A Short History of Glencoe

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Glencoe's History

By Suzanne Weiss

Author of "Glencoe Queen of Suburbs"
(From which this is excerpted.)


First the Potawatomis walked here, softly through the forest, stalking the plentiful wild game. There were no sounds other than the cry of birds, wind rustling through the trees, waves lapping against the shore. What the place was called in that time is not known to us.

In the year 1835, Chicago, or Fort Dearborn as it was then named, with a population near 500, was growing a bit crowded for some tastes. Anson H. Taylor, a young storekeeper, builder and trader who, along with his brother, had come out from the East, needed more elbow room. Anson and Charles Taylor had built the first bridge across the Chicago River three years earlier, a wooden span connecting the south bank of the river with the Green Bay Trail. While another brother, Augustine, continued to put his mark on the early Chicago landscape, that trail beckoned Anson.

Taylor, his wife, Eliza, and their infant son, Louis Erastus, followed the path along the lake, past the Ouillmette settlement, past the old Potawotami village that would come to be known as Indian Hill. Finally coming to rest on a high bluff overlooking Lake Michigan, they determined to build their home here, far from the muddy riverbank and crowds they had left behind.


Glencoe's first non-native family, Anson and Lisa Taylor built a log cabin, had their household goods transported along the lakeshore by ox-drawn scow. Paying $189.94 for 160 acres of former Indian land, Taylor was granted title in 1839. President Van Buren signed the deed. The following year, Taylor moved the dwelling a bit closer to the road and added a two-story frame structure that became known as LaPier House, location of the first post office in the vicinity, as well as a store. Nothing, if not enterprising, Taylor soon expanded his use of the building to include a hostel, which catered to travelers on the post road going west.

The inn, located at what is now 185 Old Green Bay Road, operated for some 50 years. It burned down in 1893, according to one handwritten account, torched by the vengeful daughter of the last resident, an elderly woman who was evicted on the orders of "some real estate shark." Wrote old-time Glencoe resident Charles Tapper, who remembered watching as a child, "it was a wonderful blaze."

Anson and Eliza were not alone for very long in Taylorsport, as the new settlement was called. In 1838 two families of English descent moved into the area: William and Thomas Turnbull as farmers in what is now the northwest end of Glencoe and former cabinet maker Robert Daggit, his wife and their nine children, nearer to the lake.

Land was $1.25 an acre and, in time, Daggit acquired a great deal of it, some 1,000 acres, all told. When three of his children died, he buried them on a portion of this land and the first area cemetery was formed. All the existing cemeteries were located in Chicago and, in winter, it was not possible to get there for burials. Accordingly, the entire Daggit family and many other early residents eventually were buried in that cemetery on Lake Cook Road. It's located today along Lake-Cook Road east of Highland (Park).

People kept coming. Fite Diettrich, who fled the Napoleonic Wars in Europe, moved from Chicago to Taylorsportin 1839. A matchmaker by trade, he turned his hand to farming. Other farmers followed, Wolfgang Louidel settling in what is now Skokie Heights and Michael Gormley on the present site of Skokie County Club. The Beinlichs were in the third wave of settlers who followed Taylor and, years later, North School was built on the site of their original homestead.

In 1850, a school was built in Taylorsport, on Green Bay Road and Montgomery Street. The log schoolhouse served the farmers at the north end of the settlement as well as Taylor's immediate neighbors. According to local legend, one farmer carried his small son to school from the north end every morning on his back, returning home with him the same way at night.


Lumber was plentiful as more and more land was cleared. In 1855, a lumber contractor, G.C. Parks, built a steam sawmill, located on the present site of Shelton Park, to capitalize on the natural resource. A 500-foot pier already had been built at the foot of Harbor Street and two schooners, the John Lillie and the Garter, regularly sailed between Taylorsport and Chicago, loaded with cordwood. When the railroad came through, Parks' sawmill supplied fuel for the wood burning engines.

The forest, once too dense for wagons to get through, was fast disappearing under the axe of progress. Logging was big business for some, a meager living for others. Some of the early settlers hauled their wood into the city with oxen, trading it for groceries or selling it directly for $1.50 a cord. When times were particularly tough, other men would follow the wood into Chicago, wait until it was sold and then contract to chop it up. The daily wage earned by wood chopping was between 35 and 40 cents, according to the memoirs of George Hesler, who grew up in the area during those hard times.

Near the mill, charcoal pits were dug and the burned charcoal also was transported to Chicago by oxcart. The making and selling of charcoal, at 5 to 10 cents a bushel, became principal means of making money in the 1860s and '70s, Hesler recalled. Alsatian emigres, the Stupey family, became the first charcoal burners in the area.

