Historical Anecdotes

As Will County's Oldest Community, Plainfield's history is rich in anecdotes.

History tells us that Reuben and Betsey Flagg were two of the oldest settlers in area.  Their daughter was the first settler child born in the county in 1830. Just as many families are doing now, the Flaggs decided that Plainfield or Walker's Grove, as it was named until its incorporation in 1834, was more suitable for living than Chicago.

However, the problems that plague Chicago residents today, urban congestion and traffic, were not the problems plaguing the Flaggs.   In 1830, swamps covered the City of Chicago and it appeared to be a very undesirable habitat for large populations.   Therefore, the Flaggs ventured onwards to Walker's Grove.

This did not stop Reuben Flagg from capitalizing on the Chicago population.  Flagg is attributed with delivering the city's first pork shipment, in 1831, to a group of Methodists.   The first frame home in Chicago was possible due because Flagg hauled the walnut timbers to build it.

Plainfield is also claimed to be the home of the very first ice cream sundae.  Story says that a Plainfield druggist created the novelty after the urgings of patrons to serve something different.  Topping some ice cream with syrup, he named it the "sonntag" after his surname.  Sonntag means Sunday in German, thus the ice cream sundae was born.

Plainfield's heritage has provided the community with a variety of nicknames:
"Will County's Oldest Community"
"The Mother of Chicago" - Chicago depended upon the Plainfield settlement for mail and supplies.
"Cradle of Methodism" - Fort Beggs cabin

Historical Highlights of Plainfield

Events in the early 1800s laid the foundation for Plainfield to be established as Will County's Oldest Community.   Long before the arrival of the earliest white settlers, a large community of Potawatomie Indians had settled in the dense woods and vast prairie along the banks of the DuPage River, where they hunted and fished.   The Potawatomie also built a village of semi-permanent structures and farmed small plots of land.   The earliest white men in the area were French fur traders, in the 1820s, such as Vetel Vermette and George Fouquier.   These traders plied their trade among the Indian communities throughout the region.   Although a few of these men erected simple log cabins and may have established small claims, none actually purchased any land.

The first permanent white settler was James Walker who was introduced to the area along the DuPage River by his father-in-law, Rev. Jesse Walker, a pioneer Methodist circuit rider.   The two Walkers traveled through the area, as early as 1826, on one of the many trips in which Rev. Walker evangelized the Potawatomie Indians.   Two years later, in 1828, James Walker returned in the company of several men to stake a claim and erect a sawmill around which the settlement of Walkers' Grove developed.   However, it was not until 1833 that the first government land sales occurred in what is, today, Will County.   The earliest land transactions were completed in Chicago.

The small community of Walkers' Grove flourished because of the DuPage River; established routes to Fort Dearborn (Chicago) and Ottawa; a good supply of virgin timber; and relationships established by Rev. Walker.   Lumber milled at James Walker's mill was hauled by Reuben Flagg to Chicago in order to erect the first two frame structures in the city.  Reuben Flagg and his wife, Betsey, were the parents of the first white child, Samantha, born within the present boundaries of Will County, in 1830.

During the Black Hawk War of 1832, settlers gathered at the home of Reverend Stephen Beggs for protection.   They tore down the barn and outbuildings to build a wall around the cabin, thus "Fort Beggs" was created.

In 1834, the southern portion of "Planefield," consisting of thirteen blocks, was laid out by Chester Ingersoll and predated the creation of Will County.   The new town, located northeast of the original settlement of Walkers' Grove, was given the name of Plainfield, referring--perhaps--to the flat expanse of verdant prairie stretching outward from the dense timberland along the DuPage River.   During the winter of 1835-36, Will County was separated from Cook County.

An inn and tavern were among the first businesses established on Main Street in the northern part of town; other businesses and industries were located around the intersection of Joliet Road and Commercial Street in the southern part of town.   The inn, erected in 1834, was known as "Halfway House" because of its midpoint location on the Chicago-Ottawa Road, a well-traveled stagecoach route.   The inn also served as a residence, the first government-franchised post office in the county, the site of Cook-Will County land grants, and militia headquarters prior to the Civil War.

