Archive for the ‘Farms’ Category

THE BELL FAMILY ON STRATFORD FARMS: CHAPTER TWO

July 23, 2017

As magnificent as the Stratford Hotel was on the corner of Jackson and Michigan in Chicago, Stratford Farms in Schaumburg Township was just as nice in its own way.  After running photos in an earlier blog posting that the James Austin and Florence Bell family passed on of the farm along Roselle Road, it is a pleasure to share a few more.  These pictures are of both the farm and of the hotel memorabilia the family owns.

Levy Mayer, a wealthy attorney and senior member of the law firm of Mayer, Meyer, Austrian and Platt was an owner and developer of the Stratford Hotel along with his brother-in-law, Edwin F. Meyer.  They also purchased Stratford Farms to help supply the restaurant in the hotel with food.   According to a Chicago Tribune article that appeared after his death on August 14, 1922, he “was reputed to be the wealthiest practicing lawyer in the country.”  He was known for his work on cases involving the meatpackers, the Iroquois fire, child labor, woman’s suffrage and the constitutionality of the stockyards act.  When he died suddenly of a cerebral hemorrhage, it was just a few years after the Bell family began managing Stratford Farms in Schaumburg.  After Mr. Mayer died, the farm was solely owned by his brother-in-law, Edwin F. Meyer.  This aligns with both a 1920-26 plat map we have in our collection that shows his ownership of the property and the fact that the Bell family managed the property for Edwin until they left in 1934 for a farm they purchased in Kentucky.

But, it was long enough to become familiar with Mr. Meyer who was a fairly frequent visitor to the farm.

At some point he was nice enough to pass on this self-portrait postcard with a note handwritten on the back.

Judging by the note, he was obviously a busy man who had been unwell.

The following items are memorabilia of the Stratford Hotel.  Imagine a maximum $6 stay at the hotel.  Or, having the option of paying for a shower or not!

 

 

This is a silver creamer with the hotel’s name stamped on the underside.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Additional photos of the farm were also passed along.  This panoramic view of the farm is taken from the west, looking east.  The thin, white strip that bisects the photo behind the windmill and in front of the grove of trees is Roselle Road.  The house to the right is where the farmhands lived who the Bells hired.  In fact, one of those farmhands was Irving Flarity who came from Canada and found himself in the Schaumburg Township area.  The Bells hired him and he worked for them for many years.  In the photo below he is standing on top of the water tower with his arms opened wide.  It took a fair amount of guts to perform that stunt!

This gives you a better idea of the location of the buildings on the farm.  It is essentially a reverse of the photo above and we are looking east across Roselle Road at the farm.  The big white dairy barn is on the left.

This barn caught fire one day in the late 1920s or early 1930s.  Catherine Bell was doing her homework when her cousin from across the road ran over to tell them that the barn was on fire.  Florence Catherine called the fire department but the farm was not part of the district so they required $200 to put out the fire.  Not being able to guarantee that amount of money, she ran down Roselle Road to get her father who was in “town” at Schaumburg Center.  When they returned the barn was nearly gone.  Many neighbors had gathered to try and put the fire out but it was a lost cause.  According to Catherine, the fire was so hot that it was possible to hear the milk bottles in the barn popping and breaking from the heat.

In the photo below, the water tower is to the right of the barn.  Both houses had easy access to Roselle Road with the two story farmhouse where the farmhands lived on the left and the 1 1/2 story house where the Bell family lived on the far right.  According to Florence Catherine, “Mr. Meyer had a fella with a camera come to the farm and take that photo.  Mr. Meyer had that photo hanging up in his house.”

A flock of geese was part of the farm’s bird population.  In this photo they are near the water tower and windmill.

The threshing team is hard at work on the farm.  Irving Flarity, the man who was obviously not afraid of heights, is standing on top of the pile of straw.

