ABOVE PHOTO: McCormick Mansion
By Renée S. Gordon
Archeological evidence points to the fact that during the Paleo Period, around 12,000-years ago, Indians entered the area that is now DuPage County, Illinios. They were migratory and it is not until the Woodland Era, 1,000 B.C., that Native Americans began to settle in the region. When Europeans made first contact in the form of Louis Joliet and Father Marquette in 1673, the primary tribe was the Iliniwek. By the turn of the 19th century the Potawatomi Tribe had moved west and established large settlements, four of which were located in DuPage.
One of the earliest documented settlers in the 1700s was a French fur trapper named DuPage. The river took its name from him and when the county, separated from Cook County in 1839, it was named after the river. The county, though considered part of the metropolitan Chicago area, has its own noteworthy history and unique sites and is well worth exploring.
The Lizzadro Museum of Lapidary Art attracts international visitors to view the museum’s handcrafted treasures and learn about rocks and minerals and how these intricate objects are created. Lapidaries are basically those who cut and polish stones, but the phenomenal work displayed in The Lizzadro exemplifies the mastery of the craft.
Joseph Lizzadro, Sr. established the museum in 1962 to showcase his collection. The two-story structure has a gift shop and large gallery on the lower level with 20 dioramas with the larger gallery on the second level. Tours are self-guided and should begin on the first floor with a brief orientation film. First floor showcases are filled with all types of minerals and gemstones. Of particular interest are the displays of uncut birthstones.
While the lower level is interesting the second-floor is breathtaking. Highlights on this floor include a 1972 portrait of Lizzadro by Florentine Bruno Lastrucci made of more than 1300 individual pieces of stone, 18th and 19th-century Roman Mosaics, an ivory puzzle ball, a blue jadeite pagoda censor and the Castle Lizzadro. The castle was commissioned in 1984 and is comprised of Brazilian agate, amethyst, malachite and 18K gold. The focal point of the larger gallery is an authentic carver’s bench. The museum presents a series of exhibitions and demonstrations. www.lizzadromuseum.org
Morton Arboretum, established in 1922 by the founder of the Morton Salt Company, is one of the most renowned arboretums in the world. It is situated on 1,700 acres with 500 acres devoted to plants and 900 acres of prairie, marsh and woodlands. There are two places to dine, two visitor’s stations with facilities and special programs include a plant clinic and the circulating and research Sterling Morton Library. The 4 acre award-winning Children’s Garden is designed to introduce children to nature and conservation and is completely interactive.
Special programs are offered year round. On November 22, 2013 they will debut “Illumination: Tree Lights at The Morton Arboretum”. The light experience will be interactive with trees that you touch or sing to change the colors and panels that allow you to create your own light show. www.mortonarb.org
The Robert R. McCormick Museum is located inside the 500 acre Cantigny Park. Joseph Medill built the mansion on Red Oak Farm in 1896 for $15,000. The estate passed to his grandson Robert in 1910. He renamed it after a French village where he saw service in WWI. In 1910 Robert also took over as editor and publisher of the Chicago Tribune and in the 30’s the grounds of Cantigny became the newspaper’s experimental farm. McCormick died in at age 74 in 1955 at Cantigny.
The house was expanded in the 1930s with East and West Wing additions to the original house. Two of the three stories are open for guided tours that include original furnishings, portraits and personal belongings. The highlight of the original house is the 70 ft. mural that was handpainted on rice paper by a single artist. Freedom Hall, in the East Wing, is the most splendid room in the mansion. The ceilings are 22 ft. high, the walls are paneled in Brazilian butternut and there is a hidden Art Deco mirror-lined, bar. Directly beneath Freedom Hall is the Gold Theater used to screen films to family, guests and employees on Friday evenings. Three regular tours as well as specialized tours are available. www.cantigny.org
“AAA Four Diamond Award winning Eaglewood Resort and Spa is a destination resort with 295 guest rooms, an 18 hole, par-72 championship golf course, sky-lit indoor pool and gourmet and classic dining options. Eaglewood is in a bucolic setting 35 minutes from Chicago and 20 minutes from O’Hare. www.eaglewoodresort.com
The Biggest Loser Resort Chicago is the newest addition to the offerings at Eaglewood. Guests can register for an experience that incorporates personalized exercise, education and nutrition into a holistic weight loss program. This is one of only four in the nation. www.biggestloserresort.com
“I never would have drawn my sword in the case of America if I could have conceived that thereby I was helping to found a nation of slaves.” Marquis de Lafayette
Illinois was geographically well placed for Underground Railroad (UGRR) routes. It was between Kentucky and Missouri and less than 100 miles from Arkansas and Tennessee and two important rivers, the Mississippi and the Ohio, make up its western and part of the southern boundaries. Five major UGRR routes, and numerous trunk lines, ran across the state. Historians are now identifying statewide sites and documenting Illinois’ significant role in UGRR history. DuPage County, because of its proximity to the large free black community in Chicago and its abolitionist population, was an extremely active area.
