Archive for the ‘Farms’ Category

TRUCK FARMERS OF SCHAUMBURG TOWNSHIP

December 9, 2018

There were a number of farmers in Schaumburg Township in the 1930s, 40s and 50s who used their rich farm land as truck farms. These farms would produce vegetables for corporations such as Campbell’s Soup or to take to local markets in Chicago such as the one on Randolph Street. The Rohlwing family, in particular, raised tomatoes for Campbell’s Soup and the Piske family at the northeast corner of Roselle and Nerge Roads raised a variety of vegetables, with their main crop being horseradish. 

The following account of another truck farm in Schaumburg Township was written by Elinor (Hortik) Mueller for the Spring 2011 issue of the Roselle History Museum Newsletter. It is reprinted here with the Museum’s gracious permission. 

“Our farm of 40 acres, located on the southwest corner of Plum Grove and Nerge Roads in Schaumburg Township, since incorporated into [the] Village of Roselle, was strictly for raising vegetables. It was one of two truck farms in the immediate area. The other farms being dairy farms, growing mostly grain for their cattle.

A variety of vegetables were grown, such as cabbage, tomatoes, onions, squash, carrots, parsnips, sugar beets, asparagus, melons, pumpkins, corn, cucumbers, rhubarb and raspberries. There was also an apple and cherry orchard, and a huge bed of gladiola flowers.

Most of this produce was taken to the Randolph Street Market in Chicago where it was purchased by wholesalers and some retailers. Some vegetables were sold on the farm and to some local grocery stores.

On July 5, 1933 a tornado hit the area. All of the buildings, barns, sheds, home and crops were destroyed. Since it was too late in the season to replant, we had no income, so my dad was forced to work for the WPA until spring at which time he delivered seed for Vaughn’s Seed Co. [The photo below shows Elinor’s parents standing at the site of what was their house.]

Truck farming is hard work and long hours, driving to the market at 2 a.m. and then working until the next day’s load was ready for delivery. From planting in spring until harvesting in fall there was always plowing, planting, cultivating and harvesting to do. In the winter there were always machines to repair.

Farming is a gamble. Weather can affect all profit and loss for the year; too much rain, not enough rain, too hot or too cold. Farming is a labor of love, God’s gift to a few.”

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

 

 

 

DISCOVERING FAMOUS ART AT THE SUNDERLAGE FARM HOUSE

November 11, 2018

This is an interior photo of the Sunderlage House in Hoffman Estates taken in the mid-1950s. It showcases the warm, cozy interior of this beloved farmhouse when it was a private residence. If you look closely, though, your eye is also drawn to what look to be murals painted on the walls on either side of the staircase.

This photo was donated to the library by Sandra Volid Bauer, the wife of Peter Volid. Mr. Volid owned the house when the photos were taken. He was not married to Sandra at the time, but he told her later about the murals on the wall.

According to Mr. Volid, these murals were commissioned by Lila Harrell who bought the farm from descendants of the Sunderlage family in the 1930s and owned it until 1952 when Mr. Volid purchased it from her. See the entry above from the 1949 Bartlett/Roselle Telephone Directory that shows her address and phone number.

Ms. Harrell called her home and its surrounding acres “Angelus Farm.” She also modernized the house by putting in electricity and plumbing.  One of her other touches was the murals that were painted on the walls.

Marilyn Lind of the Hoffman Estates Historical Sites Commission, that oversees the home, said that Ms. Harrell was a Chicago-based interior decorator who had an office on Michigan Avenue. It was in Italian Court that was built in 1926 and, according to Paul Gapp, the architecture critic for the Chicago Tribune, was a mixed location of businesses and apartments that “were tenanted by artists, designers and writers.” [Chicago Tribune, September 23, 1990]

Given her involvement in that field, she must have been fairly familiar with the arts world in Chicago. At some point Ms. Harrell hired a Chicago-area artist by the name of Malvin Albright to paint the walls according to Sandra Volid Bauer. It isn’t known if Ms. Harrell specifically instructed him to design murals for the walls or whether that was his idea.

What IS interesting is the artist. Malvin Albright was the twin brother of Ivan Albright, who has a special gallery for his works in the Art Institute of Chicago. Ivan was known for his unusual style that was most noticeable in the painting featured at the end of the 1945 movie, “The Picture of Dorian Gray.” You can see it below.

Malvin and Ivan grew up in Warrenville, IL where their father Adam Emory Albright, a painter himself, purchased an old Methodist church in 1924 to use as the Albright Gallery of Painting and Sculpture. While Adam was more of an impressionistic painter, his sons turned their sights to other styles.

Malvin began his art career as a sculptor but eventually switched to painting with watercolor and oils, signing his work with the name “Zsissly.” According to his obituary in the Chicago Tribune of September 16, 1983, Malvin’s paintings were a lighter contrast to his brother’s darker style. Still, in looking at Malvin’s painting below you can get a glimpse of how their painting techniques were somewhat similar.

