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May, 1978

from the pages of the News-Sun 31 May 1978
'The town that never happened'
by Jack Hayward, News-Sun Correspondent
Its originators had no way of knowing it 140 years ago, but tiny Millburn in north Lake County may become a very historic place.
On June 17, the unincorporated hamlet with a population of 65, located at Grass Lake Road, Rte. 45, and Millburn Road, will be considered for the National Register of Historic Places.
If its nomination is accepted, Millburn would become the second small historic district in the United States. The National Register defines districts as being large or small.
The recent acceptance of a section of Waukegan containing more than 400 structures is considered a large district. The Millburn Historic District would involve 18 structures.
A listing in the National Register can bring monetary assistance for rehabilitation and upkeep of a historic site through tax breaks, grants and loans.
Tempel Smith, a steel magnate who owns 8,000 acres in Lake County and three of the most historic buildings in Millburn, also reportedly has indicated a willingness to restore some of the homes.
But Dorothy Fettinger, a Millburn area realtor, and Ruth White, a resident, said financial assistance isn't the town's incentive to become a historic district. They said preservation of the village is most important.
"Being an unincorporated area we need protection for our property," Fettinger said. "If a house should burn 50 per cent, it can't be rebuilt because of county standards.
Many of Millburn's structures, dating back as far as 1857, no longer conform to Lake County building standards, White explained. If more than 50 percent of a structure is destroyed, the replacement must be in line with the present county guidlines for zoning and housing. "None of the buildings would comply because of zoning restrictions," White added.
Altering present sites to conform to county standards would decrease their historical significance, both women contend. The significance of a site is determined by its historical and structural aspects, Fettinger said.
Lane Kendig, director of the Lake County planning, said Millburn could become a historic district of the county but that Millburn residents voted it down at one of its town meetings.
Millburn, although unincorporated, has a town meeting once or twice a year. "We were to have set meetings every three months but why have a meeting when there's nothing to talk about?" Fettinger said.
Fettinger said the consensus at the meeting was that the town didn't want to give the county board any more power over it than it already has.
According to Fettinger, the idea to turn the community into a historic site, came in late 1976. "It was all a result of our Bicentennial committee," she said. "We decided to try to preserve our heritage and our little community as it is."
But it wasn't until March of this year that Fettinger met Robert Wagner, a consultant to the Illinois Department of Conservation and a specialist on historic sites. Wagner reduced the historic district to the present 18 structures leaving out some that had too much land between them and the rest of the district.
Wagner prepared a nomination for the Illinois Historic Sites Advisory Council after being provided histories by Beatrice Anderson, a long time Millburn resident.
Although being in the National Register can't stop demolition of a structure if its owners choose to do so, the designation would make it more difficult. "It would give them (owners) assurance that someone else feels their building is significant, even if they may not feel that way themselves," she said. "It gives them a sense of pride.
from the pages of the News-Sun 31 May 1978
Hamlet eyed for Historic Register
If there's anything most motorists notice about Millurn as they zip by on Rte. 45, it's its size. Dark sunglases and a heavy foot on the gas may mean never seeing it at all.
But that same small village nestled around Grass lake Road, Rte. 45 and Millburn Road may take on national significance soon.
The process has already started. On June 17 Robert Wagner, a consultant to the Illinois Department of Conservation, will give a presentation on Millburn at Northern Illinois University in DeKalb and recommend that the Illinois Historic Site Advisory Council recommend the area for the National Register of Historic Places.
If the advisory council agrees that Millburn is significant, it will urge its director to nominate the community for the National Register in Washington, D.C.
Then, according to Keith A. Sculle of the division of historic sites, the National Register office will take up to six months to decide whether or not to accept Millburn. Sculle and Wagner both predict Millburn will be accepted as a national historic district.
"We've got a good track record," Sculle said. "A high percentage of our nominations are accepted."
"Millburn is the germ of a town that never happened," Wagner said. The nomination application says: "There are a few (towns) in which the original settlement has not yet progressed much beyond the scale of a small town. Millburn, however, is one of the very, very few in which the incipient town was arrested in its first stage and preserved until the present.
Wagner said he knows of only one other place that can be compare to Millburn: the village of Wayne in DuPage County.
Most of the buildings in Millburn originated between 1840 and 1910, according to Ruth White, a Millburn resident. "We've only had six newer homes since then," she said "It makes a difference. There aren't too many communities that can say that."
During its 140-year history Millburn has had its own hat shop, pharmacy, general stores, wagon shop, blacksmith shop and creamery, according to White. The only businesses now are two antique shops.
Millburn's origin dates back to 1837 when Scottish brothers visited the area after leaving Canada in search of work. Later, they were joined by relatives and other Scots.
Among other businesses developed were six saw and grist (ground meal) mills along a nearby creek. The Scottish word for creek is "burn," according to local historian Beatrice Anderson. Hence the name: Millburn.
The fact that very few buildings were added to Millburn since its origin makes it especially important, Wagner believes. "While the nature of Millburn as a living remnant of the earliest type of settlement within Northeastern Illinois may be its single point of great significance, the architectural significance of some individual buildings should not be overlooked," the report to the National Register states.
According to Wagner, at least 10 of the buildings in Millburn are architecturally important in the context of a rural settlement. Of these 10, four could be considered of "high significance" in almost any setting, he said.
The four are: The John ("Jake") Strang house, 18750 Millburn Road (apart from the rest of the district); the Robert Strang store; the John M. Strang residence at the northwest corner of Grass Lake Road and Rte. 45, the Robert Strang house on the north side of Grass Lake Road, and the Pantall-Martin store (also known as the general store) on the east side of Rte. 45, north of Millburn Road.
White said that none of the descendants of Millburn's founders still live in Millburn.
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