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Esther Foster's
History of Millburn

Editor's Notes:

The Story of a Landmark
Published in Commemoration of the
One Hundredth Anniversary of the
Founding, in 1856, of the
Millburn Corner Store

The Millburn "Corner Store," which stands today at the intersection of Route 45 and Wadsworth or Loon Lake Road, was built in 1856 of native Lake Villa brick by store keeper Robert Strang, who before that had farmed in this area and served as village postmaster.

Scottish pioneers known for their thrift and hospitality first settled Millburn more than twenty years before the Civil War. They called it commonly Strang's Corners or Strang's Neighborhood in honor of the best known family of pioneers.

In 1838 and 1839 log dwellings began to rise along Mill creek or "burn," which flows through the community a short way east of the main crossroads. Soon after, dotting the creek bank, emerged the saw and grist mills from which the village of Millburn took its permanent name.

The money panic of 1837 is generally blamed for thrusting many of these early settlers from comfortable New England homes and turning their course westward, where in spite of dangers and uncertainties they sought a better life.

New lands were opening along a frontier reaching southward from the Great Lakes and embracing the Wisconsin Territory and the State of Illinois. Westward came the pioneers by covered wagon over the Alleghenies and Cumberland Road, or following the water route they reached the lakes via the Erie Canal.

Not all the pioneers followed these routes or even started from New England. Notable exceptions were the Strangs, who came from Canada. John Strang and his wife and four sons and four daughters migrated to Millburn from Chatham, where in 1835, recently arrived from Scotland, they had cleared a forty acre homestead in the wilderness.

After two years a revolt in Canada forced John Strang's three oldest sons to choose between military service and leaving their adopted land. Records indicate that these three, Robert, George and Peter, signified their preference by crossing into the United States at Detroit. Then, because they had no money, the brothers walked to Joliet where they found work on the Illinois and Michigan Canal.

Family histories assert that John, the father, had lost his savings through shipwreck in the years before he decided to emigrate to Canada and become a farmer. According to the best accounts the mariner was rescued by a passing vessel which in turn was commandeered by Admiral Lord Nelson, who pressed Strang into service until after the battle of Arbuckle, Egypt. More imaginative versions even relate that Nelson, mortally wounded at Trafalgar, perished with his head in the Scotsman's lap.

Whatever the case, the boys in 1838 located a claim to a tract of land in Lake County, which included the site of the present village of Millburn.

The following year the father came from Canada and settled on this claim, bringing with him his wife, Margaret Clellan Strang, a fourth son John, aged eleven, and the four girls, Margaret, Jane, Janet and Susan Strang.

A dwelling was erected and the family tilled fields that had been vacated by the Indians only a few years before. In due time they were joined by Robert, George and Peter and in 1841 the father purchased the 160 acre tract through the government land office in Chicago. Title to this land in 1844 was transferred to Robert Strang at $1.25 an acre, the price paid by his father, John.

Meanwhile Robert built his own log cabin, which for years stood near the site of this store. Late in 1845 Robert returned to Scotland and at Dumblane, Perthshire, January 19, 1846, he married Jessie Montieth. Soon after, the young couple made their way to America and set up housekeeping here.

The Robert Strang cabin, centrally located, also doubled as the village house of worship, meeting hall and school.

Like the other members of his family, Robert Strang concentrated on farming the Lake County, Illinois homestead until 1856.

This was an important year for Millburn, for it was then that he erected at the Millburn crossroads the two story brick store building that has become a historic landmark.

Strang did not forsake the farm but constantly improved it. But from 1856 he added to his growing responsibilities in Millburn the duties of store keeper.

For 18 years the founder of Millburn's first store carried on this enterprise, which subsequently passed through many hands, and was a leader in the life of the community. Millburn residents, gathered in the store from time to time, retold the village anecdotes and passed along its news to fellow patrons here.

In those days Millburn farmers usually drew against fall crops for goods received beforehand, or brought in eggs and butter to be traded for clothing, dishes, lamps, cotton goods and other articles sold in the store.

In 1866 John Strang, the father, died and went to join his Scottish bride of half a century before in Millburn cemetery.