Unfortunately, the mural that Malvin painted is not viewable today. In fact, Marilyn Lind said that when she first got a glimpse of the house back in the 1970s, the walls had already been painted over with a solid color. But, in scraping at it with her fingernail, she could tell that the paint that was used was quite thick and that the colors were pale blue, gray, pink and white–which was quite an interesting palette. She could also see the outline of nature scenery, houses and people walking. Today, wallpaper covers the staircase walls.

It seems there are always surprising connections to be found in Schaumburg Township. The area may have been rural for many years, but it was still close enough to Chicago that it was touched by some very interesting people!

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

You can take a look at the Sunderlage House for yourself. The next time the home will be open is for the Teddy Bear Holiday Party on December 1 at 1 p.m. More details can be found here.

If you are interested in the Albrights, you might want to check out the Warrenville Historical Society.

[Photo credit of Italian Court to Chicago Tribune]

 

ARTHUR HAMMERSTEIN: THEATER PRODUCER AND GENTLEMAN FARMER

August 5, 2018


Our guest contributor this week is Pat Barch, the Hoffman Estates Historian.  This column originally appeared in the July 2018 issue of the Hoffman Estates Citizen, the village’s newsletter.  The column appears here, courtesy of the Village of Hoffman Estates.

He was born in New York City and started his working career as a bricklayer and plasterer, working with his father to build the Victoria Theater and the Manhattan Opera House.  But in 1908 he began to move into the family musical business of producing operettas, musical productions and Broadway Theater. His father was theater impresario and composer Oscar Hammerstein I.  He had the theater and music in his blood.

His first production would be Naughty Marietta.  Arthur produced the operettas The Firefly (1912), Katinda (1915) and Rose-Marie (1924).  Rose-Marie was a production that he collaborated on with his nephew, Oscar Hammerstein II.

One of his most successful musicals was Wildflower (1923). With this success and his marriage to silent movie star Dorothy Dalton, Arthur built a beautiful home in 1924 in the Borough of Queens, New York. He called it Wildflower.  Built by architect Dwight James Baum, Arthur had only 6 short years to enjoy his beautiful Wildflower.  With the onset of the Depression and musical failures, Arthur had to sell the house in 1930 hoping to avoid bankruptcy.  Arthur’s sale of the house in 1930 did not help him; he declared bankruptcy in 1931 and retired from the theater. The Wildflower was designated a New York Landmark in 1982.  (Arthur and Dorothy are the couple on the left in the above photo. Her parents, John and Lillian Dalton, are to the right. The assumption is that this is their wedding day.)

Arthur produced almost 30 musicals in 40 years in show business.  He once again became well known when the song he wrote in the 1940s, Because of You, would become a hit when singer Tony Bennett recorded it in 1951 and it remained # 1 on the Top Ten for 10 weeks.

By this time Arthur Hammerstein and his wife Dorothy Dalton were living on their farm in what would soon be Hoffman Estates.  They purchased the 275 acre farm from John and Edwin Gieseke in 1943.

Could Arthur have written Because of You while living here on their farm?  Was it for Dorothy?  Giving up his New York theatrical life was not easy for him.  He called the farm Headacres, although it was officially called Cardoa Farm, and claimed that the farm was Dorothy’s project.  Dorothy disagreed and said that he loved his life as a farmer.

The quiet country life gave him time to tinker and invent small practical things. He had a work shop filled with tools, lathes, saws and drills. He received a patent for his moisture proof salt and pepper shakers that could be used by campers, the military and anyone who wanted to keep their salt dry.  Having had a career in construction and bricklaying, he enjoyed working on small projects around the farm.  How much time he spent at the farm is not known.  He loved Broadway and missed his friends there.

Upon Arthur’s death on Oct. 12, 1955, Dorothy sold the farm to F & S Construction and moved back to her family in New York.

Having two very famous people such as Dorothy Dalton and Arthur Hammerstein living in what would become our community center and first municipal complex adds to the historical stories we can tell about Hoffman Estates.

Pat Barch
Hoffman Estates Village Historian
eagle2064@comcast.net

Our guest contributor this week is Pat Barch, the Hoffman Estates Historian.  This column originally appeared in the July 2018 issue of the Hoffman Estates Citizen, the village’s newsletter.  The column appears here, courtesy of the Village of Hoffman Estates.

THE 1933 TORNADO THAT STRUCK SCHAUMBURG TOWNSHIP

July 29, 2018

From all accounts, Saturday July 1, 1933 was very hot and muggy. When nighttime came, the situation did not improve. By early Sunday morning, the farmers in Schaumburg Township were awakened by almost constant lightning and high winds.

In observing the situation, some stated that “there appeared to be two storms. The first one appeared from the northwest, with bright clouds near the earth while overhead they were terrifyingly black… A second storm seemed to travel from the east and according to a prominent Schaumburg farmer, the two storms came together in the northwest. A severe wind and rain were the first marks of the storm followed by a hail storm marked by stones as large as eggs. This was followed by the tornado that did the greatest damage.” [Arlington Heights Herald; July 7, 1933]

Schaumburg Township was most severely hit in the southeast quadrant of the township. The area was bordered roughly by Wise Road to the north, Schaumburg Road to the west and township boundaries on the east and south. In fact, it appears to have come in through the south along Roselle Road, struck the Piske and Nerge farms along Nerge Road and then veered north towards the Pfingsten farm on Plum Grove Road, eventually passing through the Botterman farm just south of Higgins Road on the Elk Grove Township border.

