“Suburban Profile: Downers Grove, Illinois” by S.M. O’Connor

Located twenty-one miles west of the Chicago Loop, Downers Grove is a large suburb (in west suburban DuPage County) with certain elements of a (small) city.[1]  It has a real downtown, three Metra stops, two high schools, Midwestern University, The Avery Coonley School (A.C.S.) for gifted students, and Advocate Good Samaritan Hospital.  Gradually, it evolved into a railroad commuter suburb like La Grange and Lombard, but it began as a farm town and is only a few decades younger than Chicago, if one counts from when the first permanent settlers arrived in what is now Chicago rather than from incorporation.  Downers Grove is probably best known outside Chicagoland as the hometown of model-turned actress-turned “reality” TV star Denise Richards.  It should be better known as the hometown of three hockey players: Tony and Cammi Granato (former N.H.L. player and Colorado Avalanche head coach Tony Granato and his younger sister, Cammi Granato, who was captain of the American women’s hockey team that won the gold medal at the 1998 Winter Olympics) and former N.H.L. player Matt S. Jones. It is also the hometown of comedian Emo Philips.  The most historically significant resident of Downers Grove, however, is unquestionably Major-General Arthur Charles Ducat, Sr. (1830-1896).

A Scotch-Irish immigrant, General Ducat helped professionalize the Chicago Fire Department, served as Inspector General of the Army of the Cumberland during the American Civil War, and was the first commander of the Illinois National Guard.  Born in Dublin County, Ireland, he arrived in Illinois in 1852 and supported himself before the Civil War as a civil engineer and insurance agent.  In February of 1864, Ducat resigned to recover his health and returned to Chicago, where he resumed his antebellum roles in insurance and fire-fighting.  He represented the Home Insurance Company of New York.  It was Ducat who called for William Le Baron Jenney (1832-1907) to design the ten-story Home Insurance Building in downtown Chicago, a brick-clad building with a steel skeleton that became the first skyscraper.  The two men had met during the war, while Jenney was designing a fort at Cairo Point, Illinois, as Jenney recounted in a letter in 1897.  Ducat was one of the founders of the Illinois National Guard.  On April 7, 1875, Governor John Lourie Beveridge appointed Ducat commander of the Illinois Militia with the rank of brigadier general.  On May 18, 1877, Governor Shelby M. Cullom appointed him first commander of the newly-created Illinois National Guard with the rank of major-general, a position he resigned in 1879.  Ducat, who owned vacation homes in the resort community of Lake Geneva, Wisconsin, founded the yacht club there.  He was a member of the Society of the Army of the Cumberland and the Grand Army of the Republic.  Ducat created the Lindenwald estate in western Downers Grove.  [Presumably, he named it after President Martin van Buren’s Lindenwald estate.] This began with an investment with a group of friends in the Linden Heights Association, which purchased 800 acres of farmland and woodland, but he ultimately bought out his partners and turned the property into an estate.[2]

Bret Easton Ellis adapted Michael Hornburg’s 1999 Bildungsroman (coming-of-age novel)-cum-horror novel Downers Grove as a screenplay. Chicago Sun-Times columnist Bill Zwecker reported on November 9, 2012 that the town would not directly benefit from the production, which would star Hayden Panettiere (from Heroes) and Nikki Reed (from Twilight), because it was going to be filmed in Louisiana in 2013.  Ultimately, The Curse of Downers Grove (2015) starred Australian actresses Bella Heathcote, who had starred as Victoria Winters and Josette du Pres in Tim Burton’s Dark Shadows (2015), and Penelope Mitchell, who had a starring role in Season 1 of the Netflix series Hemlock Grove and a supporting role in Season 6 of The Vampire DiariesThe Curse of Downers Grove was filmed in Ponoma, California.  It had a limited theatrical release before it was released on D.V.D. and Blu-ray.  The choice to shoot the film somewhere else shows the filmmakers knew nothing about Downers Grove because it has a thriving downtown and several neighborhoods with picturesque homes in sylvan landscapes.  As lovely as Ponoma, California is, it does not resemble Downers Grove.

The Village of Downers Grove and Pierce Downer Elementary School preserve the name of the community’s first landowner, Vermont native Pierce Downer.  His son Stephen Downer was a mason working on Chicago’s first lighthouse.  Stephen Downer had informed his father about rich lands to the west of Chicago.  Pierce Downer acquired 160 acres of woodland and prairie for $1.25 per acre.  The site to which he laid claim was at the fork of two American Indian trails.  Downer was not threatened during the Black Hawk War (1832).  He counted the Potawatomi Chief Waubonsee amongst his friends.  More settlers arrived after the conclusion of the Black Hawk War.

