Source of town's name remains a mystery

Series: Hinsdale 150 | Story 4

Do you know for whom the Village of Hinsdale is named?

If you don’t, you’re certainly not alone. Actually there is no definitive answer as to how the village got its name.

“Now, before turning to the subject of how William Robbins was to actually create the Village of Hinsdale, it would be wise to examine the one issue which, in this past century, has caused more argument and controversy than any other: the questions of how, why, by whom and for whom Hinsdale was named,” Timothy Bakken wrote in “Hinsdale,” published in 1976.

Bakken might be exaggerating a bit, but almost 50 years later, the question remains.

The area was originally called Brush Hill when the Burlington railroad first came through town, but Robbins reportedly was not a fan of that name for incorporation in 1873.

One theory suggests Isaac Bush, the Hinsdale postmaster who came to DuPage County in 1862, suggested the name to Robbins. Bush had been born on the outskirts of Hinsdale, N.Y.

And where did Hinsdale, N.Y., get its name?

Hinsdalean co-owner Jim Slonoff found the answer when he traveled there in 2017 as part of the newspaper’s 10th anniversary.

Lila Cooper’s 600-page book, “Hinsdale ... My Home Town,” indicates the town was named after Hinsdale, N.H. A state assemblyman chose the name knowing that most of the area’s settlers were either New Englanders or descendants of Eastern states, so he wanted to choose the name of an old and respectable New England town. His mother was born in Hinsdale, N.H.

Hinsdalean associate editor Ken Knutson investigated the history of New Hampshire’s Hinsdale when he visited in 2016. The town is named after one Ebenezer Hinsdale, born in 1706 to a well-to-do family whose settlement faced constant ambush by French-allied Native Americans. After graduating from Harvard University, he became a missionary to the local tribes.

He changed his vocation again to become an officer in the Army. In 1942 he built Fort Hinsdale on the west side of the Ashuelot River, which gave birth to the town. He died on Jan. 6, 1763, at age 56.

So this Hinsdale could, indirectly, be named after Ebenezer.

Another theory suggests Hinsdale, Illinois, is named after Henry Walbridge Hinsdale. A native of Burlington, Vt., he came to Chicago in 1845 as a young man, according to Bakken. He and Charles Hammond, general superintendent of the Burlington, met through their work in the insurance business. Hammond, impressed by this accomplished businessman, suggested the town be named after him.

And the names of the other two Hinsdales in this country?

Hinsdale, Mass. named its town after a Rev. Theodore Hinsdale, an early community leader, according to a plaque Knutson discovered during his trip.

The story of Hinsdale, Mont., might be of more interest to readers. A resident shared it with this reporter during a visit there in 2017.

When the Great Northern Railroad came through the area, employees were responsible for naming the towns, using a globe and a fingertip to make their selection.

They gave the globe a spin and the finger hit on a Hinsdale — supposedly this Hinsdale.

In “Village on the County Line,” Hugh Dugan acknowledges the local debate and shares an amusing story.

“With all the speculation concerning the origin of this name, which implies, of course, a sense of its importance and the pride Hinsdaleans take in it, how humiliating it is to learn what happened one day soon after the name became official. A farm woman coming through town by train heard the conductor call out the name of the station. ‘Hen’s Tail,’ she said, ‘what a funny name for a town.’ ”

Author Bio

Author photo

Pamela Lannom is editor of The Hinsdalean