THE BELL FAMILY ON STRATFORD FARMS

About six years after Levy Mayer, a formidable Chicago attorney, and Edwin Meyer, his brother-in-law, bought the Stratford Hotel in 1907 at the corner of Jackson and Michigan in Chicago, they also bought a farm in rural Schaumburg Township.  The plan was to grow chickens, cows, pigs, produce, etc. to supply the restaurant in his hotel.   Rather than paying wholesalers for the items, the hotel would go right to the source.  Thus began Stratford Farms on Roselle Road in Schaumburg.

In October 2011 I wrote a blog posting about this farm and, even though it’s been 5 1/2 years, Sandra Nobles found the blog posting.

Amazingly enough, her great grandparents, James Austin and Florence Bell, managed the farm with their children for a period of time from 1917 to 1934.  Even more astounding, they took wonderful photos of the farm during the time they lived there.  We are fortunate that their daughter, Florence Catherine “Kate” Bell is sharing the photos with us.

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Pictured below is one of the two houses on the farm.  The Bell family lived in this house.  Roselle Road can be seen in the middle of the photo.  Electricity had not yet come to Schaumburg Township so we can confirm that it is a telephone pole along the road.  According to Florence Catherine, they had both telephone service and running water in this house. They did not have generalized rural electric power on the farm until later in the 1920s.  In fact, Florence Catherine remembers them putting the poles in the ground.

Prior to that time, they had an engine that powered a battery.  Electricity was then derived from the battery.   Ice was sold at the “dairy” in Schaumburg Center.  (This was the Buttery, as we know it now.)  She also said that her mother did a lot of canning, including jellies.  Laundry was done on a washboard and was hung outside to dry.

There are a variety of outbuildings behind and to the right of the house.  And, clearly, the owners saw a strong need for water as they built their own water tower for the animals and the produce they raised.

This is a closer view of the farm’s buildings.  The other house on the farm is in the background of the photo.  The farmhands lived in this house.  According to Florence Catherine, one of the outbuildings had an engine that would power electricity for the building.  The building also had a nice concrete floor where the kids would roller skate around the support poles of the structure.  Notice the two figures posing for this photo on the catwalk that surrounds the water tower.  Irv Flaherty, their steady farmhand, is one of them.

This photo is taken from the front porch of the house on Roselle Road.  Imagine standing on Roselle Road at Hartford Drive today and looking east with nothing to impede your view.  That is what you see here.

In this photo you get an idea of the scope of produce the farm was growing for the hotel.

These were some of the pheasants raised for dining purposes for the hotel.

Here is another view of the countryside–and of a snazzy looking roadster–most likely owned by Mr. Edwin Francis Meyer.  (According to Florence Catherine, her sister, Edwina, was named for him.)  Again, the land and the view seem to stretch on forever.  Some of you car buffs may be able to determine what make and model this is.

The family made friends with people who lived near their farm.  One of the couples was Mr. and Mrs. Ode D. Jennings who had a 300-acre farm nearby.  The two ladies “would go shopping together” and “Pa and O.D. would talk and have (farm related) dealings.”  Another nearby friend was John Homeyer who had 40 acres that was encompassed by Stratford Farms on Wise Road.  He would bring his cows over every day to graze on the 40 acres and then bring them back to his farm to milk at night.

Her father also had farm dealings with Mr. Lengl of Lengl’s Schaumburg Inn.  Mr. Lengl raised pheasant, venison and squab that were served in the inn.  Possibly Stratford Farms provided some of the produce too?  In addition, her father’s services would be required when people from Chicago would come to the Inn and leave late at night, only to get their cars stuck in the ditches.  Mr. Bell would get a call and have to hitch up a team and pull them out.

James Austin Bell Sr. came from Ohio in 1917 and worked for Mr. Meyer at the Stratford Hotel, managing and tending bar.  His wife, Florence, and their young daughter, Florence Catherine “Kate”, came to Chicago in January 1918 after Florence Catherine’s birth.  They then moved to the farm and in January 1920 their twins, Edwina and James Austin, Jr. were born.  One year later, in October 1921, they had a son, John Robert.