Mr. Edwin Meyer is holding James Austin Jr in the photo below.  The woman standing behind him is James’ mother, Florence.   The little girl in front is Florence Catherine Bell.   The lady holding Edwina Bell is her aunt and Florence’s sister, Eva Hastings Baumgardner of Minnesota.  James Austin Bell Sr. is behind his sister-in-law.

The Bell children pose in their front yard.  From left to right are James Austin Jr., Florence Catherine “Kate,” John Robert and Edwina.  Florence Catherine was the oldest, followed by James Austin Jr. and Edwina who were twins, with John Robert being the youngest.

The Haffners were the Bell family’s cousins who lived on a farm across Roselle Road in the grove of trees.  The Haffner family also worked on the farm.  Ada (Bell) Haffner was a sister to James Austin Bell Sr.  According to Kate Bell, there was a low spot to the left of the tree line where the field tile was broken.  The area would flood, forming a temporary pond that would freeze in the winter where both families would ice skate.  One has to suppose that, because it was shallow, it would freeze relatively quickly and also allow for comfortable skating.

Florence Catherine also says that when it rained, “we would slide around in the wet grass.”  Notice those white rocks?  She also said that when they mowed the lawn, they had to move all of the rocks beforehand so that they got a nice, clean swipe along the driveway.

 

These farm photos were all taken with a big, black Kodak type camera by James Austin Bell, the patriarch of the family.  According to Catherine, “Pa was proud of his camera [and] nobody touched his camera.”  We don’t know why he bought the camera in the first place but, presumably, he had an interest in photography, was able to get the camera for a reasonable price and was eager to take photos of his growing family and the land he farmed.  Thank goodness he did!

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

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SUNDERLAGE FARMHOUSE OPEN HOUSE & ICE CREAM SOCIAL

July 15, 2017

Join the Hoffman Estates Historical Sites Commission as they conduct tours of the Sunderlage Farmhouse at their annual open house.   Cookies and refreshments will be served.

In addition, the Schaumburg Township Historical Society is sponsoring the Sharon Kimble Ice Cream Social.  Come see how ice cream was made before we had Baskin Robbins or Dairy Queen.    If you enjoy socializing, learning about history and eating ice cream then stop by.  This is free but, as always, a donation will be accepted for the ice cream or our Raise the Flag Fund.

Take this opportunity to view this historical farmhouse and its National Register smokehouse, talk to the Civil War reenactors,  check out the cute animals and eat some delicious ice cream!

When:  Sunday, July 23, 2017 from 12-4 p.m.
Where:  Sunderlage Farmhouse at 1775 Vista Lane, Hoffman Estates

AN UNKNOWN FARM HOUSE APPEARED RIGHT BEFORE OUR VERY EYES

June 24, 2017

Surprises come in all shapes and sizes and this particular surprise came in the shape of the house pictured above.  Last December, Pat Barch, Hoffman Estates Historian, was contacted by Sue Gould, a local realtor, who was listing a home at 635 Lakeview Lane in Hoffman Estates.  According to the tax records she pulled, the home was built in 1879.  It is next to Lakeview School and the front of the house faces Evergreen Park and pond.  She wondered if we knew anything about it.  (Lakeview School is to the left in the photo below.)

The answer was no, we didn’t, because this house was a total surprise to us!  We know of only two houses in Parcel C that were here before the Hoffmans began development in the area.  One is the Hammerstein House on Illinois Boulevard that is now the Children’s Advocacy Center and the other is a private residence.

The realtor asked for a bit of background on the house so we got busy.  In looking at some of the old plat maps, Pat determined that the home was owned by the Bartels family.  I made a couple of calls and talked to Mr. Sporleder whose family farm backed up to the property.  He confirmed that, during his lifetime, the farm was first owned by Arthur Bartels and, later, by his son, Harvey Bartels.  He also mentioned that they lived in a big, two-story house.  Bingo.

