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Many years before the Pottawatomie Indian tribe came down from the Green Bay territory and took possession of the beautiful country now known as Lake County, Illinois there is evidence the land had been inhabited by another species of man known as Mound Builders.
It is believed the Pottawatomie tribe came to this area for the first time when they accompanied Father Marquette on his journey southward from Green Bay, by canoe, along the western shore of Lake Michigan. The time is supposed to have been 1674. Marquette and his Indian escort presumably made a landing near the present site of Waukegan, during a dense fog. From there they went south on foot. It can be safely claimed that Father Marquette was the first white man to set foot on Lake County soil.
Later LaSalle and Joliet - and perhaps other explorers - passed through Lake County at long intervals. The country was in possession of the Pottawatomie Indians from the time of their invasion of the unexcelled hunting and fishing territory until the coming of the white settlers, of whom a small number arrived in the early 1830's.
What is now Lake County was separated from McHenry County in 1839. It received the name Lake County as it was the west shore of Lake Michigan, and also because of the many lakes within its boundaries.
The United States government completed the survey of land in 1840. Land sold for $1.25 per acre.
For voting purposes Lake County was divided into precincts. This area was called Mill Creek Precinct, with the voting place at the Pearson home about one and a half miles east of the present location of Millburn.
Townships were organized in 1849.
Early settlers had stories to tell of the reluctance of the Indians to give up the land of plenty which they had enjoyed for so many years. Fish and game, the chief articles of food, were abundant here.
It is evident there were primitive villages along the streams and on the shores of lakes, as arrowheads, stone axes, and other trinkets come to the surface with the tilling of the soil.
There were many tales told of Indians coming to cabins of the early settlers to beg for food. Old Indian trails were in evidence for many years.
Millburn is located in Lake County, Illinois approximately five miles south of the Wisconsin state line. U.S. Route #45 bisects the little village, the eastern side being in Newport Township and Lake Villa Township is on the western side. (map available)
Following the panic of 1837, when thousands of workmen were suddenly thrown out of employment in the factories and mills Of New England, there was a great westward movement to the rich prairie lands of the west, where they might begin life anew and make a living for their families.
In 1838 and 1839 they came, by covered wagons drawn by oxen, or horses, or by boat by way of the Erie Canal and the Great Lakes to South Port (now Kenosha), and settled in the woodlands of southern Wisconsin and northern Lake County, Illinois. Some of these immigrants from New England knew little about pioneer life or farming, and so they suffered many hardships. Others had been farmers and brought with them their farming tools and oxen. With these pioneers came the merchants, the school master, and the preacher.
About this same time the great emigration from Europe to United States had begun. The long trip westward was always filled with hope, but far from easy. Crossing the Atlantic Ocean in those days was a long and dangerous voyage in a sail boat, or schooner, requiring six to eight weeks. Then came the long overland journey to the land of promise.
The Scottish immigrants, hearing of the rich lands of the west from friends or relatives already settled here, came and made their claims for land along a flowing stream which would furnish water for the stock, and power to turn the wheels of grist and saw mills. Many springs were found close by which would guarantee a supply of fresh water.
Among the first to come to this area was the Strang family, who had emigrated to Canada from Scotland in 1834. Three sons, Robert, George, and Peter came to Illinois by way of Detroit, walking to Joliet, where they obtained work on the canal.
In 1838 these three young men arrived in Lake County in the region west and north of Little Fort. Liking what they found there, they made claim to some land. A year later the parents, another son, John, and four daughters came to join them. Here the family laid claim to some 400-500 acres in the area of the present Village of Millburn. (Sometimes referred to as Strang's Corners). Those early days were busy days. The land had to be cleared in order to plant crops and logs sawed to build dwellings and barns. The rolling wooded countryside along a flowing stream reminded them of their homeland. There a small stream is called a "burn". Since saw and grist mills were being established along the steam it was referred to as the "mill burn", hence the name Millburn was given to the little settlement thus begun. Credit goes to George Trotter, who came from Scotland in 1839, for the name. Previously it had been called Strang's Settlement or Strang's Corners.
The first homes were constructed of logs and there were a few mud houses. Not until about 1845 did frame houses with siding appear.
Hand hewn oak timbers were used in the construction of the buildings. Many of these timbers are in existence in the older houses and barns today.
