Archive for the ‘Farms’ Category


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


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


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


June 17, 2012

At the beginning of May, Bob Vinnedge, president of the Schaumburg Township Historical Society, passed on an email that he had recently received.  A former resident of Schaumburg had a 50 pound sign made of oak that was square in shape and 43 ½ inches wide, 37 ½ inches tall and 3 ½ inches thick—and it was heavy.  Written on the sign were the words OAK HOLLOW FARM.

According to the former resident, the sign had originally hung on a white metal pole along Schaumburg Road, approximately 300 yards east of Salem.  It was at the entrance of what used to be Oak Hollow Farm.  This was before Campanelli developed the property and built what is now platted as Weathersfield Unit 20.  According to the ex-resident, the lane of the farm was gravel and went through current-day Squanto Court.  Another former resident of the area confirmed that a brick house was on the property and the farm itself was a grain farm.

This farm/plat is bordered by Schaumburg Road on the north, Salem Drive on the west, Kemah Lane on the south and a combination of Timbercrest, the Woods and an unincorporated parcel on the east.  The sign was given to the resident around 1973 after the development of that portion of Weathersfield was already well under way.  Mr. Vinnedge was happy to accept the sign and asked me to look into the history of Oak Hollow Farm.

This is not one of those properties that was owned by the same German farm family for generations.  Based on Schaumburg Township Land Patents by Bonnie Cernosek, the parcel was originally purchased as a land grant by George Green.  It passed through many hands over the years and was broken up into parcels and then put back together again.  In 1926 it was owned by the Bajeanes family who lived in a house at the intersection of Schaumburg and Roselle Roads and ran a truck farm on a few parcels in the vicinity.

On a 1959 map by Paul Baldwin & Son, the property is broken up with the portion that borders Salem Drive being owned by H. Scherholz [sic] and a smaller portion to the east simply stipulated as “Small Tracts.”  In the 1958 and 1959 Cook County Personal Property Assessment lists, the taxpayers are listed as Robert E. Lovett and Mrs. Gordon Lovett.  According to Bob and Pat Lovett, the son and daughter-in-law of Mr. and Mrs. Gordon Lovett, the elder Lovetts moved to the area in 1948 or 1949 and managed the farm for Mr. Harry G. Schierholz, a gentleman farmer from Chicago.  The farm raised registered Guernsey cows.  The crops raised on the farm sustained the Guernseys.

[Bob and Pat Lovett said there was a small portion of property notched out from the Schierholz property that bordered Schaumburg Road.  It was owned by Tom Borthwick.  The Lovetts and I suspect it is the same small parcel of property that is listed on the tax rolls as “Small Tracts” and is across from the Schaumburg Township building.  At this writing it is unincorporated and undeveloped.]

The Robert and Patricia Lovett family (including Brian and daughter, Kim) also lived there after Robert returned from his service in the Air Force.  Interestingly enough, Brian’s parents met because his maternal grandfather managed the poultry operation of another farm in the area.  It was the large Odlum Farm called Rosewood Farm on Central Road in DuPage County.  [The other local Odlum Farm, Rolling Acres, was at the corner of Schaumburg and Barrington Roads in Schaumburg.]

By 1964, the name Oak Hollow Farm is actually used in the Personal Property Assessment list and it had obviously been sold because the owner is listed as Rowmen Co Inc. They were a developer and were based in Northbrook.  They were active in the area, building Hillcrest School in Hoffman Estates.  [Brian Lovett confirmed that when the farm was sold to Rowmen, the Schierholz farming operations moved to Genoa City, WI where that farm was also called Oak Hollow and where his grandparents continued to be the farm managers.]

In a contradiction to the Rowmen Co. info, a 1963 plat map stipulates that the Clerics of St. Viator owned the west 80 acres and the east acreage continued to be listed as “Small Tracts.”  Somewhere around that time, though, the Catholic Church did obtain the property.  The signholder said it was donated to the Catholic Church and they held the acreage, obviously renting it out to be farmed.  Mayor Al Larson confirmed for me that it was owned by the Viatorian Brothers, a Catholic order out of Arlington Heights.  He said when his family moved to Schaumburg, Oak Hollow Farm “had one last crop before it turned into just a field with an occasional stray corn plant left over from last year’s crop.”