Many took cover in their basements and cellars. All were worried about their animals and barns. Ruth (Piske) Lake, in her oral history with her sister June (Piske) Dunbar, described her father’s actions by saying, “Dad came from the barn to the house, turned around and said, ‘There goes the barn.”

When the storm had passed and it was possible to venture outside, another world awaited the residents. Wheat, corn and oat crops were completely destroyed by the torrents of hail that were “big as fists.” Piles of hail were scattered around. Trees were stripped bare of their leaves and, in fact, the Adolph Link family reported that one exterior wall of the house was completely plastered with leaves.” [Genesis of a Township, Marilyn Lind.] The photo below shows an overturned tree on the Thies farm.

Fortunately, no one was killed in the storm. Many houses saw windows blown out and damage to the exterior. Carrie Gathman Ollman, in her memoir A Time To Remember says,”Windows [were] broken in the house and rain came pouring in. Everything [was] soaked.”

The only local resident to lose his house was Charles Meirs on the Walter Nerge farm. The account in the paper listed his house as “twisted.”

The photo above is of the Pfingsten farm and shows how the trees were stripped of their leaves and/or uprooted. Fortunately, the Pfingsten house still stood as did some of the outlying buildings. The house had been built with bricks leftover from the construction of St. Peter Lutheran Church in 1863.

Viola (Homeyer) Meyer, another oral historian, said, “We lost a lot of chickens and some small buildings. And there wasn’t a window left in the house. We were all in the basement. The next day they took a shovel and pushed the debris out of the house.”

A number of local barns and silos, though, were irreparably damaged. According to the Arlington Herald article, those who lost their barns and buildings were Fred Pfingsten, two barns; Ferdinand Panzer, barn; Louis Nerge, barn and windmill; the Schmidt brothers, top of a barn and silo; Albert Brendemuhl, horse barn and two sheds; Charles Meirs on the Walter Nerge farm, barn and tool shed; Piske brothers, barn; Charles Stocke, barn; Herman Bottermann Jr., barn; and Elmer Moehlenbrandt, barn.

In the photo at the top of this blog posting, you can see the devastation on the Pfingsten farm. The cupola from the barn is lying upside down in the middle of the picture. Timber lies everywhere. The top is off of their wooden silo–the first of its kind to be built in Cook County. Workers are trying to salvage the piles of hay from the barns so that the animals still had food.

Unfortunately, a number of horses and cattle were killed. Despite the fact that many farmers were using mechanized equipment by the early 30’s, all of them still used Belgian draft horses and Percherons for work around the farm. Accounts in the paper vacillated between the benefits of having the animals in the barns or outside. Many farmers had their cattle herds outside because of the stifling weather. These animals “suffered badly from cuts and bruises from flying hailstones. Livestock… broke through fences and even fought to get within barns and sheds.” That is the degree to which the animals were panicked. Viola Meyer mentioned that Emil Lichthardt, a neighbor, came by the day after the storm to tell them their cows were all mixed up and would have to be separated somehow.

Six of the aforementioned farmers who lost buildings also lost animals. The greatest loss occurred on the Louis Nerge farm as seen in the picture above, where five horses and a bull died or had to be put down. One can imagine it was especially painful to lose the large draft horses. These animals had personalities of their own, typically lived long lives and were the farmers’ constant companions and supply of power. Yes, they ate their weight in food but the effort they gave was unsurpassed.

With the loss of crops, gardens and orchard produce, it was difficult to decide what should be replanted. It was almost too late in the growing season to replant corn, though many turned to 60 day corn and some to 90 day corn. Others planted soybeans and buckwheat. Carrie Gathman Ollman said, “Farmers had a lot of faith so they worked up the land again and planted the corn over… It did not get ripe but was all right for the silo.” The resulting silage was used to feed the animals in the winter.

As far as gardens went, it is necessary to remember that produce was still crucial to farming families. They canned and preserved much of their vegetables and fruits and used them throughout the winter. By this time of the year, the stock from the prior year was already depleted and now there would be nothing new to add to the shelves.

Keep in mind, too, that this was still the depths of the Great Depression. Using savings for the upcoming year to buy food for your family and animals was an unplanned expense. Making repairs and replacing barns and silos was even more costly. While many had insurance on their farms for the contingency of natural disasters, there were always more unconsidered expenses that came along.

The farmers recovered but a storm like that couldn’t be very far from their thoughts when the weather was just right. One has to suppose that when it was hot and humid, and black clouds and green skies would start rolling in, dread would start to build in their chests. In fact, Ruth (Piske) Lake said, “For many years afterwards, our mother would pace the floor and make us go into the chicken coop or the basement if the weather was bad.” She was well aware that when dealing with a storm of that proportion, there was only so much one could do.