Tilling the land was the main means of support for the early settlers, although some were skilled as carpenters, stone masons or blacksmiths. They helped with the construction of many of the homes.
Almost all the food was produced on the land. At first long trips had to be made to Chicago, or to Little Fort (Waukegan), for needed supplies not available on the farm. Usually these trips were made by horses and wagon, but on some occasions people went on foot.
Later supplies of surplus eggs and butter were taken to a nearby store to be traded for cotton goods, dishes, lamps, kerosene, and staple groceries.
In time, some farmers acquired larger herds of cattle and made butter for market. This meant churning every day. Some made the chore a little easier by obtaining a dog tread power to operate the churn. One such convenience was used on the Jake Strang family farm.
The search for a mill site on unclaimed land caused Jacob Miller, a native Virginian, to make his way northward from Chicago following the west banks of the Des Plaines River.
He arrived at a point where a small stream joined the river. He laid claim to some land along the little stream a mile or so above where it empties into the river.
There he built a saw mill in 1835. The next year (1836) he built a grist mill. For some years both these mills did a prosperous business, being patronized by settlers from many miles around. The Miller dwelling was built in Newport Township Section 33. Mr. Miller is given credit for naming the stream Mill Creek. A historical marker was erected where the mills were located.
Jacob Miller left the area to go to the gold fields in California. He died there in the fall of 1849. When he left Asa Winter took over the operation of the mills and continued to do so for many years.
These mills were on the farm formerly owned by James Simpson.
Two mills were built on the south branch of Mill creek in Warren Township. One was a saw mill located on the south side of Grand Avenue, east of Route 45, in Section 18. It is said to have been built by Nathaniel Vose, later became the property of Estys.
The other was a flour mill built in 1847 in the northwest quarter of Section 8, Warren Township. Both these mills were owned by Moses Esty and his brother. They were operated for several years, doing a good local business.
The flour mill was on the south side of Stearns School Road, east of Hutchins Road a short distance, on what is now the E. E. Elsbury farm.
Another saw mill, with grist mill in connection with it, on the north branch of Mill Creek in Section 30, Newport Township, was owned and managed for many years by John Thain and his sons. Logs were sawed into lumber and in the grist mill oat meal was made and barley was hulled. These mills were in operation until about 1895.
The Thain farm was about a mile north and east of Millburn.
The founders of the settlement along the "burn" were builders of more than houses and barns. They had come to build a community - under God. They sought security from want, freedom from their old state as tenants, land which could be their own and their children's. These things they sought as children of God. In this new community there would be a church.
In 1840 a log cabin was erected near the John Strang home which served as a house of worship and a school for a few years. The form of government for the church was that of the New England Congregational Church. In 1847, a meeting house was constructed on land donated by George Strang (where present church is located). This served the parish well until after the Civil War when in 1867 a white frame building with steeple and belfry was erected. It was destroyed by fire, January 12, 1935. It was replaced by the present brick structure, dedicated June 6, 1937.
In 1968 an educational building was added to better serve the needs of the growing church.
Thirty pastors have served the church, three of them a combined number of sixty-three years. "Father" Dodge 18 years, the Rev. A. H. Safford 14 years, and the Rev. L. H. Messersmith 31 years.
One by one homes were built in the little settlement, all on land purchased from the Strangs (either Robert, George, or "Jake") The lots were not uniform in size. Each buyer paced off the amount of ground desired to build a house, and perhaps a barn if he had a horse, and space for a garden. Wooden sidewalks were laid (later to be replaced by concrete walks). Plank sidewalks extended as far north as the parsonage, and east to the cemetery. Most homes, the church, and the store had horse blocks out in front for the convenience of those who came by horse and buggy. Post lamps (kerosene burning) were in use at both corners and were tended nightly by some of the villagers.
And so the little village grew and prospered. There were four stores, two doctors, a cobbler shop, carpenter shops, two blacksmith shops, a creamery, and an undertaker. The latter, Mr. John H. Hughes, was also a cabinet maker and made the coffins. One could be made to order in advance, if anyone so desired. Articles of furniture made by Mr. Hughes, may be found in many homes here at the present time. Later Mr. William White served the community as undertaker. Much of the social life centered around the church, where there were ice cream socials, strawberry festivals, oyster suppers, and lectures. There was also the Hughes Hall (SE. corner of Millburn Road and Hwy 45) where entertainment, social gatherings, and meetings were held. The Modern Woodmen, the Foresters, and the Masons used the hall as their meeting place. Later the hall was taken down and removed to Lake Villa.