Turning to our aerial photos, it was obvious in 1970 that the property was still farmland.  The Catholic Church sold it to the Campanelli Brothers about this time.  A classified ad from the October 14, 1971 issue of the Daily Herald, says, “October 15, 16, 9 to dark, garage—antique sale, housewares, clothing, antiques, ½ mile west of Roselle Road on Schaumburg Rd., Oak Hollow Farm.  Unfortunately, the next article from the Daily Herald on March 12, 1973 has a picture with a caption that reads, “Schaumburg firemen Friday fought a blaze that destroyed an abandoned farmhouse and shed at the Oak Hollow Farm on Schaumburg Road near Washington Boulevard.  Firemen had to return to the scene Saturday to fight several reburns.  Cause of the fire is unknown.”

By December, 1974, the property was mostly built up.  It was on the 16th of that month that a Daily Herald article mentions that the Schaumburg Park District board “voted to accept a nearby Campanelli donation known as Oak Hollow Farm.”

Looking at the property today, it’s obvious where the name Oak Hollow Farm comes from.  Farming the entire property would have been a bit of a challenge.  According to one of the former residents, there was always an unusable, low, marshy area at the back that was abutted by an oak savanna.  It was impossible acreage even for Campanelli.  But their loss is our gain because today it is a beautiful, peaceful park known  as the Kay Wojcik Conservation Area at Oak Hollow.  You wouldn’t even know it is in Schaumburg if you didn’t live near it or go looking for it like I did.  

According to the Schaumburg Park District’s website, it consists of “a 17 ½ acre remnant of the original oak grove that first attracted settlers to the area.  One of Schaumburg’s finest natural areas, the site contains 100+ year old oak and hickory trees, many rare and beautiful native wildflowers, wetlands, a restored prairie, and a ½ mile trail system that is accessible via Spruce Drive, Samoset Lane or Juniper Lane.”

So, take a walk and explore a part of Schaumburg you may not realize existed.  The email I received from Bob Vinnedge definitely evolved into a treasure hunt—in more ways than one.

Jane Rozek
Local History Librarian
Schaumburg Township District Library

(My thanks to Brian Lovett and his parents, Bob and Pat, for filling in some of the details of the farm during the late 1950’s and early 1960’s time period.  Contributing to our local history is exactly what this blog is for and, as a result, this posting has been updated.)


April 29, 2012

Our guest contributor this week is Pat Barch, the Hoffman Estates Historian.  This column originally appeared in the March 2012 issue of the Hoffman Estates Citizen, the village’s newsletter.  The column appears here, courtesy of the Village of Hoffman Estates.

The Gieseke/Hammerstein farm house is one of the most historic buildings in Hoffman Estates.  It can be found on a quiet residential street surrounded by small ranch homes that were built in 1957 and 1958.

John and Caroline Gieseke were immigrant German farmers who bought their 165-acre farm from the U.S. Government in the mid 1850’s. Land sold for $1.50 an acre.   An Indian trail went through the farm and Pottawatomie Indians would stop for a cold drink or sit and rest on the front porch.

The third generation of Giesekes, John and Edwin, sold the farm to Arthur and Dorothy Hammerstein in 1943.  The Hammersteins added additional barns, new silos, and several smaller homes along with an additional 100 acres.  They hired Architect Thomas McCaughey of Park Ridge who made major changes to the old farmhouse.  When finished the newly renovated farmhouse had 5 bedrooms, seven bathrooms, servant quarters, a kitchen in the basement and a wine cellar.

Arthur was the uncle of Oscar Hammerstein II who was famous for his Broadway musicals and Dorothy was a silent movie star.  Dorothy especially enjoyed the quite rural life.  Their farm was known as “Cardoa Farm” but Arthur jokingly called it “Headacres” when the farm work got the best of him.  They raised pure blooded and registered Duroc Jersey hogs and Holstein dairy cattle.

When Arthur died in 1954, Dorothy sold the farm to F & S Construction for $150 an acre.  Within a year Hoffman Estates was springing up from the corn fields.  The farm house became the field headquarters for F & S Construction.  The largest of the barns became the first Community Center but on Nov. 11, 1959 a fire broke out and the barn burned to the ground. Another fire damaged part of the farmhouse.

Shortly after the fires Jack Hoffman deeded the property to the Hoffman Estates Home Owners Association.  With incorporation in Sept. of 1959, the farmhouse became our first village hall, police department and maintenance garage.  Fire insurance money along with an additional $19,500 was used to remodel and repair the 100 year old building.  Certified Construction Co. was awarded the bid in late Sept. of 1960.

