Archive for the ‘Farms’ Category

AN AUCTION AT THE BERGMAN FARM

August 30, 2015

Our guest contributor this week is Pat Barch, the Hoffman Estates Historian.  This column originally appeared in the June 2015 issue of the Hoffman Estates Citizen, the village’s newsletter.  The column appears here, courtesy of the Village of Hoffman Estates.

Farm-Auction

The day was warm and sunny.  Perfect weather for a farm auction, I arrived at Harold Bergman’s farm, on the northwest corner of Ela and Algonquin Rds about 9:15 in the morning.  The open fields behind the steel barn and old chicken house were already filled with cars.  People were milling about, looking in old cardboard boxes that’d been loaded on about a dozen flatbed wagons.  I can only assume that they must have been the hay wagons that Harold filled each time he harvested a new crop of hay from his 36 acre farm.  They were so old and weathered that I thought that I’d get slivers in by backside for sure when I hoisted myself up onto the wagon.

The auctioneer had set up the area in row upon row of farm tools, boxes of household articles, and furniture.  The style of furniture told you much about the many years that it had served the generations of Bergmans, some dating back to the turn of the century and other pieces taking the family into more modern times.

From my perch on the wagon, I had a good view of the auctioneer’s progress. As piece by piece and box after box made its way to the parked cars, it was sad to see the end of another farm especially a farm that had been in existence since the 1860s.

Like most of the farms in the area, the Bergman farm was a dairy farm.  With a herd of approximately 30 cows, the crops to maintain the herd were planted and harvested year after year.  In 1971, after the Cook County Forest Preserve condemned the land, the bulldozers came to tear down the barn that had been erected in 1903, the milk house and the windmill.  The Bergman family sold the dairy herd in the late 60s upon learning of the Forest Preserve’s plans to condemn their land on the south side of Algonquin Rd.  What remained of the farm was the acreage on the north side of Algonquin Rd., the farm house and chicken house.  Only 36 acres of land remained.

Originally, Harold had decided to sow grass to prevent erosion, but then he realized that he could produce a hay crop to sell to local horse owners as well as the race horse owners who raced at Arlington Park Race Track.  Eventually he became the oldest living farmer to be actively farming in Cook County. Last fall he harvested his last crop.  The tractors were parked in the large storage building west of the house. The bales of hay were piled high to the ceiling.  Winter would bring customers who’d load their hay and eventually empty the building of that last spring planting.

As the auctioneer worked his way through the equipment and tractors, I watched Harold, sitting in a lawn chair outside the house he was born in, graciously accept the extended handshakes of well-wishers who stopped by to greet him.

This June Harold will celebrate his 99th birthday. Happy Birthday to an amazing farmer and dear friend.

Pat Barch
Hoffman Estates Village Historian
Eagle2064@comcast.net

(The photo is from Saturday Evening Post.)

LOOKING FOR A FARM PHOTO FROM HOFFMAN ESTATES

August 31, 2014

Did you by chance live in Parcel C in early Hoffman Estates?  In the early 1960s?  Barn graphic

Daniel Sedory, one of the blog readers, and I are looking for a photo of the barn that still stood at that time just north of Alcoa Lane.  It was probably part of the Heide farm.  Or, if you want to go further back and are part of our German farm families, it might possibly be part of the Linnenkohl or Wille property.

Daniel was your average, curious boy at the time and even found this part of a German Lutheran paper while poking around in the barn.

Der Lutheraner

If your family lived on Alcoa–or even north of Golf Road on Amhurst Lane or Cambridge Lane–and you may have taken a picture from your backyard looking towards that barn, we would love to hear about it.  Maybe you had a pool set up in the backyard or were having a birthday party or family gathering and that barn was in the background?  Or, maybe you were taking pictures of your first, brand new home and wanted to proudly share the photos with family?  Or it could be possible you’re a Heide, Linnenkohl or Wille descendant and have some of the family photos of the old homeplace.