In 1835, Edwin Bush, an eighteen-year-old New York native, laid claim to 122 acres near the site of what is now Metra’s Belmont Station.  That same year, Dexter and Nancy Stanley moved into a log cabin with their nine children, one of whom, Nancy, wed Bush.  Many families who have resided in Downers Grove for generations can trace their ancestry back to Dexter and Nancy Stanley.

Israel Blodgett left a homestead he had already established in the Naper Settlement (now Naperville, Illinois) to create a new homestead that would consist of a blacksmith workshop as well as a farm to the south of what is now Maple Avenue.  He purchased the new homestead from Joel Wells, whom Pierce Downer had once run off with a hickory rod when he found Wells and another man hacking at trees on his property.  Blodgett’s first customers included Indians who needed their firearms repaired.  Subsequently, Samuel Curtiss established a homestead north of the Blodgett homestead.  Blodgett and Curtiss hitched a log to six oxen to flatten and widen a trail between their properties that connected to the trail between Chicago and Naper Settlement.  They planted maple trees along the route.  This is the origin of Maple Avenue.  Blodgett was an abolitionist.  His house was a stop along the “Underground Railway” for runaway slaves.  He hid them in his basement before they moved on to the next stop on their way to Canada.

In 1839, Reverend Orange Lyman (1780-1852), a Protestant clergyman and abolitionist, arrived in what is now Downers Grove with his wife, Marcia Dewey Lyman (1796-1873).  He had been pastor of Madison Congregational Church in Madison, Ohio.  In Downers Grove, he became a preacher and farmer.  The Lymans lived in a log cabin on a 600-acre homestead that includes what is now Lyman Woods. They built a second home at 806 Maple Avenue in 1839 that is the oldest home in Downers Grove.  It may have been a stop on the Underground Railroad, the secret escape route of safe houses abolitionists established for runaway slaves to follow once they escaped involuntary servitude in the American South for safe havens in (1) the so-called free states where slavery had been outlawed, or (2) the Province of Canada (Ontario and Quebec), or (3) Nova Scotia.[3]

The Lymans had several children.  Three sons worked on the farm: Thomas, Stephen, and Henry.  Henry Martyn Lyman (1821-1894), inherited the homestead in 1851 and raised cattle and sheep. His wife, Lovancia Pease Lyman (1821-1912), was a suffragette who had attended Oberlin College and taught school for ten years before she wed Henry.   They had two children: Walter and Sarah.  It was Walter Campbell Lyman (1854-1926) who inherited the homestead and cared for his mother until her death.  Walter was a beekeeper and his honey won a prize at Chicago’s first World’s Fair, the World’s Columbian Exposition (1893).  His wife, Jesse Woodford Lyman (1872-1950), was a librarian, poetess, and naturalist.

Numerous Lyman family members are buried in the Naperville Cemetery in downtown Naperville (rather than in Downers Grove).  Notably, though, Thomas Lyman (1824-1894) and his wife Percie Ann Clerk Lyman (1822-1901), are buried in the famous Rosehill Cemetery in Chicago.  An archival collection, the “Lyman-Pease Family Papers, 1813-1936,” is in the Illinois History and Lincoln Collections in the Main Library of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign in Urbana, Illinois. It consists of some of Orange Lyman’s sermons from the 1840s; a collection of Lyman family correspondence, mostly with their Pease relatives; a biographical sketch and genealogy of Lovancia Pease Lyman; and other family records.

Settlement of the area was stimulated by construction of the Illinois-Michigan Canal, which began in 1836.  Henry Carpenter opened the first store and post office in 1842.  It was on Maple Avenue west of what is now Main Street.  In that decade, Downers Grove had two blacksmith workshops in operation.  Carpenter subdivided his land to draw new residents to the area near his store.  By the end of the decade, European immigrants from England, Ireland, German states, and Alsace-Lorraine (then part of France) had settled in the area.  Some of them had helped build the Illinois-Michigan Canal.

The Bush Hill committee that petitioned the Chicago, Burlington & Quincy Railroad to build a railroad from Chicago to Aurora included representation of Downers Grove.  The first train arrived in Downers Grove in 1864.  Originally, one train in each direction arrived in Downers Grove per day.  The growing hamlet was platted for the first time.  Union Street (now Main Street) opened north of the railroad tracks.

Meanwhile, in 1860, DuPage County Sheriff Theodore S. Rogers, a Downers Grove resident, led the “Plow Boys” who campaigned for Abraham Lincoln in resplendent red-and-white uniforms, as related by Virginia A. Stehney.  They campaigned with a large American flag on a flagpole in a wagon pulled by eight black horses.  A blue silk banner the hamlet’s ladies produced for the Plow Boys is now in the Smithsonian Institution.

Sheriff Rogers received a commission as the captain of the first company of Union Army soldiers contributed by DuPage County.  Captain Walter Blanchard, who commanded another company of men from Illinois, died in the war.  He and a number of other Union Army veterans are buried in Main Street Cemetery.

