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Warrenville History

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Reflections on the Past

For nearly 14,000 people, Warrenville is home.

Yet only a small and dwindling group can recall living in that town in its earliest years.

A few of those stalwart citizens took a moment to reflect on Warrenville as it once was.

Looking Back to the 50s

Gloria Wilger moved to Warrenville when she was first married, in the 1950s, and remembers that it was still pretty rural even then. Bernie and Gloria Wilger lived first on Ferry Road and later a small farm on Hwy 59 between Ferry and Butterfield Roads, in the area now known as Monarch Landing.

building

The Wilgers had enough open land to maintain a small farm, growing corn and soybeans and raising chickens and black angus steers. She laughs, “It was no man’s land. Just the third rail that went by and shook the house.” Carolyn Wondrow, who came in 1956, recalls a town of just 3,000 residents on large country lots.

Both witnessed the city’s boom, watching the population multiply, first with new residential developments and then with the development of Cantera.

“There used to be an uptown and a downtown,” Carolyn remembers, referring to the old historic district, which was originally the town’s downtown, and the newer area now known as the Civic Center, which developed along the railroad tracks. Both women refer to the confusion often found as to which area is actually “downtown” and which is “uptown.” Carolyn comments on the future of the area. “The city is working to change these areas, build up more businesses, condos, etc. Some people like the changes, some don’t.”

graves

“I got to watch everything be built, all the homes and the shopping center, and the businesses,” Gloria says, but still regrets the demise of the downtown shopping. “We do miss some of the old businesses,” she says, noting the commercial area along Batavia Road has more of a mall feeling.

But despite the boom, Carolyn notes, “People are still trying to maintain that small town feel.” She comments on the spirit of volunteerism that is alive in Warrenville. As curator of the Warrenville Historical Museum, she helps area residents maintain ties to its roots, and she points out that all the workers at the historical museum are volunteers, which allows the museum to offer its displays and services free of charge. She adds that the town offers many events that bring the people together.

stone

Bernie and Gloria especially like that feeling of community, citing the fact that people from all the churches mingle, attending each other’s events.

“We like the community,” they say, echoing what appears to be a common sentiment among Warrenville residents. “We like it a lot.”

Going Way Back

Dwight Lund, at 83, and Joe Kleinwachter at 86, are part of the “old guard,” and probably among

the last of their generation to have lived their entire lives in Warrenville.

Joe’s family came to Warrenville from Germany in 1925, sponsored by his aunts who lived in Chicago.

train

His father was a blacksmith, and found work shoeing the horses at the Arlington Race Track. The area had a large German population, and Joe’s father read in the German newspapers that the Warrenville blacksmith had died. Seeing an opportunity, the family moved to Warrenville and his father set up shop.

Joe recalls Warrenville as a welcoming community. There was no fire department there yet, and when the Kleinwachter home burned down, the fire was fought by neighbors who then welcomed the family in their homes for a few days, until they could go back to their own house. (Interestingly, Joe’s son, Jerry, is currently the Warrenville fire chief.)

Dwight Lund, also a lifelong Warrenville resident, remembers a town that was basically a bedroom community surrounded by farmland, yet commutable to Chicago. “You could take the train and be in the Loop in an hour.” Many of his memories of his childhood revolve around school, because, as he puts it, “That was where we spent the most time.”

snow

He remembers walking the mile to Sarah Holmes Elementary, which handled all students in grades 1-8, and recalls that his 8th grade class had 35 or 40 students. Older students went to Wheaton Community High School, and when he graduated in 1942, his class totaled around 150. “Wheaton, Pleasant Hill, Weisbrook, and Warrenville all had feeder schools that went into the high school,” he says. Now the area is served by a consolidated K-12 district with four middle schools and two high schools.

The “bus” students took to school was actually a train—the old Chicago, Aurora, and Elgin electric line, which has since become part of the Prairie Path, the first in the national “Rails to Trails” program that turned railroad right of ways into walking paths.

Dwight reflects that children back then didn’t have as much available to them as today’s students. “There was no band program, no competitive sports. It was a very rural community, and there were few paved roads. We played kick the can, hide and seek, swam or ice skated on the river, maybe had a pickup baseball game—nothing organized.” Of course there were church activities, and Lund, an Episcopalian, participated in the Community Baptist youth group until he was old enough to ride the train to the Episcopal Church in Wheaton. “And,” he adds, “I was a Boy Scout.” Still, he laments that children don’t have the freedom he enjoyed as a child. “Everyone knew everyone else. If I didn’t get home on time, my mother would start calling the people along my walking road to see where I was dallying, and they knew.”

water

In 1946, Joe returned from World War II to a changing Warrenville.

“It was getting bigger,” he said. “The veterans were returning home, getting married, raising families, and they were building homes.” He notes that one draw to the area was that there was work available for everyone. He found a job at Mount Hardware, and in 1952 he bought the business, which he continued to run for the next 60 years.

Dwight moved into the family business, R.C. Lund Greenhouses. “I was born and raised into that,” he says, recalling that during the Depression he sold vegetables door-to-door along Batavia Road. After studying floraculture at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, he eventually took over the business, which he ran until 1991.

road

Dwight remembers when Winfield Road was a 2-lane asphalt road, not very heavily traveled. Today, thanks to Cantera and its interchange from I-88, Winfield Road has become a 4-lane highway with a lot of traffic leading through the town. Still, he says, the town has remained small, with many of the Cantera employees being day workers who commute in from elsewhere.

Despite the changes to the community, Joe says it’s still a small town with no big problems, and notes, “My mother lived here until she was 101.” He reflects that many of his generation moved away, but other than his time in Europe during the war, he’s never left the area.

“It’s a steady place to live,” he says, adding, “We all like each other.”

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