If any of these situations are the case and you’re willing to share the photo(s) with us, you can contact me at jrozek@stdl.org or 847-923-3331.  We appreciate any assistance you can give us!

Jane Rozek
Local History Librarian

WHEN THE SETTLERS CAME TO SCHAUMBURG TOWNSHIP

May 25, 2014

How did the farmers come to settle in Schaumburg Township? Our early pioneers had varying reasons for coming to the “New World”. There were so many unsettling events in Europe that many came to find a better life and an opportunity to own land and provide for their families.settlers 2

In Germany, there always seemed to be one kind of conflict after another. The younger generation didn’t want to serve in the military as many of their ancestors had. Having land of their own was also a problem. A father could only leave land to his oldest son, or he could divide his land, giving smaller and smaller parcels to the other sons. There wasn’t much land to divide after several generations had worked it for decades. Brothers would work together or would decide that there was no longer a life for them in their village. For these reasons, many traveled to the United States in the hopes of buying land that was being offered by the government for $1.50 an acre.

After many years of fighting the Indians for control of their land, the federal government decided that the “Indian problem” needed to be solved. Thomas Jefferson had taken part in plans to move the Indians out of territory the U.S. wanted to settle, as early as 1803. It wasn’t until President Andrew Jackson signed the Indian Removal Act in 1830 that the men and women came to settle the lands vacated by the Indian tribes.

Not only Germans came, but early settlers from the east coast decided to move further west to start farms all across the Midwest and western portions of the U.S. Many came from other countries in Europe. They traveled by ox cart, and by boat. When the great potato famine hit Ireland between 1845 and 1851, people were starving to death and they fled to the U.S. in large numbers looking for a way to work and raise their families.

The land was calling to all of them. The price was affordable and they came to this area of Schaumburg Township to settle with their families on rich farm land with water and scenery that reminded them of home.town square statues

They raised cattle, sheep, hogs, and planted crops to feed them. They had chickens, ducks and geese. Gardens were planted with all the produce they needed for the winter months. Fruit trees were planted and bee hives were set out in the orchards. The smoke house was built and life was good. This was what they had come here for.

They all moved on with the development of Hoffman Estates and other surrounding villages. The rural way of live was over. A new generation was buying homes and raising their families. We still have farms but they’re further west. Everyone seems to continue to move to find a better way of life.

Pat Barch
Hoffman Estates Village Historian
Eagle2064@comcast.net

THE HUNT FOR THE BOEGER/REDEKER FARMHOUSE

March 23, 2014

The Volkening Heritage Farm is on the hunt.  They are trying to track down a good photo of the Boeger/Redeker family farmhouse that used to exist on their property.  They don’t know that it exists but it’s entirely possible.  Maybe someone can help, because the story goes something like this…

After Johann Boeger came to the United States from Germany, he made his way to what would be Schaumburg Township and purchased his parcels of land from the United States government between the years 1845 and 1848.  The property is located on the southeast corner of Plum Grove and Schaumburg Roads.

He couldn’t have known that, almost 170 years later, the bulk of his property would remain true to its roots.  The original prairie he encountered is now a nature sanctuary and the farm he built is now a working, living farm.  Today, we know the farm as the Volkening Heritage Farm and it is located on the Spring Valley property.  Both entities are part of the Schaumburg Park District.

In the years after Mr. Boeger arrived, he built two homes for his family.  House #1 was built in the 1850s and is the small farmhouse that is there today.  House #2, the house that we are looking for, was built in the 1860s.  One photo of House #2 in its heyday exists but it is faded and, as you can see, the house is somewhat hidden in a copse of trees.Redeker house 1

This house stood for over a hundred years.  It is thought that a separate wing was added on at one point.  Eventually, though, the house was handed down to Mr. Boeger’s great-grandson, Herman Redeker.  As Spring Valley was being formed and land was being purchased in the late 1970s, Mr. Redeker was concerned about the well-being of the house, even though it had fallen into serious disrepair.  That is evident in this photo from the July 26, 1974 issue of The Herald.  Redeker house 2

Mr.Redeker eventually negotiated a deal in 1976 with the Arlington Heights Park District.  They dismantled the house piece by piece with the intent to rebuild it at Pioneer Park.  Unfortunately, that plan never came to fruition.

