Archive for the ‘Farms’ Category


December 8, 2019

Our guest contributor this week is Pat Barch, the Hoffman Estates Historian.  This column originally appeared in the October 2019 issue of the Hoffman Estates Citizen, the village’s newsletter.  The column appears here, courtesy of the Village of Hoffman Estates.

Can a house talk?  Would it talk about all the years that it sat at its address? Could it feel that its time was ending? I know of a house that I would love to listen to. But it’s gone now. I think, if it were possible, the Bergman house would have told us many stories. I could just sit on the lawn in the side yard and listen.

The men in the Bergman family built it with the skills that they had learned over the years. It was a big house, meant to shelter several families. The upstairs apartment had a kitchen, dining room, living room and two bedrooms with a bath. The main floor of the house had beautiful wood, trimming each of the doors and windows. The dining room china cabinet had the same beautiful wood and was tucked into the west wall.

It was a happy house when family members would gather around the table for special holiday meals. The house could feel the love and sometimes the anger of the Bergman family as the days came and went year after year.

The house looked out across Algonquin Road to see the families’ Highland Dairy Barn. It heard about the dairy herd and the crops growing in the fields. The conversation around the breakfast table was always about the success or failure of one or the other. When electricity came in the 1930s the house was fitted with new bulbs and a new life for the family who no longer had to live with the battery powered system that only gave light until shortly after dinner. The house could feel the increase in evening activities. The piano was used more often and the two front parlors saw more reading, crocheting and listening to the radio now that it had electricity. The beautiful pocket doors always gave privacy for visitors when they came.

The back porch stairs had the most activity. It seemed as though It was up and down all throughout  the day. But the house noticed that year by year that the people in the house dwindled to just a few. Finally there was only one of the children who had been born in the house many many years ago, who remained. He worried about the house. The beautiful white house went unpainted. It turned to a peeling gray, the roof was leaking and the house felt old and sad and only that old child still loved it.

Finally the old child moved away. It had been 101 years since he was born there. The house now had that feeling that its time was coming to an end, and it did.

The house was silent.  There were no more stories to tell. In August of 2019 the work of the Bergman men came down quickly. Modern methods took little time to tear it down not like the months of hammering, measuring and sweating over the building that would be their home.

Pat Barch
Hoffman Estates Historian


July 21, 2019

The letter is addressed to “Doc” Bell, the cashier at the Stratford Hotel in Chicago. It is dated April 16, 1919 and it is from Corporal Harley Paris Ottman.

Before his service in the war, Harley was employed on Stratford Farms in Schaumburg Township which was located on the northwest corner of the intersection of Roselle and Wise (Wiese) Road. Stratford Farms was owned by Edwin F. Meyer and served as a source of fresh dairy, meat and produce for the Stratford Hotel in Chicago. (Read more about the farm here.)

When the United States entered World War I, Harley Ottman and Thomas Ford Hislop, another employee of the farm, were drafted to serve. Harley’s World War I draft registration card states that he was a farm laborer for E. F. Meyer in Schaumburg. He was born in 1893 to William and Estella Ottman in Wisconsin and would have been 24 years old at the time of his registration.

Thomas Ford Hislop is also listed as a farmer for E. F. Meyer on his draft registration card. He was born in 1888 in Manistee, Michigan to Thomas G. and Nettie Ford and would have been 29 at the time of his enlistment. It is stated in the December 14, 1917 issue of the Cook County Herald that “Tom F. Hislop and Harley Ottman from the Stratford Farms have enlisted in the U.S. aerial service.”

Mr. Hislop made his way to Jefferson Barracks, Missouri and was formally enlisted on December 15, 1917 as part of the 270th Aero Squadron. He was then sent for training to Gerstner Field at Lake Charles, Louisiana. Having gained the rank of sergeant, he departed for France on the Matsonia on August 14, 1918 from Hoboken, NJ. According to Wikipedia, the 270th Aero Squadron served at the Colombey-les-Belles Aerodrome in northeastern France.

On the other hand, Mr. Ottman, served as a private in the 55th Infantry and left for France from Hoboken, NJ on the Leviathan on August 3, 1918. While there, Harley wrote a letter to Dr. “Doc” Bell at the Stratford Hotel.

[It is from the Bell family’s archives that we are fortunate enough to share this letter. “Doc” Bell was James Austin Bell who served at the hotel as cashier prior to his relocation to Stratford Farms. It is thought by the Bell family that he was given the nickname “Doc” because of his skill with numbers in managing the hotel. He was eventually sent to the farm with his wife Florence and their young daughter, Florence Catherine, where he served as farm manager until 1934. It is Florence Catherine Bell Randall who, fortunately, saved all of these materials that we are able to share!]