Anson Taylor, already a busy storekeeper, innkeeper and postmaster, was appointed Justice of the Peace for New Trier Township in 1850. He and Eliza had five children before she died. In 1855, the widower married again and had two more children by Marianne Barrett, his second wife. Their youngest son, John, wed Maria Stupey, of the charcoal burning clan.

As recently as 1969, some of Anson's descendants still lived in Glencoe, as well as branches of the Beinlich, Diettrich and Gormley family trees. Other settlers whose families remained in Glencoe for generations include Theodore Barnett, John Feyd, Andrew MacLeish and Samuel Calhoun.

In 1864, Taylor donated two acres of land for a lighthouse, to be built by the government. Louis Taylor, Anson's oldest son, was named lighthouse keeper, a position he held until the lure of gold drew him West. Louis' brother Henry and sister Maria subsequently moved in and operated the lighthouse until the government funds dried up. It was then abandoned and fell into decay.

THE RAILROAD & GLENCOE The first train ran from Chicago to Waukegan on Jan. 20, 1855, taking three hours to complete the 36-mile trip. Settlers lined the route, marveling at the iron wonder, little suspecting their sylvan isolation soon would be at an end.

The coming of the train meant that wealthy Chicagoans no longer had to live close to their businesses. Whether escaping the political corruption and labor unrest of the growing metropolis or the aftermath of the great fire of 1871, a new class of commuters looked to the North Shore as an answer to urban woes and to the railroad as a link between two worlds.

The train did not stop in Taylorsport, the name for Glencoe then. According to some accounts, Anson Taylor knew a competitor when he saw one and refused to give up land for a train station when his inn depended on customers of the stagecoach line.

Maybe so but then, as now, it was not always a question of what you knew but who you knew and the president of the railroad just happened to live a mile farther down the road.

Scottish-born Walter Gurnee was an important figure in early Chicago history, twice mayor (1851-52) and then president of the Chicago and Milwaukee Railroad. He also was involved with the buying and selling of real estate along the North Shore.

In the center of what was to become the Village of Glencoe was a large stock farm belonging to Matthew D. Coe, who owned enormous tracts of land extending as far west as Libertyville. Coe's daughter married none other than Walter Gurnee and, in 1853, Coe sold the farm to his son-in-law. Gurnee built a mansion on the property, surrounded it with rare imported trees and arranged for the train to stop right across the way.

The Chicago and Milwaukee Railroad eventually became the Chicago and North Western but some things stayed the same. Although the original three sided shed that served as a station is long gone and Gurnee's home "The Castle," a venerable Glencoe landmark, was changed to a multi-family residence after a major fire in 1962, the train still stops where the railroad president decreed. Recently, the home was restored to a single-family residence.

The Glencoe trains appear to run on the "wrong" side. That is because, at first, only one track existed. Railroad officials had decided that stations should be on the side going to downtown Chicago so that waiting commuters could stay dry and warm. When the second track was laid, it was used for northbound traffic.

An electric railroad also ran through Glencoe, between Milwaukee and Chicago, from 1899 to the mid-'50s.This was the North Shore and Milwaukee Road, a commuter line, owned at one time, by Samuel Insull, the steel magnate who built the Chicago Opera House.


Depending on which account you read, the Village of Glencoe got its name from a Coe's Glen," an acknowledgement of Matthew Coe's original ownership of the property in the heart of the town, or Glencoe, Scotland, said to be the town of Gurnee's birth but better known as the site of a bloody clan massacre that took place some three centuries ago. The Scottish word "glen" means a narrow secluded valley and may refer to the ravines near Sheridan Road. Glencoe's first seal was modeled after the seal of Glencoe, Scotland.

Gurnee did not live in his "castle" very long. He declared bankruptcy and moved to New York City in 1862, selling his home to Dr. Alexander Hammond four years later. And, with that transaction, a new chapter in Glencoe history was born.


Dr. Alexander Hammond, retired in Rockford, Illinois from medical practice, had a dream of an ideal community and the resources to make it come true. Hearing that the former Matthew Coe stock farm was for sale, he journeyed to the site and approved of what he saw: "the natural features and objects of the place--the pieces of forest of grand oaks, the numerous handsome trees scattered over all parts of the cleared land, and the groves of young trees of second growth, the undulation of the land, with a depot and post office already established--all pleased me so much that I speedily resolved to purchase the property," he wrote near the end of his life.

The price of the 520-acre tract was $75 an acre, with an additional 160 acres in the less desirable Skokie marsh to the west thrown in at $15 each. Dr. Hammond "fearing that someone else might buy it, so desirable a purchase it seemed" made an offer of $40,000, a sum very near the asking price, put $2,000 down, negotiated the rest by mortgage and promissory note and bought himself a town. Later that year, on April 1, 1867, the Hammonds moved to their new home.