Today, the Heritage Farm would love to have a good, working photo of this missing house.  Maybe it’s a picture of the house all by itself.  Or, maybe it’s like a number of photos of this period where the Boegers had a picture of their family taken in front of the house.  If you can help, please contact Patricia Kennedy at the Volkening Heritage Farm.  It would be most appreciated!

Jane Rozek
Local History Librarian
Schaumburg Township District Library

SCHAUMBURG OF MY ANCESTORS

March 17, 2013

LaVonne's bookIt doesn’t happen very often that new books are written about the history of Schaumburg Township.   When it does, it is necessary to relay the good news.

Local resident, LaVonne Thies Presley has written a detailed account called Schaumburg Of My Ancestors in which she explores the history of the farm where her father grew up and lived during the early part of the twentieth century.  As a descendant of this German family who homesteaded and farmed our rural township, LaVonne’s devotion to our history is constant and passionate–a gift she received from her parents.

The 281-page book begins with the arrival of her paternal great grandparents, Friedrich and Maria (Pollworth) Thies, to Schaumburg Township around 1870.  The land they purchased and farmed was along Meacham Road, directly to the west of today’s Route 53 where the WGN tower now stands.  Heinrich, one of their five children, married Sophie Fedderke and they eventually purchased half of the family farm and began their own family.  It is this family and their farm upon which this book is based.

With the births of their five children–Henry, Clara, William, Emma and Alvina–the young parents worked hard to not only sustain themselves but to create additional income as well.  Unfortunately, tragedy struck when Heinrich died of heart failure after nearly 10 years of marriage at the age of 45.   Until her sons were old enough, the farm was worked by others while Sophie and her children lived nearby.  Around 1908, the family moved back and went about the business of making the farm a success.   Thus begins a fascinating account of the myriad details that were involved in running a farm and household and what it was to live in rural Schaumburg Township during the first half of the twentieth century.

We are introduced to the crops and foods that were grown, the animals that were raised, and the styles of farming used.  Water, wells, wood, shopping, banking, fire protection, roads, mail, newspapers, magazines and radio are just some of the topics that are covered.  In addition, we are treated to very complete chapters on attending St. Peter Lutheran Church as well as a history of the five original public schools of Schaumburg Township.  These details are enhanced by a wonderful array of photos and papers saved  by the family over the years.  It is truly a wonderfully complete look at life in our township long before suburban life moved in.

In 2002 LaVonne wrote her first book, A Schaumburg Farm, 1935-1964, which was an account of the Wiese (Wise) Road farm her parents owned for nearly three decades.  It is where LaVonne grew up and where every memory remains acute.  As the only child of her parents, William and Clara Thies (she also had an older, half-brother named Ray), she was the focus of a devoted couple who were sustained by the land they farmed and loved.   According to LaVonne, her father was a true conversationalist whose stories and memories provide many of the details for Schaumburg of My Ancestors.   His life on the Meacham Road farm and then on Wiese Road gave him and his daughter a lifelong zeal for farming, family and the land that was the constant in their lives.   This book is dedicated in his honor.

Copies of the book are available in the Schaumburg Township District Library’s Local History Collection.  You may either reserve it online through our catalog or call the Reference Desk at 847-923-3322.  Copies are also available for purchase at the Schaumburg Village Hall, Prairie Center for the Arts and the Volkening Heritage Farm Visitor’s Center.  The price is $20. 