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

Pfingsten photos are courtesy of Delores (Pfingsten) Pederson.
Thies photo is courtesy of LaVonne (Thies) Presley.
Horse photo is courtesy of the Schaumburg Township Historical Society.

 

SUNDERLAGE FARMHOUSE OPEN HOUSE & STHS SHARON KIMBLE ICE CREAM SOCIAL

July 14, 2018

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, and eat some delicious ice cream!

When:  Sunday, July 22, 2018 from 1-4 p.m.
Where:  Sunderlage Farmhouse at 1775 Vista Lane, Hoffman Estates

THE SECOND KERN BROTHER COMES TO SCHAUMBURG TOWNSHIP

July 1, 2018

A few years after moving to Schaumburg Township, M.A. Kern learned the two farms south of his acreage on Meacham Road were for sale.  Having dived into the local horse racing world, he and his brother, L.D. must have been immediately interested in the adjoining property.  The Herman Fasse estate had recently sold the parcels to Mansell F. Grimes in December 1935 and March 1936.  A month later, on April 23, 1936, in an advantageous transaction, Mr. Grimes sold the two farms comprising 420 acres, to L.D. and his wife, Dorothy.

L.D. was born in Ann Arbor, Michigan in 1890.  By World War I, he was living in Watseka, IL with his parents and brother.  He was a lawyer and was employed as an assistant state’s attorney for Iroquois County and as the attorney for the city of Watseka.  During the war he served as a second lieutenant in the U.S. Army.

After his service, he returned to Watseka where he met his wife, Dorothy.  They married in the 1920s and during that decade moved to Chicago, where he was part owner of Alliance Life Insurance with his brother.  By the 1930 census they were living in Lake Shore Towers with their one-year old son, Joe.   When they purchased the Schaumburg Township farms five years later, they were living in Highland Park and had three more sons, Jack, Jim and Jerry.  

Shortly after the purchase, L.D. and Dorothy enlisted the services of Paul Schweikher, a young, up and coming architect from Chicago, to give them some ideas about the farmhouse on their new property.  This was the farm due south of M.A. Kern’s Lexington Saddle Farm, on the southeast corner of Meacham and Higgins Road.

Though we are not sure how the Kerns knew Schweikher, it is the guess of their son, Jerry, that it could have been a referral from a friend or acquaintance.  As the story goes, Schweikher walked through the house shown above, stepped outside and took in the immense barn that was nearby.  Quite likely intrigued at the prospect, he agreed to transform the barn into a large house and garage for the Kerns.

Working in tandem with Emil Sporleder, a local contractor who also built M.A. Kern’s house, they began the process of stabilizing the barn so that it could accomodate the structure of a house.  This 12×12 oak beam, tapered peg apparatus was put together, separate from the barn and then moved into the barn.  (Notice in the photo below that the structure sits on runners.  Was it pulled into the barn?)  Jerry Kern says his father called it the “super structure” that held the barn/house together.

When finished, the house looked like the rendering at the top of this blog posting.  It had a ground level which the family used as both a basement and three-car garage.  (This was formerly where the Fasses used to milk their cows.)  The first floor was the main living floor and consisted of the kitchen, laundry area, living room, dining room and two bedrooms, as well as a large porch on the back of the house.  The second floor was the family’s personal floor with six bedrooms and another porch that was often used as a sleeping porch in the summer.  The third floor had one bedroom and a storage area.  There were also six bathrooms scattered throughout the house.

The house was not directly visible from graveled Meacham Road because it was situated at the end of a long lane.  It faced west and only certain angles could be seen from the road.  According to his son, L.D. loved trees and planted many leading up to and surrounding the house, including an apple orchard in the center of the property.

L.D. and Dorothy loved Schweikher’s renovation when it was completed in December 1936, and Jerry Kern described it as “probably the greatest place to grow up.”  The four Kern boys had at their disposal a ball field, the orchard and a picnic area with an outdoor fireplace that was built by their father.  You can see two of the three on the aerial photo of the farm that Mr. Kern provided.

Not only did L.D. provide a wonderful space for his family, he also had a small cottage built for his mother, Caddie Kern, so that she could live in her own home, yet still be connected to the family.  The cottage could be found tucked in the trees on the north side of the main house.  (Caddie died on the farm in 1945 and the cottage was later used by the older Kern sons when they came back to the farm for visits.)

The Kerns named their estate Willowbrook Farm and, with the redesign of the barn, it became necessary to build a new one for the property.  You can see that barn in the bottom left of the aerial photo.  Between it and the big house was a small house for the farm workers that Kern also put in place.  One of these workers was a handyman named Frank Kappa who was not comfortable with mechanized equipment.  He accomplished all of his work with the assistance of Belgian draft horses.  Jerry Kern described him as “honest and hard working.”  Kappa did not drive so L.D. picked him up every Monday from his home in the central part of the township.  He then stayed on the farm all week, working diligently until Friday afternoon when L.D. brought him home.

