Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Life in Homer Glen in the Early 19th century

Naming the Area

Homer Glen is a town of many names.  The general area in the last 150 years, was named Yankee Settlement, then became Homer Township followed by Homer Glen in 2001.  In addition, Homer was long considered part of the neighboring town of Lockport, Illinois. 

According to the History of Will County written in 1878, the term “Yankee” meant any individual who lived east of Ohio.  Many of Homer’s first settlers were from upstate New York, thus, Homer Glen’s first name was Yankee Settlement However, the credit of the name Homer goes to Alason Granger, originally from Homer, New York (Wiss, Janney, Elstner, 2002).  Homer, New York was part of the land divided for the Revolutionary War soldier’s compensation.   According to the town’s webpage, the name Homer is due to the clerk at the State Surveyor General’s office who had a fascination with Greek and Roman culture and names.  Not only did “Homer” pop up, but so did towns such as “Virgil” ( 

Will County received its name from Conrad Will who was born on June 3, 1779 in Philadelphia (Wiss, Janney, Elstner, 2002).  After studying medicine and an unsuccessful career as a salt businessman, Dr. Will became an Illinois state senator and a member of the state House of Representatives (Wiss, Janney, Elstner, 2002).  After his death, the south Cook County area was named Will County in 1836. 

Native Americans in the Area

Prior to the pioneer settlers coming to Homer Glen, it was occupied by many Native Americans.  The land in the centuries before had seen multiple tribes come and go.  The French would trade with the Potawatomi Indians in the 17th and 18th centuries.  As evidenced by early maps, multiple roads that exist today in this area were old Indian trails including:  Chicago-Bloomington Trail, Hadley and Parker Road, Archer Avenue, Route 53 in Lockport, and Interstate 55 (Wiss, Janney, Elstner, 2002).

Multiple attempts were made by the European settlers to force the Native American tribes off the land.  The Sauk tribe did not give up without a fight and in 1832 Black Sparrow Hawk led the Native Americans into battle.  This primarily occurred in Northwest Illinois and Southern Wisconsin.  However, news of these battles frightened the settlers of Homer Glen.  Homer Glen consisted of approximately 25 families at this time and the settlers quickly went into action (Wiss, Janney, Elstner, 2002).  They met at Mr. Gougar’s home, in future New Lenox, and decided to flee to Indiana.  In other parts of what is now Will County, the families helped build a “fort” out of Stephen Begg’s farm.  It was named “Fort Beggs” and constructed of Stephen’s pigpen, outhouse, and farm fence.  Once this haphazard “fort” was complete the settlers realized it would not do much defense, so a few headed up to Fort Dearborn for safety (Wiss, Janney, Elstner, 2002).

In 1833, the Chicago Treaty was signed which forced the Native American tribes out of the area.   This scene was depicted in a painting, previously hung in the Illinois State Museum, that illustrates Native Americans being given alcohol before signing the treaty (Wiss, Janney, Elstner, 2002).  Outside of the boundary lines, settlers still encountered Native Americans.  An early Homer Glen resident, John Dean Canton, stated:

I soon formed the acquaintance of many of their (Pottawatomic) chiefs, and this 
acquaintance ripened into a cordial friendship. I found them really intelligent and possessed of much information resulting from their careful observation of natural objects.  I traveled with them over the prairies.  I hunted and I fished with them, I camped with them in groves, I drank with them at native springs of which they were never at a loss to find one, and I partook of their hospitality around their campfire (Wiss, Janney, Elstner, 2002)

Pioneer Spirit 

Adventurous pioneers set out for what was called the Northwest territory (Illinois).  An account of their travels of a few families in Homer Glen exist.   Alfred Rowley, who had land on Chicago-Bloomington Trail, wrote an article for the Joliet Sun approximately in 1878 (The History of Will County, 1878).  He describes his arduous journey to the west on July 17, 1833 as a 10 year old boy from Buffalo, New York with a final destination of Homer Glen, right about where Lockport East High School today exists:

The sail-vessel Amaranth anchored in Lake Michigan nearly opposite of Fort Dearborn (Chicago), after a voyage of three weeks out from Buffalo, New York, and having on board about 75 souls...The vessel was relived of her cargo by means of small boats, and the passengers, after being taken on shore, were entertained as best they could be, “in and around” the residence of Herman Bond, which was built of logs and sods, and was located near the foot of Monroe Street. Chicago then consisted of the fort at the mouth of the river, the house of John Kinzie, some French shanties on the North Side, the hotel kept by Ingersoll at the forks, a store at Wolf Point...the frame of what was afterward called the Mansion House...and the palatial residence of our host. After taking in Chicago the next day, three of several families who had journeyed together thus far chartered some prairie schooners and set sail for their destination, in what is now the town of Homer, Will County...We made our way as we could through the tall rosin weeds, with very little track, to Lawton’s (now Riverside) and thence to Flagg Creek. Here we found the body of a log cabin, and the owner, Mr. E Wentworth, whose place in (later) years became quite a noted stage stand. We fought mosquitoes until morning, and after partaking of our frugal meal, we launched out upon the prairie, and at noon halted at the Big Spring near Lilly Cache Grove, and upon what is now the farm of Thomas J. Sprague. After refreshments, we moved on, crossing the Des Plaines River at what was known as Butterfield’s Ford, opposite the present town of Lockport, and near nightfall arrived at our destination, all weary and sad. Calvin Rowley who came on prior to Sac War, was here and had erected a log cabin in timber, about a mile and a half east of the river. Here we stayed until other and better places could be provided. 

Life was difficult for these pioneers.  Settlers close to water developed a variety of illnesses from mosquitoes and even though most previous New Englanders were used to snow, the unpredictability of midwest weather and blizzards made the winters difficult.  A pioneer family stated:

My people suffered many hardships. The first winter the house wasn’t properly chinked and mother used to tack up quilts and blankets to keep out the cold. The chimney was poor. The lower part was built of stone and then topped out with sticks and clay. It was built outside of the house and sometimes it used to catch fire and how it used to smoke.

One of the concerns for these early pioneers was obtaining food for the family and farm animals. Settlers would transport their crops and slaughtered animals to Chicago by a “wagon cart”, which took about 3-4 days.  According to one settler’s account, fall was the best time to transport the goods as “the roads were good”.  

As the Illinois and Michigan canal (I and M canal) project came to fruition, many settlers from Homer Glen worked on the project.  The I and M canal would allow waterway passage from Chicago to the Mississippi river, assisting Chicago in becoming the city it is today.  Construction began in 1836 and also attracted a lot of Irish immigrants to the area (History of Will County, 1878).  Many of these Irish immigrants lived in Bridgeport.  William Gooding (from the family that Goodings Grove gets its name from), was a chief engineer during I and M canal construction (History of Will County, 1878)  

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