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Life in "Proviso" (1850 - 1900)

'"Free soil, free speech, free labor, and free men!"

This historic slogan resounded throughout the nation in the 1850's.  The territories acquired after the war with Mexico had raised a big issue: Slavery had been forbidden under Mexican law.  What was its status under American law?  Some congressman favored "Squatter Sovereignty" letting the people in each territory settle the question or themselves, but at the time, Congress was split into factions and could not agree.  Pennsylvania Representative David Wilmot said, "I move money be granted only if the territory bought with it be free soil, and that slavery be forever excluded from the land."  Although he was defeated, the condition he introduced -- his "Proviso" -- was heard as far away as Cook County, Illinois, and Taylor Township was renamed to Proviso Township.

Representative Wilmot's "Proviso", no doubt kept alive by the "Underground Railway" established by northern farmers who helped slaves escape from their southern masters, suggested a new name for the township.  The following April, the township's name was changed from Taylor to the TOWNSHIP OF PROVISO.

About 200 inhabitants of Cook County could easily identify with the Free-Soilers because both groups were a combination of small farmers, village merchants, household and mill workers and debtors.  The Free-Soilers would be absorbed by the new Republican Party in 1856.  Cook County farmers cheered when an act passed in the General Assembly which allowed counties to adopt township rule in 1849 as Taylor Township (named after President Taylor).  The population of the township at that time was 482.  Without hesitation township organization took place and an election for officers was held on April 2, 1850. Phineas Stanton became the first moderator, and A. S. Funston, clerk for the day.

Fifty-two men voted on April 2, 1850, and the newly formed Township acquired a Supervisor, a Clerk, an Assessor, three Commissioners of Highways, two Constables and two Justices of the Peace. The township was named "Taylor" after General Zachary Taylor, a war hero, the current President of the United States.  However, he died within a few months on July 9, 1850.

President Zachary Taylor

After the election a few of the fifty-two men had added duties:

Many descendants remained in our area and some of these family pioneer names may be familiar:  Thomas Covell, Koch, Stephen Pennoyer, Sigfried Kolb, Henry Evers, August Heidorn, Henry J. Baethke, Christoph Batterman, Wilhelm Boeger, Frederic Balgemann, Philip Bohlander, Solomon Buck, Irving Porter, P. H. Fippinger, Henry Epcke, George Darmstadt, Burkhardt, Johann Mueller, Christian Puscheck, Henry and Fred Volberding, Henry Mesenbrink, and Christian Thiele. These early farmers depended on saw mills to build their barns, large frame homes and even a community center.

These early pioneers are gone but the township elections have continued through the years serving Proviso Township. Eventually villages were organized and acquired officials to form an even more local government of their own.

In 1851 Proviso Township built the first highway bridge to cross that same river.  The cost of that bridge was $600.  (From "Melrose Park -- 100 Years of Progress".) 

In the years that followed the area grew due to many factors.  Classes were held in the Heinrich Friedrich Degener home for the Franzosenbusch children.  A group of local residents, members of the Zion Lutheran Church in Addison, were granted permission to establish a Lutheran school.  The school opened in 1853.  A few years later the Immanuel Lutheran Church was founded. 

The Proviso community had its first Post Office in 1853 with Augustine Porter as its Postmaster. Other Postmasters who served included Friedrich Weiss, Philip Bohlander, Gustav V. Senf, Carl Herpolsheimer, M. Leudhauser and John Grosshauser.

If you wish a little more on just who owned what, we have a land ownership map of part of Proviso Township from 1863.

In 1870 John Fippinger conveyed two parcels of land to Jacob and John Glos.  The land ran from Grant Avenue on the north to St. Charles Road on the south.  John's land was between 25th and 27th Avenues while Jacob's was from 27th to 31st Avenues.  These lands were surveyed and subdivided in 1892 with lots selling for $150.

The Fippinger farmhouse was in the vicinity of St. Charles Road and Eastern Avenue.  To the east was a roadhouse owned by Phillip Korrell.

The attraction of the unincorporated areas to the west increased -- close to the city and farmable with peace and quiet.  To the east Maywood was incorporated in 1881.  To the west in 1882 the Village of Elmhurst (previously known as Cottage Hill until 1869) was incorporated with legal boundaries defined of St. Charles Road to North Avenue, and one-half mile west of York Street to one-quarter mile east of York Street.  It had a population of 1,050 residents.

In 1887, the Illinois Central Railroad purchased the former Chicago, Madison and Nashville railroad which passed through the community coming out of Chicago line.  Before the IC could push through the current Hillside, they encountered a swamp on Baethke's farm (present site of Bekins Moving and Storage Company).  It was of great concern to the railroad for only after tons and tons of fill were dumped into the bog would the land support construction work. The Illinois Central put six suburban trains in service daily. The run was eventually discontinued, however, as the popularity of the automobile made it unprofitable.