The village hall grounds originally had a duck pond and several swamps.  The five acre site also had 75 trees, among them were 19 apple, 5 pear and 4 cherry trees.  Eventually the pond and swamps were filled in and the old silos torn down.

When the Village moved to their new home on Gannon Dr., the large white farmhouse was used by Health and Human Services and later became home to the Children’s Advocacy Center.  Through the efforts of Mayor O’Malley, the trade’s people from 20 local trade unions took on the aging farmhouse as a remodeling project.  Their volunteer work and donation of time and materials earned the Village the 1993 Governor’s Home Town Award.  The Center pays $1 a year for rent and many volunteer hours are still donated toward the upkeep of the now 150 year old farmhouse.

Pat Barch
Hoffman Estates Village Historian


February 19, 2012

In 1918, slot machine magnate, Ode D. Jennings, bought  a 250-acre farm along Schaumburg Road that he used as his retreat from the big business world of Chicago.  He lived there until his death in 1953.   Despite his demise almost 60 years ago, Mr. Jennings and his farm continue to have an impact on the village of Schaumburg.

Upon his passing, his estate was put in trust for his wife.  Jeanette Jennings moved to Ft. Lauderdale, FL and is believed to have died around 1962.  Fortuitously, the farm property was then sold to Campanelli Brothers who proceeded to develop another phase of Weathersfield, the first subdivision in Schaumburg.  The Jennings farm served as much of the acreage for these early homes.  However, it was through the generosity of the Campanelli Brothers that an 11 acre complex that included “a large barn, farm house, garages, silo, wagon barns, chauffeur’s garage and guest house” were donated to the village for governmental use.  (Chicago Tribune, 10/19/1963)

Work was immediately begun in a two-phase approach to develop a Schaumburg Community Center.  According to the Tribune article, Mayor Robert Atcher said, “The first phase consists of renovation of the barn interior.  The lower level houses a meeting hall, a court room, and a police station, with bath facilities.  On the main level are a 500 seat recreation hall with stage, dressing rooms, a coat check room and a large kitchen.”  The photo below shows Mayor Atcher standing at the counter of the police station in the lower level of the barn.

A Hoffman Herald article of August 29, 1963 also mentioned six police offices on the lower level.  The barn’s exterior, according to the Chicago Tribune article, was “virtually reconstructed” and a silo and windmill were retained to “preserve a rural appearance.”

No one knows for sure when the barn was originally built but, in an article from the Chicago Tribune dated 8/14/1966, Mayor Atcher is quoted as saying, “The barn is about 50 or 60 years old.  The farmers who built it came here about 1900.  It is a tremendously solid barn.”  This quote suggests that the barn was built before the arrival of the Jennings in 1918.

Other buildings were also involved in the million dollar remodeling that was done at cost by Campanelli Brothers.  The 14-room house, built around 1925, was redesigned for use as a Youth Center.  Another building housed the office of Village Clerk, Lucille Dobeck, the only full-time employee who was not a police officer.

A seven room house/garage once used by a farm employee, was renovated for occupancy by the civic center caretaker and his family.  In addition, a two-car garage was to be used as a warming house for the ice skating rink which was to be built on the grounds in the winter of 1963.  The rink would be “near other outdoor recreation facilities, including a baseball diamond, tennis courts and a swimming pool which [was] to be built in time for a Memorial Day opening.” (Hoffman Herald, August 29, 1963)  These outdoor developments were part of the second phase of the Community Center plan.

Uses for all of the buildings have changed over the years.  The Jennings house was used for some village offices until 1971 when the village moved into its Municipal Center on East Schaumburg Road.  “The house was then leased to the Schaumburg Park District for a number of uses, including a pre-school and for youth programs.  Since 1983, the house has been leased to a nonprofit organization.

The caretaker’s house was used for village offices until 1971.  The Building Department (surely crucial during the development heyday of the 1960s and 70s) was located on the first floor and Mayor Atcher had his office on the second floor.  In the intervening years, the building was used for a number of purposes including the home of the village’s Family Counseling Center.  In 2011, thanks to a reasonable rent of $1 a year and many donated construction hours and materials, it once again underwent a major renovation and opened as the offices for the Schaumburg Athletic Association.