FROM SUNDERLAGE TO STEINMEYER: A FARM AT BUTTERMILK CORNERS

December 30, 2012

For nearly 50 years, the name William Sunderlage appears in the upper left portion of the Schaumburg Township plat maps.  From as far back as the 1871 map, you can find that name straddling both sides of Higgins Road.  It is not until the 1926 map that the name changes.

Old Higgins RoadWilliam and his wife, Wilhelmine (Humbrecht) Sunderlage  had five children and lived in the area.  According to family lore, William and Wilhelmine gave and/or sold the land to their daughter, Emma, who married Herman Steinmeyer in 1897. For those of you who have been in the Schaumburg Township area for a number of years, you may recall this farm that sat off of Barrington Road down Old Higgins Road.  It was across Barrington Road from the entrance to Cook County Forest Preserve’s Barrington Road Pond.  For many years, this small crossroads was called Buttermilk Corners.  The photo above is Old Higgins Road looking east towards the farm.

Emma was born in 1875 and Herman, also a native of Schaumburg Township, was born in 1867.  They married in late 1897.  It is stated in a Sun-Times article from February 16, 1975 that  the Sunderlage land officially switched hands to the Steinmeyers around 1900.  Steinmeyer house (original)

Emma and Herman raised their children, Edwin, Caroline, George, Amanda and Ester on this property.  The house to the right is where they lived during the time most of their five children were born.  In 1905 they built the large, two-story, white farmhouse that was obvious from Barrington Road.  It “was surrounded by two barns, a hog pen, a smokehouse and a sprawling 1-acre garden that included berry bushes, fruit and nut trees and several bee hives.  It was notable for its custom design which included twin front doors installed for easy ingress and egress for funerals.”  (Pioneer Local; September 1, 2005)  The photo below shows this large house in all its glory.  It must have been amazing to go from four rooms to this large, beautiful home.Steinmeyer house

The farm was approximately 81 acres and served the family for many years.  Edwin, Caroline and George never married and continued the farming tradition well after most of the other farmers had sold off and left the area.  Because of their unique situation, George was interviewed a number of times.   According to the Sun-Times article, he eventually “sold 50 acres to a developer, continuing to rent 23 acres back on a year-to-year basis.”  This is confirmed in a Chicago Tribune article from October 6, 1974 where it is mentioned that he sold the property “nine years ago,” i.e. 1969.  “He made enough money…to buy a 156-acre farm north of Sycamore in DeKalb County.”  Left with 31 acres in Schaumburg Township, he continued to raise steers and do grain farming.

Eventually age got the best of George and his siblings and it became necessary to move off the farm.  The farm remained in the family until the late 1990s when the property was acquired by the hospital next door.  The large house, built by Emma and Herman, mysteriously burned down in 2003.  The other buildings—including the barns and the original house—were still in existence as of the Pioneer Local article of 2005.  They have since been torn down and the property is vacant, waiting for future development.  Old Higgins Road is still in existence.  If you turn off of Barrington Road, you will cross a small branch of Poplar Creek and proceed east about 1/4 mile.  On the right is the Steinmayer home place.  With perseverance and love of the land, the farm remained in family hands far longer than any other farm in this portion of Hoffman Estates.Poplar Creek branch

Tune in next week for a continuation of the Steinmeyer’s story at Buttermilk Corners…

[Information for this posting was also provided by an oral history with Ester (Steinmeyer) Bierman and another history with her son, Jon, and daughter, Judy.]

[The photos were provided compliments of Pat Barch, Hoffman Estates Historian.]

Jane Rozek
Local History Librarian
Schaumburg Township District Library

SPRING VALLEY AND THE MERKLE FAMILY WHO LIVED THERE; PART THREE

November 18, 2012

Continued from last week, this is a portion of a biography, written by William Merkle.  The book is about his parents and is titled Frank and Leona.  It is a portion from the chapter he wrote about their family’s ownership of an 80-acre parcel in Schaumburg Township.  That parcel is now part of the Spring Valley Nature Sanctuary.