The Main Street Cemetery started out in 1856 as part of a sheep pasture owned by Samuel Curtiss.  Two children were already buried there when Henry Carpenter suggested that the site be designated a cemetery so the children would not be there alone.  In 1866, Curtiss received compensation in the form of $15 when a burial association formed.  Family plots went for $5.  In 1902, the burial of Sergeant Israel Blackburn, a freedman, Civil War veteran, and village blacksmith, was a cause of contention, as the Chicago Tribune’s Brian Slodysko recounted.  His friends wanted Sgt. Blackburn buried in Main Street Cemetery, but others opposed the idea because he would be the first Black African-American to be buried in a cemetery where all the other decedents were White.  As a compromise, he was buried in a corner, as Jim Dohren, a Downers Grove Historical Society member and former middle school teacher, explained to Slodysko.  The last burial in the Main Street Cemetery took place in 1938, after which it fell into disrepair.  In 1982, the Downers Grove Historical Society began to restore the Main Street Cemetery.  Some marble headstones had deteriorated because of exposure to acid rain.  Others had been vandalized.  The Downers Grove Historical Society replaced these weathered or damaged marble headstones with granite headstones.  They also drove out a vagrant camp.  One unidentified body was discovered outside the cemetery walls.

The Oak Hill and Oak Crest cemeteries are situated between Maple Avenue and Howard Street in unincorporated Downers Grove and Lisle Township.  Oak Hill Cemetery was originally called Westside Cemetery.  In 1835, Dexter Stanley purchased a large property and later set aside part of it as a cemetery because the flooding of the St. Joseph Creek made it difficult to bury the dead in Main Street Cemetery.  His neighbors had appealed him for help because his land included heights.  Family names of prominent early settlers represented in the Oak Hill Cemetery include Downer, Stanley, Dixon, Carpenter, and Rogers.  The Oak Crest Cemetery was originally called Blodgett Cemetery and was privately owned.  It is located between Howard Street and Elmore Avenue in unincorporated Downers Grove.  Part of it is in Lisle Township.  This is confusing, but during his lifetime, William Blodgett sold lots in his cemetery, but he never actually owned the land.  In August of 1936. Florence L. Kester and her husband Reg. Ekstrom, Jr., owned the land and on December 5, 1936, they conveyed the property to Edith G. Blodgett.  William Blodgett died on February 8, 1933.  Edith Blodgett conveyed part of the land to Olive M. Carlson, and she conveyed it to William and Harriet Prince Parrish on May 15, 1945.  On July 17, 1945, Edith Blodgett conveyed the rest of the property to William and Harriet Parish.  Before he died in 1960, William Parish sold the land to Fred and Mae Marvin for $10.  They already owned the Oak Hill Cemetery.  Since 1985, the Township of Downers Grove has been steward of the two cemeteries.  The Township of Downers Grove began a headstone restoration project in 2016.  One can donate by making a check out to the Oak Hill and Oak Crest Foundation and mailing it to 4340 Prince Street, Downers Grove, Illinois 60515.

Pierce Downer and his wife Lucy Ann died one day apart in March of 1863.  They are buried in a grove on a knoll on their property on what is now Linscott Avenue.  Pierce and Lucy Ann Downer had intended to be buried in the Main Street Cemetery with the Blodgetts and other neighbors, but rains had caused the St. Joseph Creek to flood, which made the Main Street Cemetery inaccessible.   Several of their relatives are buried on the site of the Downer homestead.  The last member of the family to be buried there was Earl Downer in 1978.  A few years ago, Chris Salman of Stature Custom Homes, who was in the process of building a new home on the adjacent property, arranged with the customers to transfer land that fronted on the grave site to the Downers Grove Park District.

In 1873, hamlet residents voted 49-38 to incorporate.  Theodore S. Rogers became the first village board president, and served in office for sixteen years.   By 1885, Downers Grove was truly a village, with 500 residents.  Three years later, the Village of Downers Grove built sewers.

In 1892, Charles Blodgett. Israel Blodgett’s son, erected a house at 831 Maple Avenue. This became the Downers Grove Historical Museum.

      Marshall Field I (1834-1906) and other Chicago businessmen built the first purpose-built nine-hole golf course west of the Appalachian Mountains just west of Downers Grove in 1892.  The Chicago businessmen backed C.B. Macdonald, who had studied at Saint Andrews University in the 1870s, as Andy Johnson recounted.  They purchased the farm of Haddow Smith to convert into a golf course.  The farm was located in what was then Belmont, Illinois, an unincorporated community in Lisle Township.  This became the Links at Belmont.  The Chicago Golf Club formed and soon decided the golf course should be expanded to eighteen holes.  The Chicago Golf Club purchased land in Wheaton and moved in 1895.  The Golf Club of Illinois took over the old golf course in Belmont.  After that organization struggled financially, Howard Tweedie, who had helped Macdonald build the golf course, acquired it and formed the Belmont Golf Club.  In 1968, the Downers Grove Park District purchased the Belmont Golf Course from the Belmont Golf Club.  It was the Downers Grove Park District that removed nine of the holes.  This is now the Downers Grove Park District’s Downers Grove Golf Club.

