jersey. The barn is being rebuilt and put in the most modern condition.” One can suppose that the farm had recently been purchased.
This is where Ralph and LaVonne Presley come into play. In Ralph’s oral history, both of them could recall that this farm was purchased by the owner of the Stratford Hotel in Chicago, thus the naming of the farm. The Stratford Hotel, located on the southwest corner of Jackson and Michigan Avenue in Chicago, was owned by Levy Mayer who was a very prosperous lawyer and real estate mogul.
LaVonne’s father, Bill Thies, recalled that “the hotel would send garbage from the hotel dining room out to Roselle via the mail or milk train. On the inbound trip, the farm would send eggs, slaughtered chickens and maybe milk and cream.” The garbage fed the pigs on the farm. Mixed in with the garbage were bits and pieces of china from the hotel that still pop up to this day.
In a 1914 issue of the American Poultry Journal, an ad mentions White Rocks and White Wyandottes–two species of chickens–being for sale from Stratford Farm. W.R. Graves is listed as Manager of the Poultry Department. The following year his wife, S. Helen Graves wrote an article on Conditioning Birds for the Show Room. Not only did the couple raise chickens but they were also expert poultry judges.
As mentioned above, the farm was also known for their Guernsey cattle. A September 25, 1914 article from the Palatine Enterprise mentions the Guernsey cows, calves and a number of chickens from Stratford Farms entered in a livestock exhibit in the area. Their big prize was a grand champion, pure bred, Guernsey bull that sold for $10,000 and was “the star attraction of the cattle department.” Mr. Vaas must have been influential in the farm because he remained in place as farm manager until 1917. An article from the March 2, 1917 Palatine Enterprise states that “Theo Vaas moved his household goods and family Tuesday from the Stratford Farm to Chicago. He has been manager, several years of the Stratford Farm here, which is renowned for thoroughbred Guernsey cattle and poultry.”
Mr. Mayer, the owner, died on August 14, 1922 leaving an estate worth $8,500,000. The estate began to be settled in 1923 and, without knowing the details, it is assumed the Stratford Farms property was sold. By 1926, the Thrift Press plat map of Schaumburg Township shows the owners as Brown & Krause & Co.
Ralph thought the farm continued raising some chickens and dairy cows. During the Depression he recalled the many chicken coops being empty. He also said that the property was sold in the 1940s to a Mr. Niemechek who revamped the farm, moving specifically into the dairy business. He put milking stanchions in the barn (that is now the church) and erected three silos to hold the silage that would feed the cows.
In 1951 Wayne King, the bandleader who’s been written about before on this blog, purchased the farm and converted the dairy operation to a beef cattle operation. When the land was bought in 1963 for a residence–and a few years after Wayne King sold the farm–there was a large concrete cattle yard complete with feed bunks still in place.
Schaumburg Township may have had its rural character back in the early part of the twentieth century but the big city of Chicago still managed to shed its influence in many ways.