The doctor's memoirs continue: "All seeming pleasant and propitious, I began as much as I could to workup the project I had in view of building a town."

It took Hammond nearly a year and a few false starts before he found nine investors interested in developing and improving the land. In addition to an initial investment of $5,000 each member of the new Glencoe Company agreed to pay construction costs of a church and school and annual upkeep for a pastor ($100 a year) and teacher ($50), as well as building two homes in the development and living in one. Several of the partners never kept the last part of the bargain and sold both the houses they built. Several more, it turned out, were more interested in subdividing for profit than long-term beautification of the site.

In Dr. Hammond's words: "The parties making the company were John L. Beveridge, Philo Judson, Luther L. Greenleaf, Charles H. Morse, Chancellor L. Jenks, Stephen P. Lunt, Dr. John Nutt, Dr. John F. Starr, Charles E. Browne and myself. They were all good men in a general sense, but for the special purpose of building such a town as I desired to make, some of them were good for nothing--in short, were stumbling blocks in the way and actual hindrances to the making of such features as would make a pleasant impression on any one at the first view."

Dr. Hammond's favorites among his new partners were his good friend Dr. Nutt, "the best of all the company," and Greenleaf, "the strongest and most aggressive man... always ready and in the lead of whatever was proposed to be done."

Greenleaf and Morse were partners in the Fairbanks Morse Scales Company and the latter let his partner take care of the Glencoe business, never even visiting the town as it was being built. Nevertheless, Morse seems to be the only investor who made a considerable amount on the venture in the end.

Lunt had plans drawn for the most expensive house in town but abandoned the project and sold the property to Judson when he ran out of funds. Jenks leased his home, on Sheridan and Hazel, to the minister and never lived there himself. Judson's own home, Cloverly, stood where the Glencoe Public Library is today. Gen. Beveridge, who was his son-in-law, later became governor of Illinois.

There were problems, almost from the beginning. Cattle soon overran some 1,000 Norway spruce trees planted in the new town. A disagreement between several of the partners and Dr. Hammond and Mr. Browne over the 160 less desirable acres in the marsh (Greenleaf and some others claimed Browne had misrepresented the location), caused a lasting rift and the strong-minded Greenleaf lost his former enthusiasm for the venture.

A new collaborator, an independent landowner outside the Glencoe Company, was greatly cooperative in helping to build the new town. Franklin Newhall, fondly referred to in some accounts as "Grandpa," owned a large tract of land east of the railroad tracks from Park Avenue north, almost to County Line Road. He voluntarily contributed money to build the church, gave a share of land for the park and helped the others to plot out the space.

With Grandpa Newhall and his brother adding their number to the original settlers and Glencoe entrepreneurs, there were 26 homes in the village when it was incorporated on March 28,1869. The first election was held the following year. Philo Judson won the post of president. According to Dr. Hammond, Judson moved away a year or two after that.

Grandpa Newhall's generosity was amply rewarded in later years, Dr. Hammond observes with a touch of bitterness, when he reaped the benefits of the improvements made by the Company by selling off his land when prices were high.

The others could not hold out as long and, with the nationwide Panic of 1873, parcels of land were sold off to meet individual investors' indebtedness. Land values did not recover until the 1890s and among the big losers was Hammond himself. According to a memoir written by Granville Hall in 1924, "the Glencoe adventure" was some 20 to 30 years ahead of its time.


The early village consisted of scattered homes, a small schoolhouse, church and depot and a couple of stores, loosely connected by dirt roads. People drew their water from wells. Homeowners put up their own oil lamps on posts, donating them to the village to maintain. A lamplighter made regular rounds. Electricity did not come to town until1903, when one arc light was purchased from the Highland Park Electric Light Company on a trial basis. Pleased with the newfangled contraption, the village council promptly ordered 46 more.

After the Glencoe Company plotted out the village, a peculiar system of street naming was instituted; the men decided to name all streets running north and south, allocating the east-west routes to their wives. Old maps show the feminine taste ran to birds and names of trees. South was once Maple Avenue; Park Avenue was Eagle. This was the first street to be graded, from the depot to Bluff Street, in 1872.

There were plank sidewalks and dirt roads until 1888, when a special assessment financed gravel on Vernon Avenue. Other streets were graveled and, by the 1890s, a few macadam roads built. The business district was paved with bricks in 1914 and concrete arrived in 1919. With systematic grading and paving of the streets, storm sewers were installed. Snow plowing began in 1886. By this time, cattle no longer roamed through the town.