Meanwhile, the community prospered and grew. Early industries, in 1834, included a cheese factory, grist mill, tile factory, wagon manufacturing facility - the John Bill Wagon Shop at 511 Des Plaines, and the Dillman foundry at the corner of Route 30 and Route 59.   Many fine, though simple, wood-framed residences were erected. Several congregations were formed and built beautiful houses of worship.   With the construction of the Illinois and Michigan Canal, Plainfield was bypassed by the rapid development occurring in nearby canal towns.   By the late 1840s, businesses and industries began building in the central part of the Village along the Lockport, Plainfield, and Yorkville Plank Road, a direct route to the canal docks at Lockport.   Another road of the 1851 era, the Oswego-Indiana Plank Road, was established through the heart of Plainfield's business district.   The road between Plainfield and Joliet was impassable because it was constructed of dirt, the Plank Road made travel possible.   In 1861, Plainfield College was founded.   The first graduating class was in 1866.   However, in 1869, it was moved, due to transportation problems, to Naperville and renamed North Central College.   The first town newspaper, The Echo, began in 1876, which was followed by The Enterprise in 1887, founded by U.S.G. Blakely.   On June 30, 1877, the north and south portions of the Village were incorporated under the general law of the State of Illinois.

The EJ&E Railroad (Elgin, Joliet, & Eastern Railway) was operational in 1886 and provided freight service and grain transportation for the thriving agricultural community.   In 1904, the Aurora, Plainfield, & Joliet Railway established a streetcar line with a popular, twenty-acre camping resort in Plainfield.   Known as Electric Park, the attraction included camping cabins, a large auditorium, a dance pavilion, restaurant, bowling alley, swimming, and boating along the banks of the DuPage River.   A baseball diamond with an enclosed grandstand and horse driving track were also included.   The park closed in 1923 when the streetcars were replaced by buses.  Plainfield was served by the Joliet, Plainfield, & Aurora Bus Line which began in 1924.

Plainfield's main thoroughfare, Lockport Street, was chosen as the route of the Lincoln Highway, which began in 1913. The road was the first paved, transcontinental highway and stretched from New York to San Francisco. Later, when U.S. Route 66 crossed the Lincoln Highway in the heart of the Village, Plainfield was at the intersection of the two longest highways in the world.

Prior to his famous solo transcontinental flight, Charles Lindbergh supervised the establishment of beacon guiding lights and emergency landing fields in the Plainfield area between 1922-24.   Another early aviator, Eddie Gardner, was born in Plainfield and was involved in the establishment of the first air mail routes.   In August 1923, Plainfield celebrated its Centennial by performing "The Prairie Schooner." While the Plainfield library was established in 1925.

By 1960, Plainfield had grown -- attracting many new residents, businesses, and industries.   Although it maintained its small town image, Plainfield was slowly transforming from a small, rural community to a modern suburb in the Chicago metropolitan area.   The local Park District was established in November of 1966.   In 1976, the Village celebrated it's bicentennial and a new Village Hall and Police Station were constructed along with other improvements throughout the Village.

On August 28, 1990, a devastating tornado struck the community resulting in the loss of life and property. Despite the destruction, the community mustered its' pride and strength, rebuilding better what it had lost.

Local Historic Sites

The community continues to build toward the future, while honoring its' past.  New businesses and residences are being interwoven into the existing fabric of the community.  The Village has designated several local landmarks and one historic district, the East Side Historic District.  Three buildings are listed on the National Register of Historic Places: the Plainfield/Halfway House at 24038 W. Main Street, the Flanders House at 24044 W. Main Street, and the former Standard Oil Station/Andreasen Travel Building at 15102 W. Lockport Street.

Plainfield Historical Society Museum and Depot

Looking for a glimpse of yesteryear?  Researching Plainfield’s past?  Step back in time with the Plainfield Historical Society…

The Plainfield Historical Society’s Main Street Museum features many artifacts and exhibits from Plainfield’s past.  Located near downtown Plainfield at 23836 West Main Street (Route 126, east of Route 59), the newly-renovated and updated Main Street Museum is open regularly and by appointment; please call (815) 436-4073 for hours.

The Historical Society also operates the restored EJ&E Depot #4 Museum, which is located in downtown Plainfield on Lockport Street at Wood Farm Road.  The Depot Museum is open to the public during special community events and by appointment.  Plan a visit today!  For information about the Plainfield Historical Society and its museums, please call (815) 436-4073.

Plainfield Historical References & Resources

A History of Plainfield "Then and Now."
Jesse Walker, Pioneer Preacher. Richard J. Crook. 1976.
Notes on the Early History of Plainfield, Illinois. Alice Graves Browne. October, 1926.
Plainfield: A Synopsis of Plainfield, Illinois.
Compiled and Authored by The Plainfield Area Chamber of Commerce. November, 1995.
The Plainfield Historical Society.
The Plainfield Public Library Local History Collection. 15025 S. Illinois Street.
Will County Winds of Fury. Herald News. August 28, 1990.