In looking back at the many plat maps in our library’s collection, Arthur Bartels owned the property back to the 1920’s.  However, I suspected their ownership was earlier than that.  Mr. Bartels married Alma Hitzemann in 1915 at St. Peter Lutheran Church in Schaumburg.  An account of their wedding ran in the Palatine Enterprise and stated, “The happy couple were the recipients of many beautiful and useful presents and will start life under most favorable circumstances on the groom’s fine 160-acre farm, with good large buildings and everything to make them prosperous and happy.”  In fact, the obituary for Mrs. Bartels in 1945 confirms that, “after their marriage [they] made their home on their farm on Bode Rd. in Schaumburg twp.”

This clearly did not date the house though.  Prior to Mr. Bartels purchasing the property, the plat maps show that the farm was owned by the F. Gieseke family going back to 1861.  The property was split sometime in the following ten years and became two parcels, with houses built on both farms. (Note the fieldstones that make up the cellar walls of the house.)

According to the records collected by Larry Nerge, Friedrich or “Fred” Gieseke emigrated here in 1845 and died in 1891.   Friedrich or “Fred Jr.,” his son, died in 1911.  Both farms are listed on the maps under the name of F. Gieseke.  It’s a good possibility that the west farm passed from the Giesekes to the Bartels after Fred Jr. died in 1911.

Interestingly, Hattie Hitzemann, the sister of Mrs. Bartels, married William J. Gieseke who lived in another part of the township.  It is probably through Hattie and William that the Bartels heard that the Gieseke property was for sale.  Fred Gieseke Jr. was a first cousin to William’s father, Johann or “John” Gieseke.  So the property was kept in the family for all intents and purposes–though slightly removed from the direct line.

According to my contact, Mr. Sporleder, his best guess was that Harvey Bartels sold the property in the late 1950s.  The adjoining Gieseke property to the east had been sold in 1943 to Arthur and Dorothy Dalton Hammerstein.   After Arthur’s death in 1954, Dorothy sold the farm to the Hoffmans of F & S Construction.  It makes sense that the Bartels would have followed with a sale of their own farm in the next few years to F & S.

But the old Gieseke/Bartels house remained–as did the Gieseke/Hammerstein house.  For some reason F & S allowed both of them to stay in the midst of ongoing development. Somewhere along the line, though, the Gieseke/Bartels house dropped out of the local history consciousness.  Fortunately it resurfaced, thanks to Sue Gould’s attentiveness and concern.  And, just in time for Pat and me to take a look!

It was clear in the walk through that the house was added onto at some point.  There were two separate apartments with two separate kitchens and entrances.  Judging by the walls and the foundation in the cellar, it was also obvious here that at least one addition had occurred.  It is my feeling that the portion of the house in the middle and a fair portion on the east side, closest to Lakeview School, were the oldest parts of the house.  The chimney is another giveaway for that argument as is this bay in the center.  Notice the style of the trim around the window.

We are just grateful we were alerted to this piece of history we might have otherwise missed.  There are few farm houses left in Schaumburg Township and it was nice to have the opportunity to view this quiet masterpiece from days gone by.

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

 

THE BELL FAMILY ON STRATFORD FARMS

May 28, 2017

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. 

SPRINGTIME ON THE FARM

April 15, 2017

The Volkening Heritage Farm at the Spring Valley Nature Center in Schaumburg invites you to participate in an introduction to  life  on an 1880s working farm in the springtime.

This family event features such activities as plowing, blacksmithing, laundering, gardening and butter churning.  Family members will be able to participate in many other activities such as handcrafts, games and hayrides.  Refreshments will be available.  Admission is $4 per person and $16 per family.  Children 3 and under are free.

April 23, 2017   12:00 – 4:00
Spring Valley Nature Center
1111 E. Schaumburg Road
Schaumburg, IL

THE OLD FARMHOUSES OF HOFFMAN ESTATES

March 5, 2017

Our guest contributor this week is Pat Barch, the Hoffman Estates Historian.  This column originally appeared in the February 2017 issue of the Hoffman Estates Citizen, the village’s newsletter.  The column appears here, courtesy of the Village of Hoffman Estates.