“Mom was like Killer Joe Garson behind the wheel.  We would race against the clock to get from Leicester Road to the farm.  The roads were not great, mostly two lanes, but not cluttered with traffic or stoplights.  Mom took a slide-through approach to stop signs and barely skipped a beat.  Our best time was twenty-two minutes, and we rarely needed more than a half hour.  Today, even with a network of throughways and four lanes, it takes more than forty-five minutes.

I was eager to learn to drive.  Dad taught me and let me practice on the farm lanes.  He let me lean in front of him and steer to begin with.  My driving had a practical side; it became possible for me to operate the tractor.  I soon became the undisputed master of the lawn cutting operation using the big sicklebar attachment on the side.  Though big for my age, it was all I could do to pull up the bar to avoid rocks and stumps.  At the ripe old age of eleven, Mom would let me drive her to Schaumburg on errands.

Because no one lived full time at the farm during those early years, we kept no animals there.  However, a set of three white geese were purchased and they lived independently on the large pond and gave a lovely smooth paddling touch to the place.  We learned quickly that they were not pets, rather that they could chase after us and snap.  To be admired from a distance.  On the other hand, Leona loved them and brought them corn to eat at the edge of the pond.  When they saw her coming, they’d skim over to her, honk happily, and get to work on the corn.

One year while burning off the peony fields in the Fall, a strong wind came up, and started blowing sparks to threaten nearby fields.  Dad raced into the house, called the Roselle Fire Department, and within an amazingly few minutes, about fifteen men showed up in cars and a firetruck.  The Chief approached Dad with a clipboard and offered on of the most convincing sales pitches we ever heard.  With the fire tearing through a nearby oat field, and the embers heating the soles of our shoes, Dad was asked:  “Would you like to join the Fireman’s Association?  We can’t offer our help unless you sign this application form.”  Dad couldn’t grab that pen fast enough.  After a hasty signature, the Chief nodded and those mostly volunteer firement unbundled from their vehicles and began beating the flames with thirty inch square rubber flaps mounted on broomsticks.  Working systematically and a bit furiously, they had the fire out in just a few minutes.  Sheer relief after imagining the whole county going up in the Great Merkle Fire.

Mom and Dad wanted to live full time at the farm.  They hired an architect friend to draw up plans to add wings onto the cabin–one for bedrooms and baths, and one for kitchen, utilities, and garage.  The design was creative and charming, very much in keeping with the cabin and its setting.  Sadly, these hopes were destined not to be fulfilled.  In 1946, Dad built the bare boned kitchen and bath brick addition, which served his needs but was a far cry from what they had planned together.

The eighty acre farm was taken by eminent domain by the Town of Schaumburg and is now the largest section, over 60%, of the new ‘Spring Valley Nature Center.’  It was a real loss to the family, which might have, for example, developed the land into fifteen 4 acres luxury building lots.  For the family it will remain a great Memorial to Frank and Leona Merkle.”

Excerpted from Frank and Leona by William Merkle.  2012.  Reprinted here with his gracious permission.

Jane Rozek
Local History Librarian
Schaumburg Township District Library

SPRING VALLEY AND THE MERKLE FAMILY WHO LIVED THERE; PART TWO

November 11, 2012

Continued from last week, this is a portion of a biography, written by William Merkle.  The book is about his parents and is titled Frank and Leona.  It is a portion from the chapter he wrote about their family’s ownership of an 80-acre parcel in Schaumburg Township.  That parcel is now part of the Spring Valley Nature Sanctuary.

“We planted a large vegetable garden and worked hard at it.  We eventually learned that a smaller garden was more likely to be cared for.  We just couldn’t keep up with the weeds and thinning out.  We’d make the rows long enough to use all the seeds in a seed envelope (nothing wasted).  We had some marvelous vegetables and an abundance to be shared with the neighbors.  But it was hard, hot work and we didn’t stand in line eager to do it.