Meanwhile, Polish families had begun to settle north of the East Grove train station.  These homeowners were from Gotsyn, Poland.[4]  This was the village’s first ethnically homogenous neighborhood.  Polish priests from Chicago would come out to Downers Grove to perform Masses in private homes.  In 1891, they petitioned the Archbishop of Chicago for permission to build a Polish National Church.  Concerned there were not enough Polish families to support an all-Polish parish, he declined.  There were no Roman Catholic parishes then between LaGrange and Naperville.  After a local resident donated land for a parish church, rectory, and convent, the Archbishop of Chicago gave permission for the establishment of Saint Mary of Gostyn Parish, the oldest Roman Catholic parish in Downers Grove, with the provision it welcome non-Polish Catholics.  It opened with thirteen pews to seats to accommodate twenty-five families.  The first rectory was erected on Douglas Street in 1895.  Two years later, the parish built a one-room wooden schoolhouse.  It was the first parochial school in Downers Grove, and the only one between LaGrange and Naperville.  In 1916, two Franciscan Sisters of Perpetual Help arrived in the parish.  They were followed, two years later, by two Felician sisters.  In 1920, the parish built a mixed-use parochial school and convent at the southeast corner of Douglas and Prairie.  Dedicated in 1948, a brick church that could accommodate 220 people was built at the northeast corner of Douglas Street and Wilson Street.  The next year, St. Mary of Gostyn moved to the new Diocese of Joliet.  At that time, there were 400 parishioners from 130 families.  In 1953, it became a territorial parish for Catholics from surrounding communities.  The next year, a three-story school was built at the northeast corner of Prairie and Douglas.  That same year, in 1954, a new rectory, a parish’s official residence for the rector (pastor) and any other parish priests, was built.  In 1957, a new convent was built across the street from the school to house the sisters who taught at the school.  This is now the Parish Center.  In 1962, the parish church migrated from Wilson and Douglas to the southeast corner of Prairie and Douglas, the site of the present church.  The new church was built between 1963 and ’64.  The first Mass was celebrated there on December 20, 1964, but it was not dedicated by Bishop Martin McNamara until March of 1966.  It underwent renovations in 2002.

In 1889, German immigrant Casper Dicke started the Dicke Tool Company to manufacture tools electrical linemen needed to raise telegraph poles.  In 1889, he moved his company from Chicago to Downers Grove.  That same year, his products received a prize at the World’s Fair in Paris, the Exposition Universelle.

In 1906, the Dicke Tool Company factory was destroyed in a fire.  The family rebuilt the factory and all seven of Casper Dicke’s son became involved in the volunteer fire department.  [In 1898, Downers Grove had gained a volunteer fire department.  ]  Two of them served as fire chiefs. Grant Dicke, served as Fire Chief for thirty-six years.  A third brother, Elmer Dicke, served as Assistant Chief.

Between 1908 and 1940, Chicago-based Sears, Roebuck & Company sold 70,000 Sears Modern Homes in North America, as many as 200 of which were built in Downers Grove. This is one of the largest concentrations of Sears Modern Homes in North America.  It was the close proximity of Downers Grove to Chicago and the village’s large railroad siding that allowed so many residents to build Sears Modern Homes.  Typically, the new homeowner would order the home-building kit through the Sears catalog (although later it was also possible to order it at a Sears department store) and it would arrive in town on a railroad boxcar with most of the materials he would need. He would then build the home and his friends and relatives would help him build it, much like the way Amish families continue to gather for a barn-raising.  Other homeowners brought in carpenters and other contractors to build their homes.[5]  The Downers Grove Historical Society has a map of the identified Sears Catalog Homes in Downers Grove.

The Spanish Flu pandemic hit Downers Grove hard.  Lucile Bush, the daughter of a former state legislator and great-granddaughter of Edwin Bush, was lucky to merely be bedridden for several months.