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When developers saw the potential for building their suburban communities, they went about buying up the farms but not every farm fell to the wrecking ball and bulldozer.  The farm fields were laid out with curving streets and newly built homes but some of the old farm houses remained.  After several generations of life on the old homesteads, it was impossible for some of the farm families to see their homes torn down, so they choose to stay, selling their open fields and keeping life going in the family farmhouse.

We can still see the old farmhouses scattered within the village.  Only their unique appearance gives them away.  Few of us know their whereabouts.

One such farmhouse was recently discovered after I received an e-mail asking about its history.  After living in Hoffman Estates for the past 50 years, I’d never seen this old farmhouse yet it was about a half mile from my home.   Of course I had to drive to the address to see for myself.  The farmhouse was located on Lakeview Lane directly west of Lakeview School.  Due to restrictions for right turns onto Lakeview it was clear that I had never gone down this street before.

I learned that it was the Bartels farm house by looking at the old 1942 and 1954 farm plat maps and with help from Jane Rozek, Schaumburg Township Library Historian.  What a wonderful historical discovery.  It was so surprising that both Jane and I had no idea that this farmhouse still existed.  There are other old farmhouses in our village; some have been restored or repurposed.

The ones that come to mind are the Hammerstein Caretaker’s home on Abby Wood Dr. west of Conant High School, the Gieseke/Hammerstein farmhouse on Illinois Blvd., east of St. Hubert’s School (shown above), the Sunderlage farmhouse on Volid Drive (first photo below), the Vogelei farmhouse and barn on the northwest corner of  Higgins and Golf Roads and the Bergman Family’s farmhouse on the northwest corner of Ela and Algonquin Roads (second photo below.)

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The farmers have moved on. Most have died but a few live on now into their 80s and 90s.   Many of their children remain to tell us the stories of growing up on the farms.  Over the years Jane Rozek and the Schaumburg Township District Library have saved those farmer’s stories for us to listen to long after their passing.

Many early residents, who lived on the edge of the newly developing village, still remember hearing the cows mooing out in the fields or the roasters crowing early in the morning.

Pat Barch
Hoffman Estates Village Historian
Eagle2064@comcast.net

AUTUMN HERITAGE FESTIVAL

October 1, 2016

What:  The Volkening Heritage Farm at Spring Valley Nature Sanctuary is sponsoring their annual Autumn Heritage Festival.  Step back in time and watch history come to life at Spring Valley’s most popular event! Experience life on an 1880s farm by helping with the harvest, cooking over the woodstove or squeezing fresh apple cider. Relive the adventure of the Illinois frontier at an authentic pioneer encampment near the log cabin. The day will include historical demonstrations, children’s crafts, haywagon shuttle, live music and a variety of tasty fall foods.

When:  Sunday, October 2, 2016 Noon to 5 p.m.

Where:  Volkening Heritage Farm.  Parking is available at the Nature Center on Schaumburg Road and off Plum Grove Road across from Heritage Farm.
Charge:  Cost is $4 per person and $16 per family. Children 3 and under are free.

Info:  Call (847) 985-2100 for more information.

WILL THE REAL WAYNE KING PLEASE STAND UP?

July 31, 2016

To Tell The Truth is a television game show that began in 1956.  It featured a panel of four celebrities who, through the questions they asked, tried to determine the correct identification of one of the three guests who was appearing because of their unusual occupation or because of an interesting experience they had had.  The two impostors could lie if they wanted but the real celebrity was required “to tell the truth.”

The show aired in the evening on prime time television and, two years into their run on Tuesday, January 14, 1958, Wayne King, “The Waltz King” appeared.

