WOODLOTS FOR SCHAUMBURG TOWNSHIP

The year is 1847 and you have traveled across the Atlantic Ocean and half of the continent to reach Schaumburg Township. You get your first view of the land that you have purchased from the government. Rich, dark soil? Check. A market for your products in nearby Chicago? Check. Enough trees to build your first house? Check. Enough trees to provide you with fuel for the next 20 years? No. And that’s a problem.

Considering that Illinois farmers of the 1800s largely heated their homes and cooked their meals with wood, it was absolutely necessary to have a steady, ready supply for anyone living on the frontier. In rural Schaumburg Township there were five nearby groves on the prairie that were available with timber that was ready to cut and cull. 

Sarah’s Grove was in the middle of the township, just west of the intersection of Schaumburg and Roselle Roads. Wildcat Grove was in the northwest corner of the township where the Greve Cemetery is located today in Hoffman Estates. The other three options were just outside of township boundaries in today’s Paul Douglas Forest Preserve off of Central Road in Palatine Township, the Arthur L. Janura Forest Preserve on the west side of Barrington Road in Hanover Township and the Ned Brown Forest Preserve in Elk Grove Township that is best known as Busse Woods. (Portions of all of the groves still exist to this day.) The surveyor’s map below shows the large key-shaped section of Busse Woods to the left that is simply marked “Timber” in the middle.

To be able to take advantage of these groves, farmers purchased acreage that often ranged from two to ten acres. According to Larry Nerge’s report on the Johann Heinrich Boeger family who lived on today’s Spring Valley property, they had a wood lot of two to three acres in Busse Wood.

The following document from LaVonne Thies Presley’s book, Schaumburg Of My Ancestors, draws out a legal description of the nearly ten acre woodlot her great grandfather purchased from Henry and Maria Bochers on November 23, 1853 for $1250.

The entrance was off of Higgins Road in Busse Woods and required quite a trek from their farm on Meacham Road near today’s WGN transmitter. Multiple trips a year were necessary to keep the house stoves going for warmth and cooking purposes.

A trip to the woods began in the morning after the milking and chores were finished.  Two men drove a wagon pulled by two large draft horses that carried their “two-man [cross cut] saw, wooden bow saw, sharpened axe, steel wedges, water and/or coffee, food for lunch, and possibly oats or hay for the horses.” 

Presley’s relatives were no different from the brothers of Ralph Engelking who was one of our oral historians. His account can be viewed on the library’s Local History Digital Archive. In his history, Ralph, youngest of eleven, recalls that his brothers would bring a lunch of sausage sandwiches and coffee when they made their trip to Busse Woods.

It is not known how the owners determined exactly where their property began and ended but there had to have been some kind of posts or markings that established the corners of their acreage. (If any of the readers of this post have ever come across something like this in Busse Woods, please put in a comment or send me an email.)

Once there, they began accumulating the fallen logs and branches that were easy pickings. Next, they probably tackled any dying trees as these were quicker to take down and more easily chopped. Dead wood was also dryer wood and burned more cleanly in the stoves. If burned, newly cut, green wood created an accumulation of creosote that could cause chimney fires if the stove fires burned too hot.

According to Presley, trees “were cut into lengths (about 5-6 feet long) that could be lifted and put on the wagon. Lengths to fit the stove would be cut back at the farm. This cutting and splitting was time consuming and took time away from the farm work. Time was precious and could not be wasted on tasks that could be done more easily at the farmyard.”

Some lengths of wood were also used for fence posts in the farmyard. The harder the wood, the more durable the post. According to “Farm Woodlots In Illinois” from Transactions of the Illinois State Academy of Science, Vol. 16 published in 1923, the best types of wood were white oak, catalpa, cedar, black locust, mulberry and, osage orange or “hedge” which was the best possible choice. Of course, if they did not have a choice of wood, the farmers in this area were going to take any type that grew on their woodlot–and replace the fence post when necessary.

Wagons were loaded very carefully as they did not want any displacement to happen as the horses pulled the timber home. As the afternoon drew to a close, saws, axes, wedges and other items would be placed in the wagon and the slow, burdened wagon would be pulled home by the powerful draft horses.  

Presley recounts a story in her book that, on a late fall day, her father and uncle were at their woodlot when an unexpected snowstorm broke out. They left the woods as quickly as possible but the snow was so blinding and heavy that they could not make out the road. It became obvious that the horses weren’t going to stop so the two young brothers loosened their hold on the reins and let the horses pull the load where they wanted. Through better vision, instinct or the feel of gravel on their hooves—or all three—the horses pulled the wagon safely to the barn on their farm. 

Once home, the 5-6 foot lengths were arranged in a teepee form to allow for further drying before they were chopped for use in stoves or used as fence posts. Chopping happened when there was time in between chores or when a group of family and neighbors had time in the winter to tackle the pile. 

The woodlots were kept by local farmers until other means of heat, like coal or kerosene, became available to the farmers. This was also close to the time that Cook County purchased Busse Woods for their newly formed Forest Preserve District, as can be seen in the letter to the Thies family in January 1918. 

It was most likely a win/win situation for many of the farm families. There was an opportunity to easily sell their remote woodlot, adjust to life with a kerosene stove and, best of all, eliminate that portion of chores from their workload. 

They did us all a favor, though, by being such careful conservators of their woodlots. As a result, we remain blessed to this day with the large forest preserves that surround Schaumburg Township.

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

The Thies family documents and photo are all taken from the chapter of LaVonne Thies Presley’s book, Schaumburg of My Ancestors which gives us an amazing overview of farming in rural Schaumburg Township around the turn of the century. Copies of the book are available in the library’s Local History Collection or can be read on the Local History Digital Archive

2 Responses to “WOODLOTS FOR SCHAUMBURG TOWNSHIP”

  1. Fred Luft Says:

    Another amazing story from you Jane. I find it interesting that the Forest Preserve District said that unless we hear from you in 5 days….Letter dated January 18, 1918. I can’t imagine a letter getting to Schaumburg Township and then back to them in 5 days.

  2. ldrewitz Says:

    Thanks again, Jane, for a wonderful history lesson. I just love reading your narratives from the past!
    Leslie

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