The magnificent white barn is now used as a senior center on the main floor and a teen activity center in the basement.  This happened after the meeting hall was moved to the municipal center in 1971.  The police department also moved in 1976 when a Public Safety building was erected on Schaumburg Road.

Over the years the buildings of the Jennings farm have been used for multiple community purposes.  Countless numbers of Schaumburg residents and employees have moved through the various doors of the main house, the caretaker’s house and the barn.  Yet a visit to this quiet, shady area in the middle of a bustling village is enough to remind you why Ode D. Jennings, the gentleman farmer, bought the land in the first place.

Jane Rozek
Local History Librarian
Schaumburg Township District Library


February 12, 2012

The gentleman farmers who came to Schaumburg Township in the 1900s were either businessmen or lawyers.  The businessmen sold marshmallows, conducted orchestras, produced Broadway shows and sold milk. Or, in the case of O.D. Jennings, manufactured slot machines.

According to his obituary in the DuPage County Register of 11/26/1953, Mr. Jennings was born September 16, 1874 in Paducah, KY.  In his early years he worked for the Mills Novelty Company.  In 1904, he was running The Spectatorium, a large penny arcade, for the same company at the World’s Fair in St. Louis.  By 1906 he had collected enough capital to start his own business, Industry Novelty Company, Inc.  The company worked hand in hand with Mills by refurbishing the slot machines they had manufactured.

After moving to Chicago in 1907, the company was renamed O.D. Jennings & Company.  They began producing their own slot machines by 1918 and were successful enough for Mr. Jennings and his wife Jeanette to purchase a farm in Schaumburg Township off of Schaumburg Road, south of its current intersection with Braintree.  According to his obituary, the Jennings bought the property in 1918—about seven years earlier than is reported in most other accounts.  It is quite possible the farm was sold to them by the Kruse family who are shown on a plat map of 1898 in the same location.

A Walking Tour of Historic and Architectural Landmarks, written by the Village of Schaumburg’s Planning Department around 1993, states that the house, carriage house and barn were all built prior to 1925.    Since the Jennings had the capital, it can be assumed that they were the builders of these structures at 220 Civic Drive.

Mr. and Mrs. Jennings spent a fair amount of time at this working farm which raised horses and beef cattle.  They had a number of caretakers in the early years.  In fact, mentions of these various farm workers further substantiate the Jennings’ purchase of the property in 1918.  Early versions of the Paddock Publications newspapers mention:  Franz Cash as a farm hand (May 7, 1920), Ed Seggesman as farm manager (November 12, 1920) and Anton Nielsen severing ties as farm manager (July 15, 1921).  Mr. and Mrs. William McCulless, a “colored couple” were also listed as leaving his employ on January 4, 1924.

After those first rough years no further mentions of farm vacancies were made in the papers.  In fact, the next tidbit is quite to the contrary.  On June 8, 1951, the DuPage County Register has a death notice for Elmer Cooper who was “well known in this area, having been employed as chauffeur by Ode D. Jennings for the past 25 years.”

The years proved to be very profitable for Mr. Jennings and his company which was located at 4309 Lake Street.  Around 1936, the company manufactured a payout pinball machine called the Sportsman that was actually more similar to a slot machine They eventually got into other coin-operated machines such as weighing scales, parking meters and gumball machines.  According to an account of Mr. Jennings on,  his factory was “technologically highly advanced” by the war years.  As a result, it was adapted for the making of aircraft assemblies and, later, for the manufacturing of “highly secret radar equipment.

At some point, prior to 1938, the Jennings bought another small parcel of property on the very northeast corner of Schaumburg and Springinsguth Roads from the Fasse family.  According to D. Nelson, her family, the Bottermans,  purchased the remainder of the farm from the Fasse’s in that year.  A house was built on the parcel for Mr. Jennings’ cousin, Everett, who served as his attorney.  Miss Irma Fischer who was a secretary in Everett Fischer’s law firm also lived in the house.  There was another, smaller home on the main property where Mr. Thermon Stephens Sr., Everett Jennings’ chauffeur, lived.  According to D. Nelson, the Everett Jennings property was eventually sold in the early 1950s to Eve Fasse–no relation to the earlier Fasses–after Everett Jennings and Miss Fischer passed away.