The peonies required cultivating, so Dad bought an inexpensive hand directed machine for us to walk behind.  Peter and I wound up doing the repairs and keeping it going.  The worst part of the farm was debudding the peonies.  In the full heat of summer, with no shade for relief, we kids had to pick off the extra buds from each stem so that only the central flower remained to grow large and full.  Aside from the sun, the real problem was the large brown-black ants.  They crawled all over the buds to eat the sugary sap, and didn’t take kindly to our intrusion.  By the end of our day, our hands were red and swollen from their bites.  When the flowers were nearing maturity, Mom or Dad would arrange with a wholesale florist to come out and harvest the crop.  Then we could forget them until Fall when they needed to be mowed and the fields cleared and cultivated again.

Other than the garden, the peonies, and the grass trimming along the fir trees and in the orchard and the yard, the farm work was done by neighbors who rented the land.

The artesian well flowed constantly and was full of iron and sulphur.  It smelled and tasted strongly, and there was always a rust colored scum developing in the bucket.  The well was made from a six inch pipe Dad estimated was probably one hundred feet deep and which rose six feet above the surface.  It had a horizontal half inch pipe connected about two feet up from the ground and that is where the ice cold water poured constantly.  Dad placed a large wooden bucket under the spout and kept bottles of beer ice cold in there, along with jars of butter and things for the kitchen.  The runoff came down the side of the bucket and into a little rivulet which ran into the pond immediately to the west.  At the age of eight I was faced with the choice between that water and a beer and it wasn’t an easy decision:  stinky versus bitter.  I was ambivalent, taking beer about half the time.  This well and the artesian springs supplying the lakes functioned beautifully for years, and then suddenly stopped flowing.  Dad felt it was the result of a huge gravel pit that was dug a mile or so south of the property, and which somehow ruined the dynamics of the aquifer.  It was a great loss, not only because of the absence of fresh water for drinking, cooking and washing, but because then the ponds pretty well dried up.

The ponds had been vital–full of snapping turtles (one was a full fourteen inches across), crabs, fish, and in the Spring and Fall, the migrating ducks and geese would use the ponds adjoining fields as a stopover resting and feeding spot.  Sometimes the birds were so numerous that they virtually covered the large pond.  Watching them swoop in during the Fall and Spring, and then sensing the explosion when they took flight all at once was a moving experience for us.  We used the ponds for our first little boats with jury rigged sails.  The bottom was mucky and that, combined with the slithery green/gold algae, kept us from walking or swimming in the lake.

Leona had been keenly interested in dredging the larger pond deep enough to swim in (6 to 8 feet), and to minimize the drop in water level during the dry summers.  In March of 1940 she contacted the College of Agriculture at the University of Illinois, and then in April sent them soil samples from the lake bottom.  They advised her on the dredging, but other priorities came along, and with the failure of the aquifer, the project was shelved.”

To be continued next week…

From Frank and Leona by William Merkle.  2012.  Used with his gracious permission.

Jane Rozek
Local History Librarian
Schaumburg Township District Library

SPRING VALLEY AND THE MERKLE FAMILY WHO LIVED THERE; PART ONE

November 4, 2012

In 1942 Frank and Leona Merkle purchased an 80-acre parcel of property in rural Schaumburg Township.  The property they purchased is now part of the Spring Valley Nature Sanctuary.  Their son, William Merkle, recently published a book about their lives called Frank and Leona.  He has graciously allowed me to reprint the portion of that book that details their life here in Schaumburg Township.  The first segment appears here…

“As a salesman for the JP Seeburg Corporation, Frank traveled a route selling juke boxes and eventually became the Midwest Region Sales Manager.  Willaim writes:  “The[ir] new found wealth permitted Frank and Leona to buy the farm they had been most interested in.  The eighty acres were located in the town of Schaumburg, fronting on Schaumburg Road, about twenty miles west of Evanston, and only a few miles west of the Douglas Aircraft manufacturing plant, which after World War II became O’Hare airport.  They paid “about $12,000” for the farm and the purchase was complicated because it was an estate sale and back taxes and strong family feelings were involved.  There was some hassling and cajoling in getting title to the property.  The mortgage was released on 4/23/42.

