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.
Local History Librarian
Schaumburg Township District Library