Harley sent this letter via Captain Fred W. Charles, Q.M.R.C., who was clearly a mutual friend of Harley Ottman and James Austin Bell. We can make this assumption because, written on the envelope, is a notation that says, “Greetings ‘Doc,’ I’ll be sure to talk French when I get back. Have one on me–Remember me to all my friends! F.W. Charles.” Maybe it is because Fred was a Captain or because he served with the Quartermaster Reserve Corps that he could more easily move the letter along the postal chain for Harley.

Harley’s letter is written on Salvation Army stationery and is sent from France on April 19, 1919 after the war had ended. It is written thus:

Leiseberg and Allman,
Roselle, Ill. 


When drafted, May 3, 1918, I was sorry to have to leave behind a debt of $55 on the acct. of Tom Hislop and myself, which I had wished to assume. It was for accessories and labor on our Ford car.

Now, to save time will you please correspond with my mother about this–Mrs. Wm. B. Ottman, 5659 Maryland Ave, Care of Miss F. G. Knight, Chicago, Ill. Tell her whether all or part of this bill has been paid, and if this is not the case, state in your letter that the amount you mention will pay in full the account of Tom Hislop and myself. Also please send a receipt for any money she may send you.

I got thru the war in good shape, was up at the front South of Metz for one month. Am in the 7th Division, regular army, in a Trench Mortar platoon. Am now in French Lorraine. France may be all right, but I surely would never stay over here from choice.

By the way, I met Leroy Wertz over here–came over long before I did.

I’m raring to come home, and will probably be out to Roselle in 4 or 5 months.

As ever,

Harley Ottman

This debt of $55 was either weighing on Harley and, possibly Tom, or Harley knew he was soon coming back to the states and thought he may like to seek employment at the farm. It would have been a good idea to clear up any outstanding bills with a nearby garage where he did business. He had the name of the garage slightly wrong because it was known as the Leiseberg and Ohlman Garage. But his heart was certainly in the right place.

(According to the draft registration card for Leroy Wertz, he listed Roselle as his residence when he registered on June 5, 1917. Clearly, everyone knew everyone in the Roselle/Schaumburg area.)

It was less than a couple of months later that Harley departed from Brest, France on June 12 aboard the Imperator, bound for Hoboken, NJ. He had achieved the rank of corporal during his time in Europe.

Tom Hislop had preceded him and left on April 10, also from Brest, aboard the Charleston. He had achieved the rank of Sergeant First Class.

To my knowledge, neither Tom nor Harley returned to Stratford Farms for employment. In a check of the 1920 census, two other hired men were living on the farm–which is no surprise. It would have been impossible for James Austin Bell to hold the positions open through the war.

We do know, through a bit of genealogical research, that Tom eventually married and moved to Twin Falls, Idaho where he married Mildred Boone in 1927 and had a son. Tom lived there until he passed away in 1965. Harley married his wife, Carolyn, and died in Pinellas, Florida in 1956.

Both men dutifully served their country and Schaumburg Township. Despite their brief stay on Stratford Farms, they were included in the celebration that was held on Sunday, October 5, 1919 at the Schween Oak Grove on Schaumburg Road. They, along with 22 other men from Schaumburg Township, were hailed as “Our Heroes.”

Jane Rozek
Local History Librarian
Schaumburg Township District Library

My thanks, once again, to the family of Florence Catherine Bell Randall in sharing a part of Schaumburg Township history that would have gone missing without these local documents. In this day and age of downsizing, we are so fortunate that Florence and her family have chosen to contribute, what I like to think of as the Bell Family archives, with both the library and those interested in our history. Never underestimate what you might have to contribute!


March 13, 2019

What: “Dairies to Prairies”  This free exhibit, presented by the Elgin History Museum, explores the history of the area’s remarkable dairy heritage. At one time, there were over 140 dairies, dairy farms and creameries in a 50-mile radius around Elgin. Now, there are only three dairies left.

Who: The Hoffman Estates Historical Sites Commission

When: Saturday, March 23, at 1 p.m.

Where: at the Sunderlage House, 1775 Vista Lane, Hoffman Estates, IL 60169

For more information, call Sue at 847-781-2606.

(The Wilkening Creamery listed below as the “Artesian Creamery” was along East Schaumburg Road, across from Spring Valley Nature Sanctuary. You can read about it here.)


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 an account of the farm her father, Joe Hortik, owned and 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





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

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]



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

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.


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

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.



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


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

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.





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 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

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