Farm work was also done on the former Redeker property that the Kerns purchased.  This land remained as it was and was farmed through most of the Kern’s stay by the Arthur Pierce family.  They lived in the house on the property and worked both farms.  Their sons, “Red” and Eugene, assisted their father.

The Kerns relished their house and farm life through the war years, with the boys attending one-room schools in Schaumburg Township.  Later their father drove them to Arlington Heights to attend elementary school and Arlington Heights High School.

In 1949 M.A. and L.D. Kern sold Alliance Life Insurance Company to Republic National Life Insurance Company of Dallas.  While M.A. stayed in the area for a few years, L.D. and Dorothy moved their family to Florida.  After the move, the Kerns enjoyed another decade together until L.D. died in 1959 at the age of 69.  The magnificent house and property that they left behind was sold in 1955 to the Bob and Maggie Atcher family who enjoyed the property just as much.  They lived there until the house regretfully burned to the ground in 1963.

The Kern brothers, however, had left their mark on the township through their beautiful houses and farms.  They made use of local, skilled labor in farming and building the many homes and buildings on their properties.  L.D. and Dorothy Kern’s children attended local schools.  The families also socialized with others in the township like the Hammersteins, the Wileys and the Brachs.  And, let’s not forget that their horse business utilized all that Arlington Racetrack had to offer.  Wouldn’t it be nice, though, if that magnificent barn/house were still here?  It would be another unique and lovely addition to the historical homes surviving in Schaumburg.

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

I would like to thank Jerry Kern for being so willing to share his family’s photos with the library and his memories of their time in Schaumburg Township.  He was a fountain of knowledge and very eager to make sure all of the details were correct.  The blog postings on both of the Kern brothers would not have been nearly as complete without his help!

Also, it was L.D. and Dorothy who were fortuitous in bringing Paul Schweikher, the architect, to Schaumburg Township.  He, in turn, took note of the lovely surroundings and, either as in kind payment for the work he did or with a minimal purchase, obtained 7 acres south of Salt Creek with his wife, Dorothy, and erected their own home on Meacham Road.  You can read about that transaction in next week’s blog posting.

The drawing of the Kern house was done with permission from the Chicago History Museum who owns the rights to the original photo.

    

 

 

THE FIRST KERN BROTHER COMES TO SCHAUMBURG TOWNSHIP

June 24, 2018

It was horses that drew Murrel A. Kern to Schaumburg Township.

President and owner of Chicago-based Alliance Life Insurance Co., Kern had an initial interest in raising Tennessee Walking Horses, which are a type of show horse.  Desirous of a spread that was in an easy to reach location, and with enough potential to turn it into the showplace he had in mind, he found the perfect spot on the southeast corner of Higgins and Meacham Roads.  As a result, in 1928, Kern purchased the 175-acre Louis Kastning farm and began transforming the property into a farm that he and his brother, L.D. hoped would rival the horse farms of Kentucky.  [Cook County Herald, November 16, 1928]  They even named it Lexbrook Stables after Lexington, Kentucky, horse capital of the country.

M.A. Kern and his brother, Lowell or L.D., were born to James W and Caddie Kern.  M.A. was the older of the two and was born in 1888 in Goodland, Indiana.  His brother was born two years later in 1890 in Ann Arbor, Michigan.  By the 1900 census, the family was living in Watseka, Illinois and James was working as an attorney.  Per his grandson, Jerry Kern, James eventually became the Iroquois County States Attorney.

In the 1910 census M.A. was listed as an artist and illustrator and living as a lodger in Chicago.  That profession did not last long because, at some point, Mr. Kern started the National Insurance Co. of Sioux Falls, SD. and later, on June 20, 1925, he incorporated Life and Casualty Co. of Chicago.  The name was changed to Alliance Life Insurance Co. on October 4, 1934 when they reinsured the Peoria Life Insurance Co. and acquired this building in Peoria. [Credit to the phorio.com website for this current photo.]

The company also operated on the top three floors of the building at 750 N. Michigan in Chicago.  The two brothers had their offices in that location.

Despite the fact that he would need to commute to the city from Schaumburg, M.A. was eager to build a new house on the property that would impress others in the local horse establishment.  He also had a new wife named Virginia who, according to his nephew, Jerry, “was a true Southern belle” and who M.A. wanted involved in the construction plans.  They proceeded to hire a local builder named Emil Sporleder to construct a large, 7000 square foot, three story mansion in the antebellum, Neo-classical style, complete with white siding and two-story pillars in the front.  It was complemented by a long, tree-lined drive off of Higgins Road that ended in a T at a circular drive that took guests to the back of the house.  In this picture from the Village of Schaumburg’s pamphlet, Schaumburg:  A Walking Tour of Historic and Architectural Landmarks, you get an idea of the size and scope of the front of the house.

The house was completed sometime in the early 1930s.  M.A. continued to improve the farm buildings as well.  By the late 1930s the Kern brothers had branched out into thoroughbred racing and were entering their horses at racing venues around the country such as Hialeaha and Arlington.  As a result, M.A. had both a racehorse stable and a saddle horse barn on the property.   The stable was original to the farm and was vastly enlarged and renovated according to M.A.’s nephew.