The farm was a dream come true for Frank, Leona and me.  Bobby was sometimes bored and Pete occasionally missed his friends and activities in town.  For me it was full of secrets to be discovered and new adventures to be lived.  The place was beautifiul:  gently rolling, with water flowing between the three interconnected  ponds, which were artesian spring fed and full of water year round.  Rows of stately fir trees bordered the lane and property lines and distinguished our place from the neighboring farms.  With these trees, the peony fields, the apple orchards west of the cabin, the ancient willows encircling the small poin adjacent to the cabin, the fresh air and the quiet, we were enjoying paradise.

One of the former owners was a specialist in peonies and he planted seven acres with over a thousand varieties, all carefully laid out and recorded in detailed booklets, the one for the ‘East Field’ was sent by one E. Long to Leona, who had done research on the property.  The west lane led back a quarter of a mile to a knoll upon which had been built the magnificent log cabin with matched cypress logs and a huge fieldstone fireplace.  With the cattails and rushes, the view of the cabin from across the pond was stunning.  Visitors exclaimed how it seemed like they had traveled all the way to the North Woods of Wisconsin.  A beautiful, unspoiled and natural setting just twenty-five miles west of Chicago.

The surrounding area was all farmland–no high rise buildings other than silos, no shopping malls, no commercial development.  Most nearby roads were gravel and not paved.  The farms were typical midwestern diversified farms, many of half a section, i.e. 320 acres.  This size seemed ideal for the type of farming and the fertility of the soil.  A larger farm couldn’t be comfortably handled by one family, and a much smaller one (say 80 acres) was too small unless it was specialized rather than diversified.  Crops included corn, oats and wheat, and later on, soy beans; there were dairy, and later, beef herds, chickens and geese running in the farmyard.  One family managed each farm and in our area most [of] the names were German:  Schmidt, Redeker, Miller.  They worked hard and prospered though there were no signs of wealth.

The soil was very rich and fertile, and each year more of it was lost to agriculture through housing, driveways, and later after the War, by high rise office and apartment buildings, parking lots, streets, and malls.  In twenty years a way of life in our area was wiped out.  I’ll never forget when Ernie Redeker, who owned the farm just east of ours, corner of Meacham and Schaumburg Roads, sold and the developer put up several high rise apartment buildings with a central pond.  Ernie must have been laughing all the way to the bank.  Another neighbhor sold and moved to southern Florida and purchased a bare stretch of Atlantic oceanfront property.  It is now named after him:  the Galt Mile.  In 1958, when I returned from the Army (Korean War) and six years in Europe I drove out to the farm and went right past it.  Everything had changed so much that I couldn’t recognize it.

Originally, the cabin, which measured about twenty feet square, was partitioned into three rooms, with a tiny sleeping room at the northeast corner containing the trap door to the basement, a kitchen, and a living room.  These partitions were removed separately after we took over the farm.  The cabin had been built in 1928, and the brick addition was constructed in 1946.  The first year or two, there was no electric power or phone, and water was run by gravity from the well across the small pond into the basement (summer only).  An outhouse was located in the apple orchard just west of the cabin.  It was all very charming and rustic and we began by going out there weekends during the summer, and ‘camping’ in the cabin.  We cleared the brush and weed trees from around the cabin and the grass leading down to the water of the two nearby ponds.  We kept it mowed down with a gas powered hand pushed mower, and in a few years with a John Deere tractor with a lifting sickle bar on the side.  The grass became a very credible lawn.