In the photo below are, from left to right, Edwina, John Robert, Catherine and James Austin Jr.

The next photo is another scene of the Bell family.  The children from left to right are:  James Austin Jr., John Robert, Edwina and Catherine “Kate.”  Their mother, Florence, is holding John Robert, who is still fairly small.  This helps to place the time of the photo as 1922 or 1923.

This is a photo of Florence Catherine on the occasion of her birthday.  She has on a beautiful, sparkling clean dress and stockings with, what look to be, new shoes.  Edwina is standing on the grass and James Austin is sitting on the steps behind her.  Her mother appears to be standing in the house behind the screen door.

We are also treated to a photo of James Austin Jr. and Edwina dressed up in their very best too.  Maybe they are on their way to the Roselle United Methodist Church where the family attended services.

This is a more casual day.  From left to right are James Austin Jr., Florence Catherine “Kate”,  John Robert and Edwina.  Notice how they are dressed.  It was a carefree existence for the children and there was no reason to dress up.  Very seldom do we see photos of this type where children of this time period in Schaumburg Township are dressed in their every day garb.  This is a unique view.

This is a photo of the twins, Edwina and James Austin.  Irv Flaherty, one of the farmhands, is holding on to Edwina who certainly seems like a lively child!

James Austin Bell, Sr.  worked and played baseball for the Great Northern Hotel of Chicago before he went to work for the Stratford Hotel.  He must have continued to play Great Northern baseball even after working for Stratford Farms because, in this photo, he is dressed in his Great Northern baseball uniform.  Note the “G” and “N” intertwined on the front of his uniform.  One wonders if he drove a car to his games or took the train from Roselle into the city.  (According to Florence Catherine, her mother never drove and would catch a bus “at the end of the road.”

In 1930 the family is listed in the census with Florence being 12, Edwina and James Austin 10 and John Robert 8.  Ada and Fred Hafner, direct relatives of the Bells, are also listed with their children:  David 19, Daniel 18, Bethella 12, Paul 10 and Phillip 7.  By 1934 both families had moved on.  But, aren’t we lucky James Austin Bell Sr. took these marvelous photos when he did?  What an interesting perspective of everyday life on a busy farm in the twenties that, as Florence Catherine said, “was like a little city.”  Thank you to the extended Bell family for providing the photos!

To this day, we commemorate the heritage of Stratford Farms by the farm’s marker that can be found behind the Turret House.  In fact, you can see this same marker in the above photo that looks out to the east across Roselle Road.  According to Florence Catherine “Kate,” she and her siblings used to climb these posts and sit on them.  What a nice way to bring this story full circle!

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

The photo of the Stratford Farms marker is used courtesy of the Village of Schaumburg. 

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One Response to “THE BELL FAMILY ON STRATFORD FARMS”

  1. Jacqueline Manning Says:

    I am sitting with Florence Catherine Bell as of 7/24/2017 she is 100 years old. I have shared your article with her, and she would like to clarify some facts that were not correctly represented.

    The car in the photo looks like one owned by Mr. E.F. Meyer for how her sister Edwina Francis was named after.

    The photo where F.C. Bell is standing in her best clothes is more probably from her birthday. She recalls a woman from Blooming Dales bringing a cake (Mrs. Malcolm, she thinks she was in realistate)

    The photo of the “farm hands holding the children” the gentleman holding the baby his name was Flaherty- “he came thru looking for work and Pa put him to work” he is also the gentleman performing the stunt of standing on the water tower. He came from Canada

    F.C. Bell says” all he ever talked about was the Great Northern Hotel” in reference to the photo of her father in his baseball uniform. That uniform was frim the Great Northern Hotel.

    Written by F.C.Bells granddaughter.
    With F.C. Bell
    FAYETTEVILLE N.C.

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