Changes had succeeded one another in the homestead of the Robert Strangs. A frame house first replaced the log house. Afterward the frame house likewise passed out of existence, being cut in half, one of the halves providing shelter for somebody down the north-south highway, now Route 45, who bought and moved it; and the other taken right across the road and made a storage lean-to for shoemaker Richard Pantall.

After some years, John M. Strang, the Robert Strangs' son, erected the brick house which still adjoins the store building.

Standing by itself west of this combination building is a duplex brick home which was used as a retirement residence by Robert Strang and family after 1874, the year the pioneer Millburn merchant turned the store over to the same son, John.

Of thirteen children born to Robert Strang and his wife, only six survived to maturity: Robert, Jessie, Charlotte, Mary, Eliza and John.

An interesting episode in the Strang family's life in Millburn was the California Gold Rush. In 1850 Peter, John and George Strang, Robert's brothers, undertook the long and tedious journey to the gold fields by way of the Isthmus of Panama. They were gone two years.

The youngest brother, John, more often called Jake, panned the most gold and returned to Millburn in his middle twenties a person of affluence. He married Helen Trotter in the first month of 1853, bought a farm fringing the creek where Wadsworth Road intersects it, and built the red brick residence which stands beside the stream in nineteenth century magnificence today.

Though the old home's dignity and beauty escape few visitors, a memory it brings to Millburn minds is that of John's wife Helen or Aunt Helen as the village children knew her, who for half a century taught the infant class in Millburn Sunday school.

The John Strang home remains another landmark in this village geographically bisected by the Newport-Lake Villa township dividing line.

Church life in Millburn flourished as a force less seen than felt. The Millburn Congregational Church became from early days a moving influence upon the people, whose religious upbringings were generously diversified.

The early church society installed in Strang's log cabin met under the guidance of the Rev. Flavel Bascom, representative of the Chicago office of the Congregational Home Missionary wing. Seven men and seven women worshippers composed this first religious rallying of pioneers.

Their names are memorable in Millburn. William and Eliza Abbott, Mark Jr. and Harriett Pittman, Merrill and Lydia Pearson, Robert and Elizabeth Pollock, George and Jane Trotter; Samuel M. Dowst, Mary Thayer, Alexander Kennedy and Abigail Barry were the couples and individuals comprising the original society.

In 1847 a new building dedicated to divine worship opened its doors to the communicants, but ere then had begun the era of a vigorous and venerated leader, Rev. William Bradford Dodge.

This pastor was as stout a slavery reformer as he was a preacher of the Gospel in those pre-emancipation days.

Rumors became common that the minister's home and probably the church too, like the nearby cabins of the Blanchards, Coons and Heydeckers, were stations on the "underground railroad" that carried fugitive slaves to Canada and freedom in those hectic nights before the slavery issue burst forth into war.

The drastic Fugitive Slave Law made it virtually impossible for a free Negro to prove his free status when captured, and the lot of a runaway slave was even worse. The "railroad" or escape route was at times merely a foot race, and at others, anything from a farm wagon to a simulated funeral procession.

To his credit, "Father Dodge" discerned the pillar of smoke by day and of fire by night that spread the news of unexpected tragedy in Millburn. He saw farm houses levelled by inexorable flames, and reasoned, "Why should we not share each others' losses and so fulfill the law of love?"

As a result the Millburn Mutual Fire Insurance Company was formed in 1855. This agency was organized on March 12 that year and operated without a charter until February 16, 1865, when it received a special charter under which it operates today.

The Millburn church from 1867 occupied a handsomer frame structure which accommodated an increasing congregation and was further modernized after another twenty years.

This building's life was lengthy and not altogether solemn, for one Halloween a celebrant robbed John Strang's buggy of a wheel and hung it on the steeple. How he did it, no one knew as Strang, the victim, was obliged to hire a steeple jack to bring the buggy wheel down.

Fire consumed this last frame church in the winter of 1935. Since those days Millburn's church has occupied its present modern and substantial brick home, which, acquired as a gift, was literally transplanted, furnishings and all, from its former site in Oak Park, near Chicago.