After 35 years of ownership, Mr. Jennings died on his farm at the age of 79 on November 21, 1953.  It was reported in his obituary that he was “dealing in milk vending machines and had been working on a new type of carton at the time of his death.”  He left his entire estate to his wife Jeanette.  According to the Wikipedia article on his company, it was  bought by Jennings and Company which was incorporated in Illinois in March, 1954.  This company later merged into the Hershey Manufacturing Company of Illinois and by the early 1960s was the leading manufacturer of slot machines in the U.S.

The farm stayed in Mrs. Jennings’ hands although she moved to Ft. Lauderdale, FL.  In a 1955 Chicago Tribune article, it is stated that the Jennings estate was valued at $2,211,222.  Upon her death around 1962, the monies from the estate, per his will, were donated to his church and, also, to Passavant Memorial Hospital—now Northwestern Memorial Hospital in Chicago.  The Ode D. Jennings Pavilion at 707 Fairbanks Court is now part of this large medical complex.

And, his farm?  Well, it was sold to Campanelli Brothers who went on to build Weathersfield, the first subdivision in Schaumburg.  Read more about this timely sale in next week’s blog posting…

This posting was also written with the assistance of the website,  The photos of Jennings and his company are courtesy of Marshall Fey from his book, Slot Machines:  A Pictorial History of the First 100 Years–which the library owns.  Mr. Fey also provided information on the other machines Mr. Jennings’ company produced.

Jane Rozek
Local History Librarian
Schaumburg Township District Library



October 23, 2011

I received an email from the village of Schaumburg not too long ago asking if I knew anything about Stratford Farms.  A few years back, a Public Works crew was doing some work on property the village owns on the southwest side of town and they unearthed “a very solid marker” with the words “Stratford Farms” on it.  The village wondered where this farm was.

Well, thank goodness for the oral histories that have been done.  Ralph Engelking grew up next to the Stratford Farms and he mentioned this farm in his oral history.  In a followup call with Ralph, he  distinctly recalls two of these markers delineating the Stratford Farms property that was along Roselle Road, just north of Wise (Wiese) Road where the Christ Community Mennonite Church now stands.

In taking a few more steps back in time, the first mention of Stratford Farms is in a DuPage County Register article from August 29, 1913.  It says, “Rural mail carrier Vaas has resigned as carrier to take effect September 1 and has taken a position as superintendent of the Stratford Farm in Schaumburg.”   Another article from 1913 says that “Theo Vaas, manager of Stratford farm has bought some of the best registered Guernsey cattle that can be found in Wisconsin and New Jersey.  The barn is being rebuilt and put in the most modern condition.”  One can suppose that the farm had recently been purchased.

This is where Ralph and LaVonne Presley come into play.  In Ralph’s oral history, both of them could recall that this farm was purchased by the owner of the Stratford Hotel in Chicago, thus the naming of the farm.  The Stratford Hotel, located on the southwest corner of Jackson and Michigan Avenue in Chicago, was owned by Levy Mayer who was a very prosperous lawyer and real estate mogul.

LaVonne’s father, Bill Thies, recalled that “the hotel would send garbage from the hotel dining room out to Roselle via the  mail or milk train.  On the inbound trip, the farm would send eggs, slaughtered chickens and maybe milk and cream.”  The garbage fed the pigs on the farm.  Mixed in with the garbage were bits and pieces of china from the hotel that still pop up to this day.

In a 1914 issue of the American Poultry Journal, an ad mentions White Rocks and White Wyandottes–two species of chickens–being for sale from Stratford Farm.  W.R. Graves is listed as Manager of the Poultry Department.  The following year his wife, S. Helen Graves wrote an article on Conditioning Birds for the Show Room.  Not only did the couple raise chickens but they were also expert poultry judges.

As mentioned above, the farm was also known for their Guernsey cattle.  A September 25, 1914 article from the Palatine Enterprise mentions the Guernsey cows, calves and a number of chickens from Stratford Farms entered in a livestock exhibit in the area.  Their big prize was a grand champion, pure bred,  Guernsey bull that sold for $10,000 and was “the star attraction of the cattle department.”  Mr. Vaas must have been influential in the farm because he remained in place as farm manager until 1917.  An article from the March 2, 1917 Palatine Enterprise states that “Theo Vaas moved his household goods and family Tuesday from the Stratford Farm to Chicago.  He has been manager, several years of the Stratford Farm here, which is renowned for thoroughbred Guernsey cattle and poultry.” 

