Early Hinsdale looked a little different

Series: Hinsdale 150 | Story 27

In 1869, the population of yet-to-be-incorporated Hinsdale numbered less than 500, living within boundaries that stretched from Ayres Avenue to 10th Street and from Jackson to the county line," according to Hugh Dugan's 1949 book, "Village on the County Line."

Developer William Robbins had built a school at Main (now Garfield) and Third, and the train station then sat between Washington and Lincoln. Dugan includes a description from an issue of a real estate publication called "Land Owner" extolling the virtues of the fledgling community 17 miles from Chicago.

"The scene which Hinsdale now presents has a more natural beauty than can be found at any of our nearer suburbs, as the land is 150 feet above the surface of the lake and is delving and almost hilly, there being a constant rise and decline," the article touts, going on to praise the fortuitous soil and road conditions.

It describes the roads as "soft without being muddy, shedding the water by reason of their inclination, partly grass grown and wending their way up and down and around their gentle slopes. On this account Hinsdale has natural advantages, the attainment of which by means of art would require immense expenditures of money and time."

The school was regarded as "one of the best in the country," and the overall town vibe was appealing.

"The social recherche and a tone of refinement seems to pervade the place. There is not a grog-shop in the village, the charter especially prohibiting such unpleasant features," the author assured.

Hinsdale, the piece continued, offered the perfect escape from the urban jungle for Chicago's captains of industry.

"Among the residents of Hinsdale are many of our best business men, whose ample means enable them to retire in a few minutes time from the noisy city to the quiet of their country homes," the description related. "Trains run to and from Hinsdale almost every hour of the day; and it has the special advantage of two Hinsdale accommodation trains to meet the wants of every class of business men."

Dugan took issue with that last claim, counting only six daily trains to the city at that time.

"Nevertheless, (the article) is full of the enthusiasm, hope and promise that pervaded the local thinking and planning of the day," Dugan writes.

As the population grew, so did the merchant community. Dugan notes that Physician Dr. J.C. Merrick and partner William Evernden opened a drug store on the northeast corner of First and Washington Streets (now occupied by J. McLaughlin). Upstairs was the studio of Mr. C.P. Frey, "who taught dancing and played the fiddle at the same time.

"The first baggage delivery service (was) operated by Eben Millions, who had sailed on American clipper ships before settling here; and his daughter, Fannie Millions, the first dressmaker," he recounts.

Apparently those dirt streets didn't shed all the water, as "vehicles often sank nearly to their hubs" during rainy days. But Dugan also shares how "many citizens pitched in to build plank (side)walks" to ease wet weather walking trips from the neighborhoods into the business district.

Seems that community spirit was a Hinsdale hallmark even 150 years ago. -by Ken Knutson

Author Bio

Ken Knutson is associate editor of The Hinsdalean