As the church elders recalled in 1940, when the local congregation observed its centennial:
"Not a coffee pot or dish or chair was left behind."

Meanwhile much historic interest eventually attached itself to Millburn's "lodge hall."

Several fraternal organizations flourished during early years in Millburn but only one, the Masonic Lodge of Millburn, has served the village continually for more than a century.

It met in early years in John Hughes Hall, located on the southeast corner of the intersection of Route 45 and Wadsworth Road.

Hughes Hall was used alternately by the Modern Woodmen, Foresters and Masons and enjoyed use as a village theater where local talent brought out plays. It ultimately was dismembered and removed to neighboring Lake Villa.

Afterward the William Strang store, which stood at the same location as the present modern meeting hall, was purchased. This site, acquired in 1888 for $850, served as the Masonic meeting place until the present home was built in 1955.

Early records show that the first communication of local Masonry was held by special dispensation from the Grand Lodge June 8, 1853, at nearby Antioch. The communications were called on the first Thursday preceding the full moon, initiation fees being one dollar and dues seventy-five cents annually, payable in two installments.

A charter was granted October 3, 1853 and the first communication under the charter was convoked October 13, the place being Antioch. In 1869 the Grand Lodge approved the request of Millburn Masons that their village be approved as the permanent location of the lodge.

It was on the fourth day of September, 1892, that Masons living in Antioch formed their own separate organization, thereafter known as Sequoit Lodge No. 827. And finally, on October 9, 1940, the local lodge chapter was granted authorization to change its name from Antioch Lodge to Millburn Lodge.

The new, modern lodge home built in 1955 was dedicated the year after, and should serve for many years to come.

Prominent in Millburn life since nineteenth century days was the store originally operated as an adjunct to his cobblers shop by shoemaker Richard Pantall. It stands opposite the Millburn Corner Store on Route 45.

Edward Martin, an authoritative figure in the village, came to Millburn at the age of fourteen and made his home with Mr. and Mrs. Pantall. For twenty years he helped in the store and on Pantall's retirement, purchased it. Since then he has operated "Martin's General Store" for nearly half a century.

In 1908 Martin married Eva Kennedy Taylor, daughter of [George] Kennedy, early settler living here since 1837, and they moved into their present home.

Martin remembers busier days in Millburn, when the village had four stores, besides doctors, a dentist, a real estate dealer, tailor, lawyer, three carpenters, two barbers, the shoe shop, a tinsmith, half a dozen mills, a milk and butter refinery and an undertaker.

The latter would build you a coffin in advance of death, on order, and offered several choices of wood.

A well remembered enterprise was Sammy Smith's store, which together with the larger portion of the combination residence and shop, remains conspicuous in Millburn.

Valued too are the community's old timers with their various historic tales, such as George Martin, Owney Hollenbeck and John Clark, who, born in a log house not far from the village crossroads, relates that his father barred the cabin windows to keep out intruders, among whom were curious Indian squaws

It is worth remembering that Robert Strang was Millburn's first postmaster, serving from 1848 to 1856. William Fullon, John Thayer and Sammy Smith next held the office of postmaster in that order. Richard Pantall assumed office in 1864 and continued until the discontinuance of Millburn Post Office in 1904.

His long service set a record unequaled in Lake County. Letters which arrived in Millburn in earliest times brought outside news to many Millburn farmers, such as Robert, John and James Bonner, Enoch Barthelmew, James and George Dodge, David Minto, James Murrie, John Minto, John and James Pollock, Daniel Sheehan, Rufus Thayer and George Strang. Also receiving mail here were T. Towers, David, Robert, Andrew and William White, Dennis and David Welch and Alex and William Watson.

James and Thomas McCann, C. A. Matthews, Edward McGovern, William McCann, J. P. Thayer, Mac McGuire, David Murrie, J. L. Thain, John Bain, J. W. Humphrey, Anson and Charles Hastings, John Hughes, John, George and William Kerr, Harrison Jones, George R. Smith, Robert Smart, James Welch, Alexander Trotter, William Thayer and George Stewart were other pre-war Millburn people getting mail. Charles E. Denman frequently got mail here, too.

