Table of Contents
The first inhabitants of Palatine were the Native Americans, a group of people who came from northeastern Asia about twenty thousand years ago and quickly spread throughout the Americas. Our part of the world occupied the northeastern edge of a great Native American civilization called the Mississippian Culture. These peaceful people settled in large cities and farmed the surrounding land beginning about 800 A.D. Tribal members supplemented their diet by hunting bison and antelope.
Several misfortunes befell these people. Prior to the coming of the Europeans the Mississippian civilization lost population during the Little Ice Age. The first European explorers enjoyed good relations with the tribes, but fur traders introduced liquor, firearms and disease. Conflict between American colonists and the British caused warlike Eastern tribes to move into our region. Eventually the tribes that remained were persuaded / forced to give up their land and move to reservations in Wisconsin and Oklahoma.
In the 1830’s land-hungry Yankees from New England heard reports about fabulous opportunities in the Midwest, then known simply as The West. The federal government began selling small plots of land at low prices. The Yankees developed a fever for land. Leaving their homes and farms, they traveled long distances to settle the raw wilderness. Some died along the way. Some arrived but later gave up and went back. But most persevered and helped create our American character: a certain independence and a love of wide open spaces.
When the state of Illinois began selling land in this area for $1.25 an acre, around 1835, the settlers came and saw prairie and a few small groves of trees. What is prairie? It is grassland. A good part of Illinois was tall grass prairie then. It consisted of grasses like bluestem and many kinds of strong wild flowers like prairie smoke and Joe Pye-weed. Some of the flowers we now call weeds are really native plants such as goldenrod and Queen Anne’s lace. The grasses could be as high as ten feet and the soil they grew in was the richest in the country. That’s why farmers wanted to come here and grow crops like corn, wheat, and soy beans. Prairies were maintained by the animals that grazed on them like bison, elk, deer, and rabbits, and with prairie fires from lightning and native Americans about every five years. Prairie plants had deep roots and the fires traveled fast so they were not destroyed by these things, but quickly grew again. Land near the edges of the tree groves were settled first because wood was needed for building homes and for warmth and cooking. They had great difficulty plowing the dense prairie land. In 1837, that changed. John Deere invented the self-scouring steel bladed plow that could cut into prairie sod on a large scale. Within 50 years most of the prairie was converted to agriculture. Before settlement, 60% of Illinois was prairie; now less than 1% exists.
Where can you find prairie to visit today? Morton Arboretum and the Botanic Garden have sections of restored prairie. Spring Valley in Schaumburg Park District has a very nice section of prairie and also has Heritage Farm where you can see how early settlers lived and worked. There is a small piece of prairie thought to be original in Palatine. The Prairie Woods Audubon Society owns and takes care of it. The Palatine Prairie is near Quentin Road and Wood Street. It runs along the railroad tracks at the north end of the Reimer Reservoir.
It is believed that the first white man to settle in Palatine Township was George Ela, who in 1835 squatted on 11 acres in Deer Grove and built a cabin. During the next fifteen years settlers like Ela transformed the prairies and wetlands into farms producing potatoes, wheat, corn and cattle. They built private roads, schools, churches and small businesses. The nearest government office was a day’s drive to the Cook County Courthouse in downtown Chicago.
In 1850, with the population climbing, the citizens voted to form a local government: the Township of Palatine. This gave them the power to levy taxes, build public roads and enjoy the benefits of the law in a local Justices Court. It also gave their leaders an opportunity to practice the art of politics.
The railroad came through in 1853 and another Easterner, Joel Wood, surveyed what he felt was a potential village site two years later. At the time it was a slough filled with cattails and green water. The Village of Palatine was incorporated in 1866 and chartered by the state in 1869.
To read about Palatine’s role in the Civil War please scroll to the menu at the top of this page, hover over the History tab and click on the Civil War tab.
In the 1850’s a second wave of immigration began. Germans began to buy land in the area and settle down as farmers and small shopkeepers. Although the Germans had their own language and culture, they, just like the Yankees, shared the American dream of prosperity and freedom. Working hard, the two groups continued the great agricultural expansion of the area.