With three train stations, perhaps it was inevitable that Downers Grove would be the site of a train accident.  At 10:41 p.m. on Thursday, April 3, 1947, a Chicago, Burlington & Quincy Zephyr train, Train of the Goddesses, one of two Twin Cities Zephyr trains, en route from Minneapolis to Chicago, partially derailed and damaged what is now the Main Street Metra Station because it struck a fourteen-ton International Harvester caterpillar tractor that had fallen off of a westbound freight train.[6]  The flaming diesel locomotive wrenched free of the passenger cars and slid past the train station on its side.  It alone splintered railroad ties, ripped up rails, wrecked an iron fence between the middle track and north track, and damaged 300 yards of right-of-way.  The seven cars continued to move forward on the tracks, adding further damage to the right-of-way.  The first two cars jackknifed into the north side of the train station.  This event occurred on Maundy Thursday.  Many of the passengers were college students headed home to celebrate Easter Sunday (April 6, 1947) with their families or were tourists who had intended to spend their Easter weekend vacations in Chicago.  The station was partially demolished by the wreck.  Station Agent Charles Draper and his wife said they may only have lived because they closed the station one hour early “for no reason at all.”  Normally, they would have kept the Burlington Depot open until 11:00 p.m., but they had decided to close at 10:00 p.m.  Two passengers died immediately and over thirty were injured, while the engineer, Clarence Thurston, received mortal injuries that resulted in his death three days later at 12:30 a.m. on Easter Monday (April 7, 1947) at Copley Hospital (now RUSH Copley Medical Center) in Aurora.  Lloyd W. Wright of Oak Park, Illinois died right away.  Both feet of Mrs. Edith Helland of South Minneapolis were pinned and Dr. Glenn G. Ehrler had to perform an emergency amputation of her left foot, but she died at a hospital in Hinsdale. Dr. Ehrler also treated eleven people at his office at 1111 Burlington Avenue while sixty-five others registered their survival were given first aid, if necessary, in the lobby of the Tivoli Theater.  Two police officers, Elmer Hogrefe and Russell Tholin, were amongst the first rescuers to arrive on the scene.  The Downers Grove Fire Department extinguished the locomotive fire.  The firemen then proceeded to search the passenger cars for survivors.  The Illinois State Highway Maintenance Police, DuPage County Sherriff’s deputies, and municipal police from Naperville, Hinsdale, Westmont, Glen Ellyn, Maywood, Forest Park, Western Springs, LaGrange, and Elmhurst arrived on the scene to offer aid.  Chicago Police Commissioner John C. Prendergast called Downers Grove Police Chief James Dwyer to offer the help of police and nurses.  The Downers Grove Village Council later passed resolutions to thank Prendergast and the Chicago Police Department, as well as the other police agencies that rendered assistance.  Mrs. Robert Carpenter, who resided at Lindenwald and was the local Red Cross chairman, rallied Red Cross volunteers to help the injured. Several boys from Explorer Post 80 rushed to the scene to render first aid.  Jack Kidwell, an employee of G.M.’s Electro-Motive Division in LaGrange, which made the Zephyr diesel-electric engines, was in the Masonic temple in downtown Downers Grove, where he saw the flash of fire, expediently drove to the train station, and turned off the train’s electric motor.  Paul O. Bentley, a resident of Downers Grove and student of St. Mary’s College in Winona, Wisconsin, got off the train at the Aurora station and drove home.  He was relieved when he arrived in Downers Grove that friends who had remained on the train were amongst the survivors and he was able to drive them into Chicago.  Kidwell, the Boy Scouts, and Fire Chief Grant Dicke and the Downers Grove Fire Department received certificates of merit at a ceremony in July of 1947. Former Police Chief Dwyer was asked to accept the certificate on behalf of the Downers Grove Police Department because he was chief at the time of the disaster.  Loyal Order of the Moose Chapter 1535 received a certificate for having thrown open its lodge doors for two days so policemen and reporters could gather there and having provided gallons of coffee and hundreds of sandwiches for free.  Home Lite received a certificate for having installed flood lights on top of the train station to enable nighttime operations.

The expressway system built in the aftermath of the Second Great World War stimulated the development of Downers Grove in the second half of the 20th Century and early 21st Century, much as the Chicago, Burlington & Quincy Railroad had done back in the late 19th Century and early 20th Century, as Mark S. Harmon observed in The Encyclopedia of Chicago.  The construction of the East-West Tollway (later renamed the Ronald Reagan Memorial Tollway), which connects the inner-ring suburbs to the Fox Valley city of Aurora and beyond to Dixon, Illinois as part of the longer Interstate 88, made Downers Grove a relatively short car ride from Chicago and the inner suburbs.[7]

Downers Grove also benefitted from the construction of the Argonne National Laboratory in southern DuPage County in the 1940s.  It brought an influx of middle-class and upper-middle-class homeowners with scientific educations and technical skills.  In 1966, George Williams College moved from Hyde Park on the South Side of Chicago to a twenty-acre campus in Downers Grove.  It later became affiliated with Aurora University and moved to a new campus on the shores of Geneva Lake in Wisconsin.