Wayne King was a nationally known orchestra leader who was renowned for his saxophone playing and the waltzes his orchestra performed.  The orchestra had a Chicago-based radio show and television show at various times after World War II but was most renowned for their performances at the famous Aragon Ballroom in Chicago.  In fact, his orchestra performed “The Last Waltz You Save For Me” on the final day of the Aragon’s long run.  In addition, he put out a number of LPs highlighting his waltzing, orchestral sound.Wayne King 2

But, in Schaumburg Township, Mr. King was known personally.  He purchased a weekend, get-away farm along Roselle Road in August, 1951 where the Mennonite Church is today.  In fact, their barn-like church was the barn that housed his animal stock back in the day.

During his years here, Mr. King endeared himself to the people of Schaumburg Township with his quiet, unassuming ways.  A number of the oral historians on the library’s Local History Digital Archive speak fondly of him and remember him going to Lengl’s (now the Easy Street Pub) for a bite to eat and even serving as Master of Ceremonies at the Fall Dance Frolic at the Roselle Country Club (now the Schaumburg Golf Club.)

Mr. King sold the farm in 1957 and the following year appeared on “To Tell The Truth” to try and fool the panel made up of Polly Bergen, John Cameron Swayze, Kitty Carlisle and Hy Gardner.  You can watch it here on YouTube at 15:56.  See if you can tell who the real Wayne King is before the panel casts their vote!

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

THE BERGMAN FARM IN HOFFMAN ESTATES

February 14, 2016

Our guest contributor this week is Pat Barch, the Hoffman Estates Historian.  This column originally appeared in the January 2016 issue of the Hoffman Estates Citizen, the village’s newsletter.  The column appears here, courtesy of the Village of Hoffman Estates.

BergmanFarmhouseman2011 Pic 1

 

The house has stood proudly at Ela & Algonquin Road since the turn of the century. Its white exterior is slowly graying due to peeling and weathered paint. The evergreens around the front porch have become overgrown and now hide the front of the home that Harold Bergman was born in 99 years ago. Whenever I’d visit Harold, I’d always find a small trail of tiny pieces of hay that he’d track up the stairs as he’d make his many daily trips to the barn when customers would come to pick up a load of hay.

Over the years, since the Cook County Forest Preserve purchased the Highland Dairy Farm’s 200 acres south of Algonquin Rd., the decision was made to continue farming the remaining 36 acres with a hay crop. It provided an excellent way of preventing erosion and a cash crop of top notch hay for the thoroughbred horses at Arlington Park Race Track and horse owners in the surrounding rural areas of Cook County. It helped pay the taxes and other expenses on the farm. But with increasing age, Harold’s family knew that although he was the oldest living farmer in Cook County to still farm his land, the time had come to sell what was left of the farm.

The land was sold to M&I Construction. They’re planning to build 81 single family homes on the farm property with half the homes in phase one and the remainder in phase two. It’s nice to know that the new development will be called Bergman Pointe and several of the streets will have Bergman family names.

BergmanFarm house2011 Pic 2

The 115 year old farmhouse still stands as it has for so many years but for how long?  The farmhouse is now in the hands of the Village of Hoffman Estates. Benjamin Historic Certification has determined that the building is eligible for the National Register of Historic Places. It’s an early example of one of the few remaining four square farm houses in Illinois. Hoffman Estates would like to find a suitable owner who could save the farmhouse from the wrecking ball, which could occur in March, 2016 if no interested family or business can be found to rehab the farmhouse. The Village of Hoffman Estates, Benjamin Historic Certification and Landmarks Illinois are all working together in an effort to save Harold’s home.

Remembering my visits to the farm, I recall the beautiful wood, perhaps cherry, that framed the doorways and windows in the first floor dining room along with the built in china cabinet that housed the good china and linens. There are two front parlors, old wooden floors and pocket doors that take you back to an earlier time when the front parlors greeted special guests on special occasions. Each parlor has a separate door to the front porch, an unusual feature not found on many four square farmhouses. I always wanted to live in a house like this but my time is past for such dreams.