The United States became known as a great melting pot. Successive groups of immigrants enriched our lives and brought new skills, new styles, even new words into the language. But, it should also be noted, it took a hundred years for German-Americans in Palatine to completely assimilate. The last religious service in German was in 1955.
There was friction between groups too. Many Yankees came from a Puritan background and took up the banner of Prohibition. Alcoholic beverages were banned by the federal government in 1919, arousing great indignation in those who considered them to be a part of their culture. This great social experiment, which was honored only formally in Palatine, was, by 1933, judged a failure and repealed.
Women worked behind the scenes and in public to civilize American life. They helped enact child labor laws and demanded better sanitation. Palatine women fought for the right to vote and run for office and sit in the jury box. Participation by women in public life has had an important tempering effect on our nation.
The great Age of Agriculture in Palatine lasted from 1850 to about 1950. If we could climb into a time machine and visit that Age at its height, we might be shocked at what we see: dirt, mud, swearing, spitting, many chores accomplished manually. Water, for example, was collected by gutters for storage in underground cisterns. It was then pumped by hand to the kitchen for cleaning and washing purposes. Many hours were devoted to washing clothes with tub and washboard. Giant pots of boiling water were moved from kitchen to bathroom for the weekly bath.
But no matter how backward people may have seemed in the past, most people are forward-thinking. Our citizens were always on the lookout for improvements and planning for the future. The area made enormous strides during the Age of Agriculture. Newspapers and magazines quickly disseminated the latest advances in medicine, communication and transportation.
With the turn of the century residents shared the nation’s excitement over a whole slew of new technologies. The telephone helped to shrink the world and raise productivity. The automobile allowed city-dwellers to explore the countryside with relative ease. Swarms of car owners on muddy back roads eventually forced governments to build concrete roads beginning in the 1920’s.
Deer Grove Park
For many years Palatine residents drove into Deer Grove to collect wood for their stoves. In 1911 Palatine veterinarian Dr. John Wilson developed a portion of the grove into a recreational complex he called Deer Grove Park. The park flourished with the coming of the Palatine, Lake Zurich and Wauconda Railroad.
With the building of the railroad Dr. John Wilson gave city people a chance to enjoy the woods of Deer Grove. He built a park and erected picnic structures on a piece of his land along Quentin Road. Chicagoans could take the C&NW RR northwest, transfer at Palatine and ride three miles north stopping directly at the park. Visitors found ample parking for automobiles and horses.
The admission fee included the use of a large dance pavilion with a musician’s stage. There was a baseball diamond 600 feet square with bleachers as well as a sloping grass field shaded by trees for watching the game. A well allowed anyone a cool drink of water or better yet a refreshment parlor provided beverages and ice cream. In addition, a dining hall with a kitchen provided promptly served meals or you could bring your own picnic food. Lastly, nature lovers could go off for a short walk to enjoy the surrounding woods.
Not everyone was happy about the park. Fearing commercialization, far-sighted Chicagoans realized that the grove needed to be preserved for future generations to enjoy. A legal team under Palatine attorney Ralph Peck Sr. initiated condemnation proceedings against 300 defendants who owned 1200 acres in 102 parcels. It took many battles in court to create the jewel we now call the Deer Grove Forest Preserve.
Motion pictures took entertainment to a much higher level. The Saturday night movie at the local theater became an institution and audiences eagerly anticipated the latest features. Teams of movie photographers fanned out across the nation to make newsreel shorts of anything of interest. Unfortunately, they used film stock made of nitrates which did not last. Many short documentaries taken in Palatine have apparently been lost or destroyed.
Radio made its first appearance in the 1920’s. Prior to this vaudeville entertainers needed strong lungs for their acts. In early experiments radios were placed right on the stage and concertgoers were amazed to hear a performer’s whispering breath. Radio brought news to its listeners even while storms were knocking down telegraph wires.