The Village of Downers Grove annexed adjacent unincorporated lands.  By the end of the century, Downers Grove had a population of 48,724 people and encompassed thirteen square miles.

Main Street is lined by restaurants, shops, and banks, some of them representative of big national chains, and others smaller local chains, but many of them small mom-and-pop operations.  The Downers Grove Public Library lot is bounded by Burlington Avenue on the north, an alley on the east, Curtiss Street on the south, and Forest Avenue on the west.  Burlington and Curtiss are both one-way streets, Burlington being west-bound and Curtiss being east-bound.  There are a tea shop, a bookshop, two banks, a coffee shop, a pet shop, a bakery, and other small businesses on a strip east of the alley that wraps along Burlington Avenue, Main Street, and Curtiss Street.  Pinecone Cottage Tea House & Catering is on Burlington Avenue west of Main Street.  Peet’s Coffee & Tea shop is at the corner of Main Street and Burlington Avenue, where there was formerly a popular Caribou Coffee.  When I visited the place on Thursday, July 27, 2017, there were two people sitting in the café writing on laptops scattered amongst a few other customers on a quiet evening while a couple of mothers with small children in strollers visited to pick up drinks whilst out for a walk. There is a U.S. Bank on Main Street near the corner with Burlington.  Taking advantage of the alley east of the library, there is a U.S. Bank drive-through between U.S. Bank and Anderson’s Bookshop Downers Grove.[8]  Anderson’s Bookshop Downers Grove has a large entrance on Main Street (the east side of the building) and a small entrance on the alley (the west side of the building) that faces the library parking lot as well as the alley.  At the corner of Main Street and Curtiss Street is a Citibank.  Between Anderson’s Bookshop Downers Grove and Citibank are a Coldwell Banker Residential Brokerage, Jeans & a Cute Top shop, Happy Dog Barkery, KW (Keller Williams) Realty Downers Grove / Hinsdale, Dream Interiors, Francia Bridal & Formalwear Boutique, Wells Street Popcorn, Ingram’s Busy Bee Bakery, Babylon Technology, and Paradise Café.   Smokey Tomato Café & Catering is on Curtiss Street between Citibank and the alley.  RTT Cycle Shop faces the alley and the library parking lot.  It is separated from the west entrance of Anderson’s Bookshop Downers Grove by the courtyard of a building that seems to have second-floor office or apartments.

Other points of interest along Main Street include Gatto’s Italian Restaurant & Bar, My Specialty Toy Store, Ballydoyle Irish Pub & Restaurant, and Alfredo’s Taqueria on the east side of the street.  Cellar Door Wine Shop & Bistro;[9] Emmett’s Brewing Company; Music Masters Worldwide; Timberline Train Shop, Ltd., and Main Street Barber Shop are on the west side of the street.  Unfortunately, the Lemon Tree café and grocery store closed last year to undergo remodeling and reorganization, as Annemarie Mannion reported in the Chicago Tribune.

Tivoli Theatre is an old 1,012-seat movie palace at the northeast corner of Warren Avenue and Highland Avenue that is visible from the Downers Grove Metra Station.  The Chicago-based architectural firm of Van Gunten and Van Gunten designed the movie palace, and Downers Grove-based construction firm J.T. Schless Company built it.  The auditorium had 1,390 seats when it opened in 1928, but has had 1,012 since the 1950s.  In 1978, it became the first cinema in the Johnson family’s Classic Cinemas chain of fourteen theaters and it remains the flagship theater.  In 2003, Classic Cinemas celebrated the 75th anniversary of Tivoli Theatre.  Nine years later, Classic Cinemas updated the Tivoli Theater (and all the other theaters in the chain) with Enhanced 4K Digital Projection and Datasat Sound Processors.  The Tivoli Building is also home to Tivoli Bowl.

Lyman Woods

Lyman Woods features a nineteen-acre primeval oak woodland the aforementioned Lyman family preserved after they acquired their homestead in 1839.  There are a number of forest preserves that are supplemented by municipal parks but Lyman Woods in DuPage County is the only forest preserve I know of where the forest is co-owned and co-operated by the county and a park district.[10] Mrs. Walter (Jesse) Lyman had entrusted Lyman Woods to the aforementioned George Williams College, which preserved the woodland as part of its campus. However, the college ran into financial trouble in the mid-1980s. Midwestern University acquired the campus, which is why today the Midwestern University campus is adjacent to (east of) Lyman Woods.

The Lyman Woods property went up for sale in 1987.  A group called Friends of Lyman Woods led the effort by Downers Grove residents to lobby the village council to preserve the forest.  A poll showed 62% of residents supported this measure.  Nevertheless, the Village Council initially voted against it.  Public pressure led to a reversal in a three-to-two vote.  The Village Council authorized the Downers Grove Park District’s acquisition of 81.5 acres with the Forest Preserve District of DuPage County.

