Farm's history yields moo-ving legacy

Series: Hinsdale 150 | Story 38

The land on which Hinsdale Central's Red Devils will celebrate Homecoming this weekend was once home to Sedgeley Farm, a regional leader in both dairy cattle breeding and use of electric power.

New York-born Enos Barton helped launch Western Electric Manufacturing Co. with Oberlin College classmate Elisha Gray in Chicago in the early 1870s, eventually becoming the firm's president and then chairman of the board.

In his retrospective "Hinsdale," author Timothy Bakken sheds more light on this "simple and unassuming man" whose love of country living led him in 1889 to establish a dairy farm on the village's south end.

"His initial purchase, of 90 acres, was on South Madison Street. He then acquired several more farms, to a total of 1,110 acres, mostly lying between County Line and Madison Street but including property east of the (County) Line, all of it south of 55th Street."

Barton named the expanse Sedgeley Farm, and he constructed two houses, one on South Garfield Avenue and, most impressively, on South County Line, where RML Specialty Hospital sits today. In 1891 he imported the first of the Brown Swiss cattle for which the farm would become known.

"They were his showpieces, displayed at the World's Columbian Exposition and routinely winning prizes at the first International Livestock Exhibitions held in Chicago. The herd numbered about 250 at its peak, and the milk they produced was sold, mainly, to a firm supplying superior-grade school milk to local children.

"Sedgeley Farm itself was top-notch in its equipment. In 1898, Barton provided the place with an electrically run plant which pumped water, separated cream and did the washing," writes Bakken, nodding to Barton's Western Electric ties. "The water was pumped to the farm's own reservoir on the west side of South Garfield Avenue. This was a fine swimming hole for village lads, though the farm manager chased them away whenever he caught them at it."

Barton was also known for sending his regal "tally-ho" French coach horse-drawn carriage to collect a visiting guest at Hinsdale's train depot. Residents would occasionally see a new head of cattle being led from downtown to the farm.

"Once in 1899, 14 cows got loose and wandered aimlessly about town," Bakken noted.

Sadly in January of 1915, following an outbreak of hoof and mouth disease, the whole herd was destroyed under government order.

"When it was over, the once-prized animals were buried under a blanket of quick-lime in a long trench which had been dug on the farm property."

That summer, hundreds of Western Electric workers and their family members perished when their "Eastland" pleasure boat capsized in the Chicago River. Devastated, Barton sought a restful winter retreat in Biloxi, Miss., where he died May 3, 1916.

"On March 18, 1920, the last of the Sedgeley Farm stock and equipment were sold," Bakken chronicles, adding that most of the old farm was eventually converted to housing. "The Sedgeley name itself survived only to honor a road, and was briefly brought to use by the Sedgeley Farm Guest House restaurant, opened in one of Barton's former homes about 1932."

Author Bio

Ken Knutson is associate editor of The Hinsdalean