Cows and steers were also part of the farm as were fields of grain and hay.  Interestingly, there were two tracks on the property.  One was in the stable and the other was at the southern edge of the farm.  The farm was encompassed by 5 1/2 miles of white board fencing, also designed to mimic Kentucky.  In a portion of the 1953 Palatine quadrangle topographic map, you can see the long straight drive off of Higgins Road that merges into the circular drive near the house.  Directly below that is the racing oval that they used to stretch the horses and as a site for horse shows that were held at the farm for the horse community.

Different accounts in the Cook County Herald, track some of the success the Kern brothers had at racing.  A July 21, 1939 article mentions that several of their more recent winners at Arlington Park were Bucket Head, Mars Man, Silver Kiev and Imperial Scout.  An even more exciting article from March 15, 1940 mentions that the Lexbrook Stable of L.D. Kern, whose farm was directly adjacent to the south, would be entering two horses, Designer and Potranco, in the Kentucky Derby.  They weren’t winners but it was quite a local achievement.

M.A.’s nephew recalls that there were three key employees who worked for the Kern brothers on the farm.  Al Bodiou was their jockey and Leonard Wilson was their trainer.  Albert Brown, followed by George Poirier, served as their farm managers.  Poirier was a man of many talents.  He could weld, work with machinery and did excellent wood work as well.

In 1949 the Kern brothers sold Alliance Life Insurance to Republic National Life Insurance of Dallas, Texas.  While L.D. retired from the insurance business, M.A. started another company called All American Life and Casualty based in Park Ridge, IL.  M.A. continued to live on his farm during the next few years until he suffered a heart attack in 1952.  He then moved to Florida where he died 18 months later on February 18, 1954 in Miami.

His wife, Virginia, inherited his estate and eventually sold the property to developers.  They created today’s Lexington Fields subdivision which was annexed by the Village of Schaumburg in 1959.  According to an ad in the Hoffman Herald of June 15, 1961, the developer had the home and 6 1/2 acres up for sale.  It was eventually purchased by Otis Schmidt.

M.A. Kern succeeded in creating the showplace he desired in rural Schaumburg Township.  It was horses that brought him to the area and horses and family that kept him here.  What an amazing and unique sight his house and farm must have been for those who found themselves tooling down Higgins Road in the 1940s.  They must have thought they were in Kentucky.

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

Next week, look for the story of the L.D. Kern farm that sat south of his brother’s on Meacham Road.  

 

 

DOROTHY DALTON HAMMERSTEIN, THE SILENT FILM ACTRESS WHO CAME TO HOFFMAN ESTATES

June 17, 2018

She was an actress in Chicago stock companies in 1910.  She moved to Hollywood to become a silent film star in 1914 and starred in over 50 silent films and co-starred with greats such as Rudolph Valentino and William S. Hart. She has a star on the Grauman Theater Hollywood Walk of Fame.  She was the Ingrid Bergman of her day.  In 1924, she married Arthur Hammerstein, the uncle of Oscar Hammerstein II and became Dorothy Dalton Hammerstein.  (The Hammersteins are on the left in the photo below. Her parents, John and Lillian Dalton are to the right. The assumption is that this is their wedding day.)

Dorothy retired from films when she married Arthur and never returned to her busy life in Hollywood.  She was destined to fulfill her lifelong desire to live on a farm.  That farm would be located in what would be the future Village of Hoffman Estates.

In 1943 she and Arthur purchased the Gieseke Farm, located just south of Bode Rd. and west of Roselle Rd, from John and Edwin Gieseke.  They called the farm Cardoa Farm.

Anton Remenih , reporter for the Chicago Daily Tribune,  interviewed Dorothy and Arthur in their unassumingly  simple yet cozy farm living room.  It was Aug., 11 1946, a busy time on the Hammerstein farm.  Dorothy was raising a herd of prized Holsteins and Duroc Jersey hogs.  “Dorothy was content.”  But Arthur said “It is I who named the place Headacres.  This is “Mrs. Hammerstein’s project” he said. He would have much preferred to be back working on Broadway.  Having been a successful writer of light opera on Broadway, he found it hard to be retired and living a quiet rural life.

Dorothy loved working with her beef and dairy herds.  Remenih reported that “She was also an accomplished equestrian and enjoyed riding her favorite mount Star.”  Dorothy always rode Star as she inspected the 275 acre farm.”

Dorothy enjoyed remodeling their 100 year old farm from a small house to a 5 bedroom, 7 bath home with servant quarters and surprisingly, a kitchen in the basement along with the wine cellar.  She brought along her lifetime collection of antiques as well as autographed pictures of Victor Herbert and others who starred with her during her silent movie career.

In addition to remodeling the farmhouse, Dorothy and Arthur added several barns and new silos to house and feed the cattle, hogs and horses.  Feed for the animals were grown on their 275 acres.  It was a beautiful and well maintained farm that would soon be sold to F & S Construction upon the death of Arthur on October 12, 1955.  It had been just 12 short years that Dorothy had lived her dream of being a farmer.   She moved back to New York to be with family and friends until her death in April of 1972 at the age of 78.