In 1996, approximately 14,000 people voted in a referendum over whether the town should purchase additional land north of the forest preserve-cum-park, at the southeast corner of Highland Avenue and 31st Street where Town & Country planned to build town homes and an office complex that would have bordered Lyman Woods. The measure to save “Downer’s Last Grove” passed by just twelve votes. In recent years, the Forest Preserve District and/or the Park District have acquired additional parcels and added them to Lyman Woods, which is now comprised of 138 acres of oak woodland, prairie, and marshland.

2Figure 1 Credit: Seán M. O’Connor Caption: This is the pond in Lyman Woods, off Highland Avenue, as seen on Thursday, March 21, 2019.

8Figure 2 Credit: Seán M. O’Connor Caption: In 2003, the Downers Grove Park District built the William F. Sherman, Jr. Interpretive Center, with the help of the Forest Preserve District of DuPage County.  It is both literally and figuratively a green building.  The William F. Sherman, Jr. Interpretive Center is surrounded by a butterfly garden, rain gardens, and a picnic ground.   This is a view of the center as seen on the evening of Thursday, March 21, 2019.


Midwestern University

Midwestern University is a private, non-profit university with seventeen graduate-level academic programs at the 105-acre campus in Downers Grove and a 156-acre campus in Glendale, Arizona (fifteen miles northwest of downtown Phoenix, Arizona). [A large number of Chicagoans have moved to Arizona in recent decades to escape Chicago winters.]  Five colleges are located on the Downers Grove campus that offer twelve fields of study.  Midwestern University began, in 1900, as the Chicago College of Osteopathic Medicine.  At the Downers Grove campus, one can study osteopathic medicine, pharmacy, physician assistant studies, physical therapy, occupational therapy, biomedical sciences, clinical psychology, health sciences, speech-language pathology, dental medicine, and optometry.  The address is 555 31st Street, Downers Grove, Illinois 60515.

Good Samaritan Hospital

Advocate Good Samaritan Hospital is a community hospital that stands on the east side of Highland Avenue at 39th Street.  Part of the hospital effectively projects into Lyman Woods with the result that patients (as well as doctors, nurses, chaplains, other staff members and volunteers, and visitors) view the forest when they look out windows (instead of parking lots or other parts of the hospital), which, needless to say, makes for a soothing sight to loom upon.  It boasts DuPage County’s only Level I trauma center and a certified Level III neonatal intensive care unit.

Good Samaritan Hospital opened in 1976.  The hospital cemented its reputation for high-quality care in 1994, when Illinois Governor Jim Edgar underwent a quadruple bypass surgery there.  In 1995, the Evangelical Health Systems (E.H.S.) Corporation[11] and Lutheran General HealthSystem (L.G.H.S.)[12] merged to form Advocate.[13]  In 2017, Good Samaritan Hospital opened a new private room bed tower and renovated the existent bed tower to give it private patient rooms.  The Bhorade Caner Center, a facility where cancer patients receive outpatient services, also expanded and underwent renovations.  The address of Good Samaritan is 3815 Highland Avenue.


[1] This is an extensive revision of part an article I posted on Examiner.com Chicago on Friday, November 12, 2010 and updated on Wednesday, May 9, 2012.  On Sunday, February 25, 2018, I removed these passages about Downers Grove from the article “The Downers Grove Public Library,” which I had posted on my Notes of Culture blog on  Tuesday, August 8, 2017 to create a separate article on Downers Grove under the assumption it is better to divide each of my old articles on branches of the Chicago Public Library and suburban libraries into two separate articles with one being a profile of a neighborhood or town and the other being a profile of the library that serves that community.  On Sunday, March 24, 2019 and Monday, March 25, 2019, I expanded the article to include material about the Lyman family, Lyman Woods, Midwestern University, and Good Samaritan Hospital.

[2] A supporter of Fire Department Chief Silas McBride, he advocated the replacement of the volunteer fire brigades with a professional force and the acquisition of new steam fire engines, which was an unpopular idea until the Great Chicago Fire of 1857, as David A. Powell recounted.  He joined the Highland Guards, a ceremonial militia group comprised entirely of Scotsmen, and followed its leader, John McArthur, into the 12th Illinois Infantry Regiment.  Ducat rose to the rank of lieutenant colonel before the Battle of Shiloh.  Shortly after the Union Army’s victory in the Battle of Corinth (1862), Col. Ducat came to the attention of Brigadier General E.O.C. Ord.  Within a month, he was a staff officer for Major-General William Stark Rosencrans (1819-1898), who shared a background as a civil engineer.  Ducat became Chief of Staff and subsequently Inspector-General of the Army of the Ohio after Rosencrans assumed command.  It later became the Army of the Cumberland.  During the Battle of Chickamauga, when the Confederates broke through Union lines, Ducat and most of the other staff officers were separated from Rosencrans, who fell back to Chattanooga.   Ducat accompanied Sheridan’s army to Rossville.  Major-General (and later President) U.S. Grant (1822-1885) sacked Rosencrans and Ducat remained in the Army of the Cumberland when it came under the command of Major-George H. Thomas (1816-1870).  Ducat purchased land on a hill in San Diego where other rich men had built villas and planned to build one for his family but died at Lindenwald before he could achieve that objective.  His son, Colonel Arthur C. Ducat, Jr. (1858-1913), is buried at Arlington Cemetery.