Premiums were given on live stock, grain, household stores, sewing, and fancy work. Some of the old "Diploma Premiums" are still treasured in the community. People from miles around attended these fairs.
It has been said that "Plowing Matches", common in Scotland, were one of the attractions of the fair.
Pioneers who promoted these fairs were Robert Strang, George Strang, Peter Stewart, Joshua Wedge, Richard Pantall, George Smith, John K. Pollock and William Bonner.
Previous to this, as early as 1847, there is a record that members of "The Sewing Circle" exhibited handwork at the fairs in Little Fort (now Waukegan), and had sold some articles to add funds to the treasury of the organization.
The turn of the century brought many changes to Millburn. With the closing of the creamery, farmers turned their attention to producing whole milk for the city market. Milk was taken in eight or ten gallon cans by team and wagon to the "milk train" on either the Chicago, Milwaukee, and St. Paul Railroad at Wadsworth, or to stops on the Soo Line (Antioch).
Upon delivery in the city the milk was pasteurized and bottled ready to be delivered to customers. In later years, a large truck came to Millburn and picked up the milk which farmers brought in to the loading platform, and once again, between the morning hours of 7:30 and 9:00, the little village was a beehive of activity. Now bulk tank trucks pick up the milk at each farm.
With the coming of the rural delivery of mail people living in the surrounding countryside had little need to come to Millburn as regularly as before, and as the automobile became more common large towns were easily accessible.
Everything that affected the life of his people concerned "Father Dodge". On numerous occasions he had seen the smoke and flames that spread the news of a disastrous fire. In a few hours a farmstead was leveled, and years of saving and slaving were nullified. "Why not share one anothers losses" reasoned "Father Dodge", and so fulfill the law of love?
As a result, the Millburn Mutual Insurance Company was formed in 1855. It was organized March 12 of that year and operated without a charter until 1865, when it received a special charter under which it operates to-day. It has the distinction of being the oldest "mutual" company in Illinois.
The mail was brought out to Millburn Post Office from the train (Wadsworth). Before that mail had come from Waukegan to Millburn.
Soon after being established, the office was made a separate office, one serving Newport, Rosecrans, Hickory, Cypress (Pikeville), and Antioch, the other serving Millburn. This was a daily schedule.
June 15, 1904 Rural Routes were established. Wadsworth, Lake Villa, and Antioch rural routes serve the Millburn area in 1980.
Many of the early roads followed the Indian trails, and were on high ground, avoiding the sloughs and lowlands. Other roads were laid out on section lines. All were mud roads and were almost impassable in the spring of the year. In the winter when snow blocked the roads, people drove through the fields, to avoid the snow banks. As years passed most roads were covered with gravel or crushed rock which made travel much earlier.
In 1926 the north-south road bisecting Millburn was paved with concrete, making a big improvement, and bringing more traffic trough the village. It became a cross country highway, U.S. #45, extending from Lake Superior to the Gulf of Mexico.
Many of the secondary roads have been improved and surfaced with "black top".
About the month of June 1836 a stage line was laid out between Chicago and Milwaukee by the way of the new Milwaukee road. This road was for carrying passengers and mail.
This scheme was planned and worked out by Mr. Johnson who owned a hotel in Chicago called New York House. The first stage coach used was a common lumber wagon, but to make it look more like a real coach it was drawn by four horses.
William Lovejoy was the first stage driver. Before this time the mail had been carried between Chicago and Green Bay by a man on foot. It was by way of a trail along the lake shore.
Along Milwaukee and Green Bay roads taverns were built for the accommodation of travelers who were traveling between Chicago and Milwaukee. At these taverns were barns where horses were kept to exchange for the tired ones on the stage coaches.
Belvidere Street from Waukegan west through Warrenton to Grayslake and Volo was laid out as a toll road. It was known also as the Plank road part of it being covered with planks (between Waukegan and Grayslake) There were toll houses along its route one of these being on the Chard farm at Grayslake.
In 1850 Peter, George and "Jake" Strang undertook the long tedious journey to the gold fields in California. "Jake" was quite successful in the adventure and returned in 1852.
Preparations for work to begin on the new bridge were made in the fall of 1945. The last one to cross over on the old bridge was Carl Anderson with a tractor on the way to a field east of the creek. The road was closed to traffic November 23, 1945.