Under an 1893 agreement Winnetka supplied the Village of Glencoe with water from its newly built water system. In 1928, Glencoe opened a pumping station of its own. Sanitary sewers were contracted in 1900 and augmented in 1906. Glencoe hooked into the Chicago Sanitary District drainage canals in 1913.

A telephone exchange opened in Holste's store, corner of Park and Vernon Avenues, in 1896. The first village hall was built on Vernon Avenue at a cost of $1,000--including council chamber, offices, firehouse and jail--in 1893. A fire engine house and police station were added in 1917.


The Village of Glencoe run smoothly nowadays, with angry disagreements cropping up only occasionally, in conjunction with emotional issues like deer control or the closing of schools. 'Twas not always thus.

Early in Glencoe's history there was resentment on the part of early settlers who had been eased out of power by the Glencoe Ten. In 1873, the "old timers" won the election, got back their power and, to perpetuate their clout, divided the village into four wards. Boundaries shifted; so did the number of votes in the ballot box. The system was abolished in 1881.

But tempers were still hot. In1897, councilman Michael Gormley, "one of the most forceful and brainy men among Glencoe pioneers," according to Granville Hall, rose to speak in violent opposition to a bill and dropped dead of a stroke on the council floor.

In 1914 Allen G. Mills, a busy attorney with a practice in Chicago, was serving as village president and losing a lot of sleep. With only one policeman in town, residents were calling the Mills residence at all hours with their complaints. There had to be a better way and Mills found it in a town in New Hampshire. In 1914,Glencoe adopted the council-manager system, the eleventh town in the nation to do so.

In 1933, 700 people turned out for a mass meeting called by influential resident Otto Barnett, who asked the provocative question: "How bad are Glencoe politics?" There were at least three parties running candidates at that time: Caucus, Economy and Independent. The issues at stake seem to have involved Mr. Barnett's re-election to the Library Board, which was inexplicably linked to a highway referendum.

At the 1936 Town Meeting, residents originally adopted the Caucus Plan as the method of providing a nonpartisan slate of candidates for the Glencoe Village Board, the Glencoe Park District Board, the Glencoe Library Board and the District 35 Board of Education.


In 1869, the newly incorporated Village of Glencoe held some 150 people. According to census figures, that number more than doubled by 1880 and grew to 569 in the next ten years. Some 200 of that number were children of school age. There were 1,020 Glencoe residents at the turn of the century and by 1920 the count had grown to 3,381.

Population stabilized between 6,000 and 7,000 over the next 30 years. By 1960, however, it had jumped to 10,472, an increase of nearly 3,500 from the decade before. These figures probably reflect increased prosperity following the war years and the nationwide baby boom. By 1969 the number of people in the village had grown to 11,500.

Children grow up leave home; developers run out of land. The 1990 census recorded 8,500 residents, comprising 3,310 households, living on 3.85 square miles of land that includes parks, beaches, three golf courses and two commercial districts.

If Anson Taylor were to pass through town today, he probably would keep on going in search of wide-open spaces. Dr. Hammond, on the other hand, would be astonished at a reality that surpasses his most grandiose dreams.

In the '60s and early '70s, Glencoe ranked third in the nation in median family income for communities of its size. In 1990, the median family income, $125,306, placed the village second in Illinois, seventh in the nation for its size.

More than wealth has contributed to the village's prestige. Poets, statesmen, skating champions, generals and captains of industry have either grown up in Glencoe or chosen it as their home.

The most famous Glencoe resident is the late Pulitzer Prize-winning poet, dramatist, Harvard professor and former Librarian of Congress, Archibald MacLeish, who graduated from the Glencoe school in 1907.

Film actors Bruce Dern and Lili Taylor grew up in Glencoe, as did TV star Fred Savage. Silent screen idol John Barrymore once spent the summer here. Television is represented by Chicago anchorman Walter Jacobson and ABC correspondent Ann Compton, who both spent their childhoods in Glencoe, and longtime resident Newton Minow, attorney, author and former chairman of the Federal Communications Commission.

Earle Hoover, of vacuum cleaner fame, chose Glencoe for his home as did advertising giant Leo Burnett and former Chicago Bears quarterback Mike Tomczak. August Zeising, president of American Bridge Co., later a division of U.S. Steel, lived in Glencoe for more than 50 years and contributed the land where Kalk Park now stands. The senior Paepkes of Container Corp. lived here in the summer. Their son, Walter, and his wife, Elizabeth, moved to Aspen, Colorado, to set up the music festival there. The Keatings of Ekco pots and pans lived in Glencoe, as did Judge James Wilkerson, the man who put Al Capone away, and Melville Stone, founder of the Chicago Daily News.

From early pioneers to the movers and shakers of today, Glencoe seems a pretty good place to come from or be going to.

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