An old account book kept for credit customers of Robert Strang in 1866, which has survived from Civil War days, is one of the Millburn Store's most poignant records of the past.

In the well worn ledger are the following names:

John McCrady, James Adams, William Ames, Thomas Garrett, John Hackaday, Henry Humphrey, Peter McCredie, Joshua Lewis, George Murray, Michael Slavin, William Browe, Louis Gonyo, Jacob Specht and John White. Also, William Ladds, William Buffham, James Jamieson, William Bonner and David White.

Alfred Browe, William Berry, John Pollock, Sarah Strock, Thomas Chope, Gabriel Odette, Jacob Drum, Ben Garner, Mrs. Bensinger, Fred Crawford, George Paddock, Dan Smith, Lewis Paddock, John Bain, O. K. Huntley, Maggie Sage, Anse Hastings, Margaret White, John Crosby, William Batty, Louis Turk, Matt Louis, Edward Hearn, Al Morehous, James Parks, Thomas Ryan and Horatio Berry.

Miles Carney, Isaac Winter, Modest Mitchler, Joshua Wedge, Peter Wright, A. Watson, Lester Runnels, D. M. Erskine, James McCann, Martin Sessler, Dan Poke, James Anderson, William Kennedy, Elamere Arno, Hiram Wright and Henry Taylor.

James Bater, P. S. Winter, Joseph Savage, Gideon Thayer, Xavier Henkel, John Swindle, Mr. Sheldon, Jacob Miller, Abdem Burdick, David Van Patten, Lewis Simons, Caron Andrews, John Strock, Ezra Walker, Jonathan Ames, John Mallen, Joseph Swere, Thomas Taylor, James Britton and Coles Ely.

John Manamon, Arthur Quigley, Otis Dewey, Mrs. Botsford, Mr. Shatswell, John McCann, George Strang, James Parker, Pat O'Grady, John Geary, James Hunt, William Kerr, Thomas Strang, James Kelly, James Welch, James Kennedy, William Farnan, Peter Strang, Joseph Conrad, James Thain, Margaret King, Parnell Thayer, Gilbert Frazer, Thomas Cheep, A. P. Bright, Joseph Bassler, G. M. Hastings, C. Heydecker, Father Noonan and Peter McKenna.

John Hughes, James Oliver, Peter Wright, Adeline Mires, James Youl, Peter Stewart, John Quigley, John Minto, Fred Van Patten, James Gleason, Elija Bisby, Joseph Sivers, William King, Alsy Little, G. S. Smith, Basil Tereshinski, John Arno, Nanny McClallen, George Savage, W. M. Thoms, Frank Mires, Sarah White, John Spafford, Joseph Roth and Peter Waterbury.

Dockerly, Spiser, Lane, Hanlon, McCafferty, Brogan, Sells, Devlin, Douglas, Tucker, McCarty, Lagren, Wilton, Resendorph, Corser, Neel, Bail, Roger Burk, Gerry, Seidler, Dagon, Judd, Walling, Havelin, and McGuire were other surnames.

Many later holders of these well remembered Millburn names have faded from the scene. Theirs is a well earned rest, and their renown has joined old village anecdotes in limbo.

Perhaps they will always remain legendary, not unlike the now forgotten visit here of another pioneer, one Mr. Buck, from nearby Pikeville. Buck came by team and bob sled to attend a Millburn meeting, the occasion being Halloween.

Imagine Mr. Buck's distress when, on returning to his equipment, he found that local pranksters had substituted a cow, all harnessed and blanketed, for one of his steeds.

The enraged visitor discovered his missing horse stabled not far away, but according to the legend, never returned to Millburn--at least not on Halloween--again.

Old buildings grow on one. The Millburn Corner Store with its long history began to grow on James and Esther E. Foster soon after they purchased it in 1949. What stories it could tell, if buildings could talk! They cannot unfortunately, but it developed that old records and old settlers could. From them and other sources came the contents of this book.

The Millburn Corner Store has started on its second century. In preparing this historic sketch the Fosters were helped by older Millburn residents who furnished notes and recollections. Thanks are also extended to the Millburn Church for the use of engravings and records, and to Charles A. Hunt, who wrote the finished record.