Mr. Mayer, the owner, died on August 14, 1922 leaving an estate worth $8,500,000.  The estate began to be settled in 1923 and, without knowing the details, it is assumed the Stratford Farms property was sold.  By 1926, the Thrift Press plat map of Schaumburg Township shows the owners as Brown & Krause & Co.

Ralph thought the farm continued raising some chickens and dairy cows.  During the Depression he recalled the many chicken coops being empty. He also said that the property was sold in the 1940s to a Mr. Niemechek who revamped the farm, moving specifically into the dairy business.  He put milking stanchions in the barn (that is now the church) and erected three silos to hold the silage that would feed the cows.

In 1951 Wayne King, the bandleader who’s been written about before on this blog, purchased the farm and converted the dairy operation to a beef cattle operation.  When the land was bought in 1963 for a residence–and a few years after Wayne King sold the farm–there was a large concrete cattle yard complete with feed bunks still in place.

Schaumburg Township may have had its rural character back in the early part of the twentieth century but the big city of Chicago still managed to shed its influence in many ways.

Jane Rozek
Local History Librarian
Schaumburg Township District Library


July 24, 2011

If it seems like this area was swimming in milk in its farming years, it was.  And all that milk had to go somewhere.

A number of the farmers who farmed the southern part of the township drove their milk to Roselle every day, day in and day out.  The intent was to put it on the 8:30 milk train that ran from Roselle to Chicago.

A few weeks ago an article that was published as part of Roselle’s 75th anniversary came into my hands from a former resident of Schaumburg Township.  It is an account of the milk train written by Earl Crandall, who served as the Roselle station agent for 30 years, beginning in 1921.   The article appears here just as it was written.

For more than a century, Roselle Road through Schaumburg and Bloomindale Townships was one of the main milk and cheese pipelines into Chicago.  In the 1920s this rolling prairie section was one of the dairy centers between Chicago and Elgin.  Schaumburg Township farmers brought their milk and cream to collecting and processing point along Roselle Road.

From those points dairy products – fluid milk, butter, and cheese – were transported down the road to the Village of Roselle and the Milwaukee Railroad from which a “milk train” made a daily round trip between Elgin and Chicago.  In addition a considerable number of farmers brought their fresh milk directly to the train in Roselle and were direct shippers into the city.

Being Roselle station agent in this period was the most important job in Roselle measure in terms of area and number of people served.  I took over the Roselle station job in 1921 and handled it for 30 years.  During my first two decades as railroad agent, practically this entire commerce passed through my office.

One of my sharpest recollections was having to make out the shipment papers for all those German farmers in Schaumburg Township.  I*t took me a long time to learn to spell those German names, such as Springingsgoth (sic).

During these years there were commuter trains through Roselle at 5:15 and 6:30 in the morning.  Then the milk train came at 8:30.  We had as many as 25 farmers from Schaumburg and Bloomingdale Townships, who brought their cans of milk each morning and left them on one of two platforms we had at the station.

The crew on the milk train would handle the transfer of the cans from the loading platform to the train.  The milk train came back at 4 in the afternoon and unloaded the empty milk cans so the farmers could pick them up the next morning.  This shows how times have changed.  It’s a good thing the farmers aren’t doing that now.  There wouldn’t be any cans there in the morning.

But the farmers were only one means of moving milk from Schaumburg and Bloomingdale farms to Chicago.  Nearly five miles north at the corner of Roselle and Higgins Roads (today this is in Hoffman Estates) stood the Nebel General Store and Creamery.

Farmers as far north as Palatine would bring in cream to Nebel and the creamery would make it into butter and cheese.  Most of the butter was sold back to farmers in the area. 

Several times a year I would get a shipment of 40 to 50 cases of cheese from up at Roselle and Higgins Roads.  It was hauled by wagon to the Roselle station for shipment to Chicago.

Times are always changing, and during my years as Roselle station agent, I witnessed change.  Farmers and companies in the Schaumburg Township agricultural complex were constantly striving to deliver a better product to Chicago in order to get better prices and protect their market.  This also demonstrated how important our area was in milk production for Chicago.