The first vehicles to use the new bridge were able to do so March 9, 1946.
It was a big improvement over the old bridge. Now there was ample room for two lanes of traffic.
In 1914, when he was 82 years old, Mr. Benjamin Franklin Shepherd of Warren Township wrote an article in which he described a July Fourth celebration in 1844. He was twelve years old when he took part in this patriotic festival.
In June 1844, word was sent to all the scattered settlers of Mill Creek Precinct, Lake County, Illinois, that there would be "a grand Fourth of July celebration and picnic dinner with fish chowder, everyone to meet at the confluence of Second and Third Lakes".
The day before the event, he with three other boys and some neighbors, went through the meadows and forest land to locate a picnic spot clear out the brush and set up the table. On the way they saw four deer and killed two rattlesnakes. Finally they saw the sun glimmering on the two adjoining lakes.
On the beach the boys found a log canoe, which would hold just two people at a time and they took turns going out into the water to catch all the fish needed to make chowder for one hundred people. Before they returned home, they anchored the string of fish in the water of the inlet between the lakes, so that they would keep fresh for the next day.
Mr. David Gilmore, known as an expert chowder cook in his Massachusetts home, was asked to prepare the chowder for this holiday dinner. On the morning of July Fourth he came with his oxcart to the Shepherd home to borrow their three-pail kettle, the largest in the vicinity, in which to cook the chowder.
When the Gilmores and the Shepherds reached the picnic grounds, Benjamin noticed that people were converging on the site from all directions. There were no roads nor fences to block their way. Long before they came in sight, the creaking of the oxcarts could be hard. Axle grease was scarce and used sparingly on the oxcarts, which were made from 8 - 10 inch slabs cut from White Oak logs.
Everyone helped with the work, except the boys who went swimming. Some went to get the fish from the inlet and others prepared the fire. The women set the table with their best light and dark blue crockery, which they had brought from their homes in the East. The tables were covered with bright colored cloths. They contributed their home made bread, butter, cheese, pies and seed cakes. The sugar for their baking was secured by trading eggs for it at one of the few stores in Little Fort.
Nat Vose, Marshall of the day, felt there could be no celebration without a parade; so after the dishes of hot, steaming fish chowder were placed on the table, everyone marched around the table to his place. Father William Dodge said grace as all people stood with bowed heads.
A platform for the speakers of the day was improvised by rolling out one of the log wagons under a large oak tree. This wagon was decorated with three or four small flags and one large flag, which measured six or eight feet in length. Some one called out "Three cheers for the Stars and Stripes"! Then a great cheer echoed through the forest and over the beautiful lake for the first time.
Then followed the program of the day. Father Dodge gave the prayer, Nat Dowst read the Declaration of Independence and his brother Sam delivered a talk. The Dowsts were young lawyers from Massachusetts, as were others at the picnic.
Time was given the boys to shoot off their hand-made noise makers, called "squibs". These were goose gulls filled with wet gunpowder and when touched with fire whizzed around. The children were delighted and thrilled.
A few shots were fired by the pioneers who always carried rifles, but they were careful not to waste the ammunition.
This Fourth of July of 1844 was both a social and patriotic celebration, long remembered by the pioneers who participated in the festivity.
There were a few who served in the Spanish American War.
In 1917, when the United States entered the war which had been raging in Europe for 3 years, once again Millburn became the patriotic center of the community. 11 young men answered the call to arms. The "gold star" on the service flag symbolized the sacrifice of William Cooke Pope.
52 young men and 2 women served in World War II and two, Daniel Bracken, and Donald McDonald, lost their lives in that conflict.
Millburn young men and women were also to be numbered among those in action in the Korean War and also in the present Viet Nam conflict.
During the war years women at home volunteered for many services: knitting, folding bandages, baking cakes and cookies, writing letters, and sending packages, and on occasion entertaining groups of servicemen in the homes.
There were others who worked in defense plants, or took over many other kinds of work to take the places of the men in service.
April 1, 1904 a tornado struck Millburn near the creamery destroying barns, unroofing buildings and sweeping all in its path. John Bonner had three chimneys blown down, damage amounted to about $400. John Chope had a barn completely destroyed. William Chope had barns unroofed, and where the roofs were not taken off entirely, the shingles were swept off clean.