[3] In 1867, the Province of Canada, the Colony of Nova Scotia, and the Colony of New Brunswick confederated as the Dominion of Canada.  [The Province of Canada became Ontario and Quebec.] Prince Rupert’s Land (Manitoba and the North-Western Territory) joined in 1870 after the Hudson’s Bay Company’s surrendered its charter to the Crown after 200 years. [The Yukon Territory, Saskatchewan, and Alberta were Northwestern Territories.]  The United Colony of British Columbia joined the next year.  The Colony of Prince Edward Island joined in 1873.  The Dominion of Newfoundland (the island of Newfoundland and Labrador on the mainland) joined in 1949.

[4] Within the Kingdom of Poland and Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, this city was in the province of Greater Poland.  After the Russians, Austrians, and Prussians conquered and annexed the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, the Kingdom of Prussia turned this province into the Grand Duchy of Posen and after the Uprising of 1848 the Province of Posen.

 [5] There were also builders (real estate developers) who would purchase Sears Modern Homes to use as model homes or to build homes on speculation (“on spec”). Further, there were companies that purchased Sears Modern Homes to build as employee housing.

[6] The two Twin Cities Zephyr trainsets were the second and third of the CB&Q’s famed Zephyr trains, similar to the CB&Q’s first Zephyr train, the Pioneer Zephyr, which is now at the Museum of Science and Industry.  All the cars on the Train of the Goddesses were named after Roman goddesses: Ceres, Diana, Juno, Minerva, Psyche, Venus, and Vesta.  Also known as the Nebraska Zephyr, the Train of the Goddesses has been at the Illinois Railway Museum in Union, Illinois since 1968.

[7] The Ronald Reagan Memorial Tollway passes Tampico, Illinois, the birthplace of President Reagan, and connects with Dixon, Illinois, which has his boyhood home.

[8] Anderson’s Bookshops is an independent bookstore chain with three locations – Anderson’s Bookshop Naperville, Anderson’s Bookshop Downers Grove, and Anderson’s Bookshop LaGrange – as well as Anderson’s Toyshop.

[9] I would be highly surprised if this restaurant’s name was not an allusion to J.R.R. Tolkien, who felt the phrase “cellar door” was the most beautiful in the English language.

[10] Even before the publication of the Plan of Chicago by Daniel Hudson Burnham, Senior (1846-1912) and Edward Herbert Bennett (1874-1954) in 1909, there were government officials and newspaper editors calling for the preservation of the woodlands outside Chicago as an “outer belt of parks.” In 1913, the Illinois General Assembly authorized the creation of taxing districts to acquire and maintain lands. The Forest Preserve District of Cook County formed in 1915 and the collar counties followed Cook County’s example.

[11] In 1906, the (Lutheran) Evangelical Synod of North America founded the Evangelical Health Systems Corporation to operate the German Evangelical Deaconess Hospital in Chicago.  Twenty-eight years later, the Evangelical Synod and the Reformed Church in the United States merged to form the Evangelical and Reformed Church.  Subsequently, on June 5, 1957, the Evangelical and Reformed Church and the Congregational Christian Churches merged to form the United Church of Christ (U.C.C) and the E.H.S. Corporation became an affiliate.  The E.H.S. Corporation became one of the largest healthcare systems in Chicagoland.

[12] Lutheran General HealthSystem began, in 1897, as the Norwegian Lutheran Deaconess Home and Hospital.  In 1904, the hospital came under the power of the Norwegian Lutheran Church in America, which evolved into the Evangelical Lutheran Church, and later The American Lutheran Church.  It is now the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.

[13] Advocate Health Care is a Protestant, non-profit healthcare organization that is the largest healthcare system in Illinois.  It encompasses twelve hospitals and is part of the larger Advocate Aurora Health (stylized “AdvocateAuroraHealth”), which is the tenth-largest, not-for-profit integrated healthcare system in the United States of America with twenty-seven hospitals, 500 outpatient facilities, and sixty-three Walgreens clinics in Illinois and Wisconsin.  It employs 3,800 physicians, is aligned with 4,800 physician partners, and employs 22,000 nurses.

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