Jonathan Blanchard, a devoted abolitionist, took over Illinois Institute in 1859 immediately prior to its becoming Wheaton College. Reverend Cross, the school’s first teacher held vocal anti-slavery views. There is newly discovered documentary evidence that the college functioned as a station and fugitives were secreted in Blanchard Hall until they could be moved under cover of darkness to the next stop, Glen Ellyn. The college was one of the first in the state to integrate.
Frederick Graue built a mill on Salt Creek in 1852 after his first one burned down. It is believed that runaways were hidden in the basement and tours of the gristmill include an exhibition,” Graue Mill and the Road to Freedom.” Graue Mill and Museum is the sole functioning waterwheel gristmill in the region. www.grauemill.org
The 1846 Blodgett House replaced an earlier log cabin on land in Downer’s Grove belonging to Israel and Avis Blodgett. The house is one of the oldest in the village. Israel, a blacksmith, operated a documented UGRR station in his home. The house was moved in 2008 and is now part of the Downers Grove Park District Museum complex. Exterior renovations are complete. www.1846blodgetthouse.org
Deacon William Strong’s station was in Aurora. His home had a trapdoor that provided access to the basement. In one of the most ironic stories of UGRR Strong was visited by a freed slave who was seeking his wife and family with hopes of purchasing them. Strong took him on to the next station 16 miles away, the Blodgett House, and there he found they were being sheltered.
Thomas and A.W. Filer were brothers who had homes on either side of noted abolitionist Sheldon Peck. They were both documented UGRR conductors and Thomas Filer’s 1835 house in Glen Ellyn is a documented UGRR stop with a tunnel that ran from the house to an outbuilding. In 1855 Thomas became Justice of the Peace in Babcock Grove, a position that enabled him to stop captures and prosecutions under the Fugitive Slave Act.
Sheldon Peck, a Vermont native, was born in 1797. At the age of 28 he wed Harriet Corey and four years later relocated to New York to further his career as a portrait painter. In 1836 the Pecks moved to Chicago and one year later to Lombard, Illinois in DuPage County where they settled on 80 acres. Sheldon was a farmer, portraitist of local fame, father of 10 children and a “radical abolitionist,” one who believed in the immediate emancipation of all slaves and total equality of rights.
Peck was a well-documented stationmaster and conductor on the UGRR. Additionally, as a portrait painter he was responsible for capturing the images of many of his fellow abolitionists. He is considered to have been one of the five greatest folk artists in the country and his works are represented in the nation’s top museums. Sheldon Peck died of pneumonia in 1868.
The Peck Homestead dates from 1839 and is a two-story frame house that was in the family until the 1990s. Tours of the house include an excellent display on the UGRR in general and the DuPage County and Sheldon Peck’s participation in assisting freedom seekers. According to an account by one of his children, as many as seven at a time were hidden there. The room used to interpret these stories does so through artifacts, maps, personal testimonies and portraits. Highlights of the collection are an early topsy-turvy doll, a two-headed doll with one torso, in this case one side is black and one white, and a portrait of Old Charley,” a fugitive who was vividly recalled by Peck’s son and possibly painted by his daughter.
The homestead presents educational tours and special events in an ongoing commitment to regional history. In August of 2011 the Sheldon Peck Homestead was designated a site on the Network to Freedom, as a fully substantiated UGRR location. www.lombardhistory.org/peck
Round out your trip to DuPage County with an evening at legendary coach Mike Ditka’s restaurant, Ditka’s. The food and ambiance are wonderful and the deserts are off the hook. www.ditkasrestaurants.com
Nothing about DuPage County is as you expected. It constantly surprises you with its uniqueness. Take advantage of DuPage’s truly special offerings by planning a visit. www.discoverdupage.com
I wish you smooth Travels!
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