Reminding us of the ‘bundle of sticks’ and the need to stick together, Dad planted three foot high Blue Spruce:  the Bobby, Peter, and Billy trees, close together in the largest lawn between the lane and the pond.  They were still there intertwined in full maturity during the memorial dedication of the ‘MERKLE’ rock in front of the cabin in the early 1980’s.”

To be continued next week…

Reprinted from Frank and Leona by William Merkle, 2012.  Used with his gracious permission.

Jane Rozek
Local History Librarian
Schaumburg Township District Library

FIRST IT WAS A TORNADO, THEN A DROUGHT, THEN THE CHINCH BUGS CAME…

July 22, 2012

It was a miserable, hot, dry summer in 1934.  The farmers of Schaumburg Township were worried about their crops and whether they’d have anything to harvest.  Following the devastating effects of the tornado that touched down in July of 1933, this was the last thing the area needed.

These were, after all, the years of the Dust Bowl and Illinois was not unaffected.   Not only did the dust from the Plains states make its way to this state but Illinois also entered an extended period of dryness beginning in the early 1930s.  In the spring and summer of 1934, the situation began to get worse.  It quickly became apparent that if rain didn’t come soon, the farmers would lose their crops.  Doing so would not only affect the family’s finances but also the animals that depended on the corn, oats, hay, silage and bedding that the crops provided.

Unfortunately, the rain did not appear.  But the chinch bugs did.  This indigenous insect positively feasted on the sap of the wheat, oat and corn plants.  According to Norman Freise, an oral historian, “They would attack the corn.  The corn stalk would be covered with them.”  To prevent the bugs from invading their fields, the farmers began plowing a strip around the circumference of their corn fields.  With drums of creosote provided by the federal government and passed out by the Cook County Farm Bureau, they began spreading the liquid daily around the fields.  “Turned back by the repellant creosote the bugs crawl along the ditch until they fall into post holes dug in the bottom of the furrow at intervals.  A daily dose of kerosene poured into the bottom of each post hole then finishes the job.”  Daily Herald, June 22, 1934.

The only up side of the chinch bug explosion was related by Norman Freise in his oral history.  This was the second year of the Century of Progress International Exposition in Chicago.  For the mere price of a pint jar of chinch bugs, Norm and his brother each were able to gain entrance into the Fair.  Since there was no shortage of the pests, the brothers enjoyed the fair a couple of times.

As the summer and the drought progressed, the farmers were forced to come up with alternatives for feeding their animals.  Ralph Engelking, another oral historian, mentioned that his father had to buy fodder corn for the animals.   This is a rough, loose feed that often consists of coarsely chopped stalks and leaves of corn mixed with hay, straw and other plants. Norman Freise’s father planted buckwheat as an alternative to corn to feed their  hogs. 

Fortunately, it appears the wells did not run dry on the farms of Schaumburg Township.  Of course, we cannot confirm this for every farm but it was never mentioned by any of our oral historians.  Schaumburg Township seldom had moisture problems.  It had both areas of glacial till—particularly in the eastern portion— where there were naturally occurring springs, and low marshy areas that often required tiling so that they could be used as fields.  In fact, Norman Freise said that when digging a well on their property, his father hit water at a mere 50 ft.  Others mentioned the high water table in the area, including Mary Lou (Link)Reynolds who lived on today’s Spring Valley property.  She said there were periods where they could stick a shovel in the ground and water would appear.  Unfortunately, in 1934 the surface water dried up and left the fields in desolate conditions.

Sadly, some of the farmers did not recover from this down year.  With no crops to profit from and cows and pigs to feed, some of the farmers were stretched to their limits.  This was the fifth year of the depression and the drought simply compounded any issues the family might have had.  Some were forced to sell their farms to others around them who were more fortunate or they looked further afield to the city dwellers who were interested in–and could afford–a rural getaway.  The drought of 1934 was just one thing too many piled on top of a list of hardships and, to this day, is the driest summer on record.

Jane Rozek
Local History Librarian
Schaumburg Township District Library