We’re all hoping that a family or business can be found who’ll make this their new home before the March deadline for demolition.

For more information about the farmhouse visit the special website at http://www.hoffmanestates.org/bergman or visit Landmarks.org

Pat Barch
Hoffman Estates Village Historian
Eagle2064@comcast.net

(The photo above is courtesy of Landmarks Illinois.)

THE THISTLE COMMISSIONER OF SCHAUMBURG TOWNSHIP

November 22, 2015

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See that purple ball in the middle of the photo?  It’s on the edge of a corn field and is really a beautiful little plant.  But, then, most weeds are.  It’s a thistle and is one of many varieties in the United States.  Thistles are considered a problem plant and can be difficult to control.  In fact, they were so rampant in Illinois in the early 1900s that many counties–including Cook–created a post in their township governments for Thistle Commissioner.

It was the job of the commissioner to make sure the farmers and landowners kept their thistles and other “noxious weeds” under control.  When one farmer let the situation get out of hand, the weeds could wreak havoc on neighboring farms.  Thus, the Thistle Commissioner would tour the township’s roads, take note of large infestations and notify the offending landowner.  If they failed to comply, a crew would be hired to take care of the problem and the bill would be handed over to the landowner.  Obviously, it would be in the farmer’s best interest to stay on top of the situation and keep his fields clean.

According to Schaumburg Township Officials 1850 to Present, compiled by L.S. Valentine, the first mention of a Thistle Commissioner for Schaumburg Township was in 1915 when Fred Springinsguth took on the job.  By 1924, August Geistfeld had the job and was being paid $5 a day to make sure the fields, pastures and roadsides were tidy.  Others followed in their footsteps over the years.

Walter Fraas, who lived in the south side of the Township served in the 1940s and, according to his son, Donald, took the job very seriously.  Below is a letter he would send out to offending landowners.

Fraas letter

 

The task of actually controlling the thistles often fell to the farmer’s children and they did NOT like the job.  In her oral history on the library’s Local History Digital Archive, Esther Mensching spoke of how her father would send them out to the field, clad in leather gloves, and they would pull the plants by hand.  The thick, impermeable gloves prevented them from being stuck by the thistle’s spines.

It was necessary to do the job before the plants flowered and after a rain when pulling the taproot was easier.  As the thistles were yanked, they were thrown on the field.  The children moved through the fields, row by row, from 8:00 to noon, taking an hour or so for lunch and then returning until 4:30 when it was time to come back in for the milking.  This was not a job for the faint of heart!

The Thiemanns spoke in their oral history about each person taking 2-4 rows in the corn and oat fields and tackling the thistles with a hoe.  The intent was to get to the thistles by the time the corn was 3-4 feet high and the oats were around a foot high.  They, too, disliked the hot, sweaty, boring job.  Their job, however, didn’t end with the fields because they would also use a scythe to cut down the thistles and all other weeds in the fence rows.

In yet another oral history, Mary Lou (Link) Reynolds, daughter of Adolph and Estelle Link, talked about how her father lost his job as a commercial artist in Chicago during the Depression.  Through a friend, he obtained free housing on Minna Redeker’s farm (now Spring Valley) in exchange for keeping the thistles under control on the property.  It was obviously a win/win situation for both landlord and tenant at a difficult time, but it is also clear that thistles were a difficult issue for the farmers of Schaumburg Township.

Due to continuing infestations, the office of Thistle Commissioner remained in effect until the early 1970s.   Around 1972 Cook County eliminated the position and turned the job’s responsibility over to the Highway Department.  By that time development in the township was beginning to overtake the farm fields that were left and the job became obsolete.  Thistles, though, are still considered “noxious weeds” and if you come across any in your yard, just take your leather gloves or hoe to them.  It’s a lesson learned from yesterday’s farmers!

 

Jane Rozek
Local History Librarian
Schaumburg Township District Library