PLACES CONNECTED WITH AMERICAN WHEATONS

 
WHEATON, ILLINOIS
From DuPage Directory (1776-1976), Illinois Library, sent by
Charles WHEATON April 1988

"Capt. NAPER's proposal for creating a new county to be known as DuPage County was passed quickly by the General Assembly on February 9, 1839......... In the central and western part of the new county, aggressive young people from the town of Pomfret in eastern Connecticut were in the process of moving into central and western DuPage County in such strength that it amounted to organizing a new community of Pomfret on the Illinois prairie.

Pomfret, then and now, is located in north-eastern Connecticut, roughly 60 miles southeast of Boston, 25 miles west of Providence, Rhode Island, and 50 miles east of Hartford. The GARYs, WHEATONs, and other Pomfret and New England families represented the New England culture in its purest form - well versed and disciplined in the morality of the Hebrew tradition as set forth in the King James version of the Bible, hard working aggressive, capable, believing in education and skills for everyone, and taking a great pride in their homes, schools, and churches. However, by the 1830s the economy of New England was faltering. The rural areas were especially hard hit and the economy of the Pomfret community, closely linked to timber and farming, was at a standstill. This greatly affected the young people not yet established who were unable to find jobs, marry and have families.

Fortunately for these people in New England, they were on the threshold of a vast new area. New developments were shaping their lives and opening for them opportunities beyond the fondest dreams of anyone who had gone before. The Erie Canal, built through the eastern mountains and the greatest and most expensive engineering feat ever undertaken in the United States to this time, now linked New England with the Great Lakes and much farm land of the Northwest Territory - Ohio, Michigan, Indiana, Illinois and Wisconsin not to mention the future states further west.

But there was another new development that in time would become even more important than the Erie Canal. Five years after the canal opened, the first railroad in the United States began operations at Charleston, South Carolina, and soon there was another that was 20 miles long that extended from Albany, the capital of New York State on the Hudson River, north to Schenectady on the Erie Canal.

There were a great many young people leaving New England and going west in 1831. One of them was Erastus GARY, a twenty-five year old farmer and teacher who had sold 13 acres of Pomfret land, his share of the family estate, for $1,000 and went to find not only land but a market nearby for farm products. On his trip west he saw the twin miracles of his age - the canal and the railroad. He started out on the railroad and then travelled the length of the famed Erie Canal, completed only six years before. GARY was immediately convinced that the railroad was the greatest means of transportation ever developed and determined to have a farm in Illinois near a future railroad.

GARY made his way across Lake Michigan from St. Joseph, Michigan, arriving at the mouth of the Chicago River, where the Government fortress, Fort Dearbon, provided protection for the small village of about 300 people living around the fort. Two years later in 1833 the fort settlement would be incorporated by the state of Illinois as the "Village of Chicago". Gary was impressed and saw clearly that here was a potential city and shipping point, a town that would provide a market for his farm products. Before long, he reasoned, there would be railroads, and this town with its lake port connecting, via waterways, to the Atlantic Ocean would be the hub for those railroads. One of those railroads would certainly extend directly west, and he must locate his land near that future railroad.

GARY went on foot directly west from the mouth of the Chicago River. He hiked about 30 miles to what was then the southwest section of Cook County, but which eight years later would become part of DuPage County. All the time he was walking west, GARY was observing the terrain and trying to project where that future railroad would most likely be built. In the end he hedged his position by acquiring from the Government two large tracts, one whose acres now constitute an important part of the west side of Wheaton and the other on the West DuPage River at GARY's Mill community, a settlement that was never chartered.

In the summer of 1837 another young farmer and school teacher from Pomfret, Warren WHEATON, decided to go to Illinois and help Eratus GARY bring in the crops with a view to determining if he wished to settle in the west. His diary entries richly illustrate the diverse modes of transportation leading to Illinois. WHEATON first went by stage coach to Boston, then by boat to New York City, and up the Hudson River to Albany. At Albany he took a train to Schenectady, and from there by way of the Erie Canal to Buffalo, where he waited two weeks for the new steamboat, The Madison, to break her way through the ice and into Buffalo Harbor. Along with 1,500 other passengers, he steamed for seven days and landed at Chicago.

Warren WHEATON helped with the harvest and then made an extensive tour of Illinois, to make sure whether and where he wished to settle. He went down the Illinois River as far as St. Louis, and then north to Galena, the state's largest city, often staying in the homes of his former students from Pomfret, who had traveled the Erie Canal before him. Convinced there were great advantages in settling in what was still Cook County, Warren WHEATON went east from the GARY farm on the West DuPage River and acquired a large landholding on which much of the city of Wheaton is today located. Shortly after Jesse WHEATON, brother of Warren, came from Pomfret on the Erie Canal, and acquired major landholdings immediately west of Warren's farm adjoining Erastus GARY's northern land-holdings.

By 1848 the railroad that Erastus GARY was sure would be built west from Chicago was becoming a reality. William B OGDEN, the first Mayor of Chicago and the Midwest's pioneer railroad builder, was president of the Chicago and Galena Railroad. The tracks were already laid to the Des Plaines River (site of present-day Maywood). The railroad's route was projected to run across northern DuPage County generally along the old Galena stagecoach road (approximately the route of U.S. Highway 20) to Galena, the largest city next to Chicago in the state. Galena was the Mississippi River port and processing point of one of the greatest lead-producing areas in North America. In the 1830s there were 10,000 men working in mines of the Galena community and nearby areas in Iowa and Wisconsin.

At this point, the WHEATON brothers made a daring proposal. They invited OGDEN to come to the Jesse WHEATON farmhome (located just south of the present Wheaton central business district) in DuPage County for lunch and there they offered to give him nearly five miles right-of-way across the big WHEATON and GARY farms if he could bend the railroad to the south to cross their lands. OGDEN immediately accepted since farmers owning land on the proposed northern route were demanding high prices for right-of-way across their land. OGDEN was so appreciative that when the railroad came through, he built a station on the north side of the tracks near the boundary (today's Wheaton Main Street) of Warren and Jesse WHEATON farms. This shift in the route eventually created the towns of Lombard, Glen Ellyn, Wheaton, Winfield and Turner's Junction (later renamed West Chicago) which lay along the train's route. It also destined that Wheaton, with its railroad spur, would become the future county.

Countless other early settlers came to the future site of DuPage County in the 1830's. Men like Israel BLODGETT, a blacksmith from Amherst, Massachusetts, who in 1830 actually walked out here on the National Road through central Ohio, Indiana and Illinois. The next year BLODGETT brought out his family - two weeks on the Erie Canal, four days on a steamer to Detroit, and three weeks in wagons drawn by oxen - to DuPage. Another pioneer was Frederick STOLP who in 1833, at the age of 52 years, walked all the way from Putneyville, New York, and settled in Eola. Bailey HOBSON, a Quaker, rode out alone on horseback in the fall of 1830. Nor can we forget Stephen SCOTT, who captained his own schooner, The Sheldon, from Detroit via the Great Lakes to Chicago. All of these pioneers drew strength from a God-fearing heritage and on the shoulders of each of them - and some hundreds of thousands of others - were the hands of Joseph NAPER and Warren WHEATON. Joseph NAPER, who for a brief, fleeting moment overpowered Chicago leaders, set up a new county and made it possible for the people in the valley of the DuPage River to escape the political domination of the colossus on Lake Michigan. Warren WHEATON, who because of his vision, brought the railroad and prosperity to our new county. Naper and WHEATON, two pioneer giants who more than any others in DuPage County, "made us the way we are."

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Jean K WHEATON
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18 December 2014