With the rails came the mail.  Mail was distributed from the Illinois Central Depot at the Hillside Avenue station built in 1887.  In the early 1900's, a frame Post Office stood on Hillside Avenue, not far from where the library had its beginning. Joseph Walters was the Postmaster.  Residents picked up their mail or waited for rural delivery to mail boxes mounted on fence posts on the roadside.  Metal flags on the boxes were raised as a signal for pick-ups.

In 1891 the area bounded by Bellwood Avenue, Butterfield Road, Eastern Avenue and the Chicago, Freeport, and St. Paul Railrod Company was purchased and subdivided by Lucien and Julia Rice.  This subdivision was called Bellwood, the first use of that name in the area.  Except for their names on the abstract little else is known about the Rices.  They lived somewhere around the Bellewood subdivision because Lucien was appointed postmaster in November, 1895 and held the post until July, 1899.

By the turn of the century it may have been easier to buy a stein of beer than a bottle of milk -- taverns and inns lined the roadways leading to and in the vicinty of the cemeteries.  In May of 1894, Mount Carmel was established as the first major cemetery in the west suburban Chicago area.  It was composed of 195 acres of farmland formerly owned by Solomon Buck.  In 1900 the first lots sold for as little as $5.  The ever-increasing crowds from Chicago on their way to the Mount Carmel and Oak Ridge cemeteries stimulated the tavern and restaurant business which offered food, drink and lodging to the weary traveler or to the mourners. Local cemeteries, necessary long before village boundaries were established, became important to the economy of the area by providing work as grave diggers or caretakers and gave an opportunity to found a business as well.

In 1902 the Chicago, Aurora and Elgin Railway had opened commuter service daily into Chicago's Loop, with three stops in Berkeley and Hillside, Garden Homes, Taft and Wolf Roads.  A spur line built in 1906 to the Aurora and Elgin Railroad with tracks ran along 12th Street (Roosevelt Road) directly into Mount Carmel Cemetery.  The electric railway used a 600 volt third rail over most of its right-of-way. Hans Lommatzsch, a motorman for 14 years, recalls speeds of up to 90 miles per hour through open country.

(Due to continued financial difficulties, the railway was suspended in 1957, stranding thousands of commuters who lived in the fifteen suburbs it served west of Chicago.  The abandoned right-of-way is now used by the Illinois Prairie Path.  Electric train funeral cars served Oak Ridge and Mount Carmel from 1905 to 1932.)

The Illinois Central Railroad also served Mount Carmel from the Hillside Avenue station.  Horse-drawn wagons led the funeral processions into the cemeteries and at times, wallers, (hired mourners) were heard when a funeral was in progress.  Wakes for the deceased were held in the family living rooms, but later a few communities offered the services of a funeral parlor, such as, Senne's in Maywood (1891) and Prignano's and Bormann's in Melrose Park (1890).

Businesses flourished.  Travellers and mourners alike visited the many restaurants and taverns including:

  • Bob James Little Tavern

  • Cotugno's Sunset Inn

  • Fred Millies Tavern

  • Moran and Galvin's

  • Murphy's

  • O'Rourke's

  • Pete Timoshek's Tavern

  • Remick's Lilac Lodge

  • Russo's County Line Barbecue

  • Shady Cottage Restaurant and Cabins

  • Thiele's Venetian Gardens with Scotty Rich as proprietor

  • Tony Gerres Grill

  • Villano's



Local monument companies go back many years and names like Bertacchi, Salvatori, Peter Troost, Henry Boese, O'Neill and Roselli, were well known throughout the area.  Greenhouses sprang up from roadside stands and soon floral trades were added to the area's business roster with Roy P. Bohlander greenhouses, R. 0. Lommatzsch greenhouses, The Hillside Floral with Loren Westphal as manager, and Leah Boese's Hilltop Floral Shop, as well as Rizzi's and Taddeo & Sons offering their services to the cemetery trade.

Oak Ridge and Mount Carmel were far from the first cemeteries in the area.   The Old Settler's Cemetery (St. Charles and Wolf Roads) and Immanuel Lutheran Cemetery (22nd and Wolf Road) were the first in the area and many pioneer families are buried in them.  Parkholm Cemetery, on Mannheim Road (at one time known as Covell Road) in LaGrange Park, is part of the Covell farmlands and the Covell's are buried there.

The area continued to grow.  In 1900 the Village of Bellwood was formed.  Five years later the Village of Hillside was incorporated.

For other background information see:

To understand more of the influences on the settlers and to understand the 'mindset' of America in the middle of the 19th Century we refer you to the book "Don't Know Much About History".  A few excerpts from this book are available at America in the Mid-1800s.

Other sources of this information include but are not limited to:


Last Modified:  07/31/2007