At Schaumburg Center, situated at the intersection of Roselle and Schaumburg Roads, a milk plant was operated by Lake Zurich Milk Company.  Its manager got a group of Schaumburg Township farmers interested in bringing their milk to Schaumburg Center so it could be cooled, put in large containers and moved by wagon down Roselle Road to the railroad siding at the Roselle station where an ice refrigerated car would be waiting.

Those milk wagons were always pulled by mules.  Each morning there was usually two wagon loads of milk delivered to that refrigerated car and sometimes there would be a third wagon load of milk.  The “iced car” would be brought out from Elgin on one of those early morning trains and put on our Roselle siding.  After the mule wagons had delivered their cargo, the car would be pulled into Chicago.

The Schaumburg Township area continued to be a major supplier of milk products to Chicago market until after World War II and into the 1950s.  However, before the war, the mule wagon ceased hauling milk to Roselle as new milk handling methods, hinged to electrical refrigeration at the farm with truck transportation to the city, came into general use.

Then the urbanization of the Schaumburg area began and today 30,000 people live there.  Today, the world’s largest indoor shopping center occupies the land that formerly supplied milk, butter and cheese to Chicago families.

While Mr. Crandall has long since passed away, the details in the article are marvelous and fill in a gap of our history in a substantial way.   A belated thank you to Mr. Crandall!

Jane Rozek
Local History Librarian
Schaumburg Township District Library


May 1, 2011

Our guest contributor this week is Pat Barch, the Hoffman Estates Historian.  This column originally appeared in the March 2011 issue of the Hoffman Estates Citizen, the village’s newsletter.  The column appears here, courtesy of the Village of Hoffman Estates.

Hoffman Estates is one of the suburbs that seemed to spring up overnight.  Its history began in the mid 1950s when F & S Construction felt that the area would be the right location for a new housing development.   The corn fields and farms would be the home of a new town, Hoffman Estates.

Most of us live on what was once a farm with sprawling corn and bean fields.  Perhaps there were herds of dairy cows also.  One of those farms was the Jahn Farm located on the east side of Jones Rd. near the intersection of Hillcrest Blvd in Hoffman Estates.  It was owned by Art and his brothers William and August.  The brothers came from Germany with their parents in 1877.

Art married Elsie Heine who grew up on her parents farm on Barrington Rd. across from today’s St. Alexius Hospital.  She wrote a wonderful autobiography about her live on her farm as a young girl and as the wife of Art on their Jones Road Farm.  Elsie and her daughters have always said that Jones Road was always Jahn Road years ago but no evidence of this can be found on maps. 

Elsie and Art Jahn moved to the farm to help Art’s father and uncle plant and run the farming operation. Her story tells of a farm house without electric, a bathroom or a furnace.  She had to cook, clean and wash for the 4 men in their home; husband, father-in-law, brother-in-law and uncle.  She had three children, a boy and two girls, but here young baby boy only lived a few days. 

Without electricity, they had to milk the cows by hand, but later when electricity came in 1940 they purchased milking machines.  She talked of the large fruit orchards and her large garden and the hours of canning that was done all summer long.

 Elsie raised chickens and geese the second year she lived on the farm.  They had Leghorns and White Rocks and when the roosters reached 3 ½ lbs. they were sold.  She purchased her chicks for .35 cents each. 

Threshing was done in July or August and a “gang of 12 – 14 men came to help.  Before electricity, she had to cook all the food on  wood burning and  kerosene stoves.  She also mentions using a flat iron that was heated on the wood stove, and kerosene lamps whose chimneys had to be cleaned once a week. 

Winter was especially difficult.  The house was cold and they “packed manure around the kitchen foundation and later straw bales” to help keep the house warm.  Mice always seemed to make their way into the farm house.  Once they had electricity, there was a bathroom, running water and oil burning stoves in the living room and dining room. 

Elsie’s daughters loved riding horses and they would ride with their neighbor Paul Hassell’s daughter up to the intersection of Higgins and Meacham Rds.  The girls both hated the fact that their parents had to sell the farm in 1960 when F & S Construction bought the land to build the Highlands development in Hoffman Estates. 

I live in the Highlands and can understand why they loved the farm so.  The hilly landscape with the farm house perched on top of the rise at Hillcrest and Jones (Jahn) Rd. most have been the perfect place for a farm.

Pat Barch, Hoffman Estates Village Historian-

It should be noted that the photos seen in the post are not from the Jahn farm.  They are from the Fraas farm that was in another part of the township.