The farm that Dorothy loved so would become our most historic piece of property–our first village hall, police department and public works department.  It is now the Children’s Advocacy Center on Illinois Blvd. in Parcel C.

Pat Barch
Hoffman Estates Village Historian
eagle2064@comcast.net

Our guest contributor this week is Pat Barch, the Hoffman Estates Historian.  This column originally appeared in the June 2018 issue of the Hoffman Estates Citizen, the village’s newsletter.  The column appears here, courtesy of the Village of Hoffman Estates.

TWO FARMING GENTLEMEN OF HOFFMAN ESTATES

April 22, 2018

Our guest contributor this week is Pat Barch, the Hoffman Estates Historian.  This column originally appeared in the April 2018 issue of the Hoffman Estates Citizen, the village’s newsletter.  The column appears here, courtesy of the Village of Hoffman Estates.

In the latter part of 2017, two of the gentleman that I enjoyed talking to and visiting passed away.  Harold Bergman and Vernon Frost won’t be able to tell me their stories about the farming world that they lived in.  I will greatly miss both of them.

Vernon loved to talk about his early years growing up on his parents’ farm that was located at Central and Ela Rd.  He lost his father at an early age and went to stay and work on his Grandmother’s farm that is now the Highland Golf Course and was right across Ela Rd. from his parent’s farm.  He and his mother moved to Palatine but he continued to earn some money by working on other relatives’ farms in the area.

He had stories of his days attending the Highland Grove School on Ela Rd. and how Harold Bergman was his confirmation teacher at St. John’s Church.

He loved tractors and could keep them repaired and running for the daily work in the farm fields.  He told stories about the farms that formed their harvesting circle that shared the large combines to get the crops into the barns and silos.  He was always there when I’d call him for confirmation of information I was trying to pull together about the farming days before development began with F & S Construction.

Harold Bergman was a special friend who was always willing to sit down at his kitchen table and share the stories of what it was like to grow up on his parent’s farm at Ela and Algonquin Rd.  I’d ask question after question about his daily routine as a young boy.  He seemed to love remembering back to those early days.  I learned so much.  He also shared pictures from his life on the farm.

He told how the cans of milk would be put into a large tub of well water to keep it at 55 degrees until the dairy came by for pick up each morning.  When there wasn’t enough wind to drive the wind mill and pump the well water into the tub, he told of the series of Delco batteries that powered the pumps as well as his farm house.  The batteries gave enough power to last until shortly after sunset.  When the house went dark, everyone would go to bed.   When electricity came down Algonquin Rd. in the mid 1930s, he recalled how excited his mom was because she’d buy a new refrigerator and get rid of that old ice box.  All the light bulbs in the house had to be changed with the new “off the line” power as they called it.  Harold recalled how expensive those new bulbs were.

Harold was the oldest farmer still farming in Cook County.  He retired at the age of 100 moving to live with his son.  He passed away in December of 2017 at the age of 102.

These two men helped save our farming history by sharing their stories and photos of a time long past. I’ll always fondly remember them and be grateful for the time I spent with them.

Pat Barch
Hoffman Estates Village Historian
eagle2064@comcast.net

Thank you to the family of Vernon Frost for providing the photo of him for his obituary and to the Daily Herald for the photo of Harold Bergman near his familiar farm house on Algonquin Road.  

THRESHING DAYS IN SCHAUMBURG TOWNSHIP

February 18, 2018

It was a hot, miserable job done at the steamiest time of the year.  It required multiple men, multiple teams of horses, a steam engine and a loud, noisy thresher.  It was a multi-step process that involved removing the seed heads of ripened oats from the stems of the plants.  It was called threshing.

In the early years, before mechanization, threshing was accomplished by cutting down the stalks of grain, gathering it into bundles, allowing it to dry for a bit in the field and then either dragging a roller over it or hitting it with a mallet of some type to separate the grain from the stem.  The point was to have the oats available for the horses and poultry.  The stems–or straw–was used for bedding in the barn.

Once a more easy, mechanized way of accomplishing the job became available, the farmers of Schaumburg Township took to it as quickly as they could afford it.  Because it required both a steam engine to provide the power, and a threshing machine to separate the grain from the straw, this was no small feat. These were both expensive pieces of equipment and required a fair amount of outlay for farmers who were used to getting their work done with horse power.

As a result, a group of farmers who lived near each other, banded together and formed a threshing circle or team to pay for the equipment and do the work.  In most instances the equipment was probably paid for by one farmer who had more funds and was moving beyond subsistence farming.  The others in the circle may or may not have reimbursed him for the cost of the job.

Threshing was done at the farms over the course of a week to a week and a half when the grain was ripe in July or August.  Despite the fact that the hot, muggy conditions were unpleasant, it was still a time that was looked forward to simply because the neighborly camaraderie was something to be enjoyed and appreciated.