Another thrilling invention was the airplane. Housewives shocked their husbands when they told them they flew in an airplane earlier in the day for a few dollars. In the 1920’s flying was unregulated and pilots performed many stunts in local skies. An eight year old Palatine boy, billed as the world’s youngest glider pilot, was photographed in a field southwest of Smith Road and Palatine Road.
Local residents got their first taste of television at the 1933 Chicago World’s Fair. They lined up for hours for a chance to see themselves on a small screen hook-up. Of course it took another decade to perfect the medium. Radar and the computer were invented just in time to help the Allied efforts in the waning days of World War II.
Wars continued to mold our character. The United States was reluctant to get involved in World War I. George Washington had cautioned against foreign entanglements. But when the German generals began sweeping to the west, our nation went to war to keep our friends free. Our young men rose to the occasion and performed heroically in battle. Those who stayed home supported the war by donating money, clothing and medical supplies to the front. We won the war and in the process local residents developed a broader view of the world and an appreciation for its many peoples and cultures.
With Europe beaten and exhausted, the United States became the breadbasket of the world. But local farmers, who helped create that breadbasket, became victims of their own success. Palatine became the promised land for city dwellers, anxious to enjoy the benefits of fresh country air and beautiful scenery. The land became too expensive to farm. Developers went to work buying land, laying out residential areas and building homes. Development reached a fever pitch in the late 1920’s as tracts of land were cleared and neighborhoods replaced fields.
Then, almost overnight, the Great Depression hit the area, and economic activity slowed. Over fifteen percent of the workforce lost their jobs. Banks closed, people saw their savings evaporate, and families were turned out of their homes. Churches and fraternal organizations stepped into the breach and supplied the destitute with food and clothing. An army of homeless men walked back and forth across the country, knocking on back doors where, with luck, a sandwich might be offered. Local governments pitched in to help those with the most difficult problems.
Just as the United States was getting back on its feet, dictators in Europe, Italy and Japan again threatened our friends. Again we took responsibility for keeping the world free and joined the defense. World War II was much larger in scale and involved even greater sacrifices for Palatine residents. Many more people fought and died. We know a great deal about these heroes because local newspapers published thousands of letters from servicemen and women.
World War II profoundly changed the suburbs. Men came home to marry and start families. Women, who had worked during the war making guns and tanks, developed a new independence and self-respect. Together they created a tremendous demand for housing and begot a new generation of baby-boomers. The federal government helped finance homes and built highways to reach them.
World War II hardly ended when the United States faced another formidable foe in the Communist governments of the U.S.S.R. and China. Cautiously trying to avoid World War III, we pulled our punches when North Korea invaded South Korea. We fought to a draw with great loss of life on both sides.
African-Americans, who had been emancipated during the Civil War, continued to be marginalized. Having served proudly in all these wars, they came home to the same old racism and segregation. In the 1950’s a few suburbanites began to take part in marches through the South to end segregation. When they came back, the marchers could see that the North had racial problems too. Ethnic humor, so broadly evident in suburban minstrel shows before the war, had been a part of that problem.
The Vietnam War, which was fought to stop the spread of Communism in Southeast Asia, split public opinion in America bitterly. Residents fought for their country, but the home front was divided over the value of the war. Eventually we withdrew and South Vietnam fell to the Communists.
The victory, however, proved hollow as the world began to see the value of freedom and democracy. Nation after nation turned to Western models in the 1980’s and 90’s and began to enjoy peace and prosperity. Palatine led the way in supporting candidates and policies that encouraged these transformations.
The United States has now emerged as the guardian and sole leader of the free world. We wear this mantle with a degree of humility, for we know how easy it is to overplay our part. However, a new threat has emerged from the Middle East. Radical Islamists blew up New York’s World Trade Center on September 11, 2001, killing thousands of innocent Americans.
The challenge we face now is to promote our ideals, and help people develop an appreciation for freedom, tolerance and democracy. To do this we must stand tall and be counted. With our principles to guide us we must move forward in the full knowledge that these values will bring peace and beauty and serenity to the rest of the planet.