During threshing time each farmer began the day at their own farm doing the milking.  Depending on the herd, this took a fair amount of time.  After things were in order on their own farms, they made their way to the farm where the threshing would take place.  Usually, by the time they got there around 7:30, the steam engine’s boiler would have been stoked with wood or coal and would be fired up and ready to go.  Both pieces of equipment were placed close to the barn so that the grain and the straw were in close proximity to the animals who used it.  When they were set to begin, the farmer would blow the whistle of the steam engine as a friendly “All set!” to the surrounding countryside and the other threshing teams that would be working that day.  There was no ambient sound in those days so the toot of the whistle carried well.

The process was begun when one man threw bundles of grain into the threshing machine.  It was powered by the steam engine via a long belt that connected the two pieces of equipment.  As the thresher began the separation process, the grain was routed into bags that were placed in a wagon.  When the wagon was full, it was pulled by a team of horses into the barn.  The heavy bags were then lifted out, carried to the granary and emptied.  This allowed the farmers to reuse the bags and also gave the grain a chance to dry more fully.

Meanwhile, another man would get ready to “shape” the straw pile as the straw was separated from the grain and blown out of the thresher.  There was an art to swinging the blower about as the straw had to be arranged properly to keep rain and snow rolling off of the pile instead of infiltrating it.  If this happened, the straw would dampen, causing mold to form.  Moldy straw wasn’t good for the farmer or the animals so it was crucial that this once-a-year crop was managed perfectly.

Yet another man or two would take a wagon and team of horses out to the fields to pick up a load of grain bundles that had been drying for a few days.  There was yet another method to stacking these bundles.  They would be placed grain side forward in the wagon with the straw end hanging off.  The intent was to not lose any grain if at all possible.  Any grain that fell off was swept up and added to the granary.

While the men were busy working outside, the lady of the house was busy inside preparing the food that was necessary to keep the men going throughout the day.  She usually had assistance from her daughters, a sister, a neighbor or a friend.  Around 9:30 the men would take a break and have a brief “lunch.”  Someone from the house would bring out sandwiches  that were made with summer sausage, lunch meat or some other type of meat.  Donuts, coffee cake, coffee and water would also be part of the meal.  The coffee was brought out in a Karo syrup pail and then served in coffee cups since this was a time before paper cups.

“Dinner” was served at noon and was a chance to briefly clean up and come inside for a full, sit-down meal, although the Stratford Farms threshing crew, pictured above, ate outside under the trees.  The men would wash up at the pump, in buckets or in basins of water before they entered the house to have a seat at the stretched out dining table.  There they were often served a special beef roast, boiled potatoes, gravy, vegetables, homemade bread, canned pickles and, of course, plenty of pies.

Some of the ladies were known for a special item or two.  Oral historian Ramona (Lichthardt) Meyer said their family made their own root beer for the group.  She also mentioned that the table was laid with ironed, white damask tablecloths.  Brother and sister, Donald and Marian Thiemann, mentioned that their mother made her own homemade lemonade, complete with ice, which was a treat. In the words of Elmer Moeller, another oral historian, “The best part of threshing was the eating.  It was out of this world.”

Around 3:30 another “lunch” was served which was a repeat of the morning lunch.  Finally, at 6:00 when they had wrapped up for the day, sometimes a supper consisting of leftovers, fried potatoes, meatloaf, hotdogs, etc. was put out–along with some cold beer that had been cooling all day in the cold water tank used by the cows.  This was probably consumed fairly quickly as the men needed to get back to their farms for another round of milking.   Needless to say, it would have been an exhausting day.

Once the work was done at one farm, the operation was moved to another.  Because the steam engine was so heavy, it had to be driven on the shoulder or across the fields.  If they had to cross the paved roads, they put planks down so the treads of the steam engine wouldn’t dig into the pavement.  It moved very slowly so it took time to drive from farm to farm.  The thresher wasn’t as cumbersome as it could be pulled with a tractor or a team of horses.  Once situated, the process started all over again.

Threshing eventually became obsolete with the advent of the combine which did all of the work for the farmers.  There was no need to bind the bundles of grain or send it through a thresher.  The combine did all of that and even held the grain as it separated from the straw.  It was definitely a more cost effective process but it eliminated the good times, the good eating and the good work.  As Don Thiemann said, “You worked your butt off but you had good fellowship too.”

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

My thanks to LaVonne (Thies) Presley for her comprehensive write up on her family’s threshing methods that she wrote about in her book Schaumburg Of My Ancestors.  She covered every detail of the process and answered any questions I had along the way.  I would also like to thank the oral historians and their family memories of threshing.  Many of them have passed away but listening to their interviews on our library’s Local History Digital Archive is always a chance to walk back in time with them.  You, too, can check out their videos here.

The top photo was taken on the Fred Pfingsten farm on Plum Grove Road and was contributed by the Pfingsten family.

The second photo was donated by the Pastor John Sternberg family and is of an unknown Schaumburg Township farm.

The third and fourth photos were donated by the family of Florence Katherine (Bell) Randall and are of Stratford Farm that was on South Roselle Road.  

We thank them all for their generosity.