Building blocks that created a village
In part one of its three-part series, the Elburn Herald takes a look back at the individuals and groups that helped
establish Sugar Grove not only as a village, but also as an ideal place to put down roots and raise a family
SUGAR GROVE—Sugar Grove Township was first settled in the 1830s, mainly by easterners from New York and Ohio, who had heard of the area’s open prairies, forests, plentiful game and good water. Several local area residents have roots going back to these first settlers.
Everett Whildin’s family has been farming in the area for generations, ever since his great-great-grandfather Richard Whildin first came to Sugar Grove in 1837. Richard, originally from Wales, brought with him his wife Louisa, whom he had met in New York.
Patsy Mighell (pronounced Mile) Paxton, an Aurora Township resident, is the descendant of two of the Sugar Grove Township’s earliest settlers, Ezekiel and Lucinda Todd Mighell. According to Paxton, Ezekiel first walked the 800 miles from his farm near Dryden, N.Y., in 1836 to check out the area before going back for his wife and five children.
Ezekiel chose a site in the southwest corner of the township, near what would later become Prairie and McCannon roads. According to Paxton, he purchased the land for $1.25 an acre.
Sugar Grove resident Ruth Frantz’s great-great-grandfather Levi Todd, Lucinda’s brother, moved to the area based on Mighell’s recommendation, settling in the area near Dugan Road and Route 30.
The early residents of the township settled in four small clusters throughout the area, instead of coming together to create one main village.
Paxton recently wrote a history of Sugar Grove Township titled “Sin-Qua-Sip,” the Native American name for the area. Sin-Qua-Sip, or “Sugar Camp,” refers to the stands of sugar maple trees in the area. According to Paxton, in the spring the Pottawattamie tribe would travel from their permanent camp along the Fox River to tap the maple trees for syrup to use in their cooking.
This grove of sugar maples would eventually become part of what is now known as Bliss Woods.
In addition to the prairie that the first settlers turned into farmland, each family had its own wood lot within Bliss Woods, where they obtained the timber to heat their homes.
The earliest settlers held their first Fourth of July celebration in 1834 in Bliss Woods. The Sugar Grove Historical Society and the Kane County Forest Preserve Commission later placed a sign commemorating the spot, which remains there today.
Sugar Grove resident and naturalist Mary Oschenschlager said that Bliss Woods has always been an important feature of the area. Full of rare plants and geological and cultural history, the diverse ecosystem includes woods, oak savannah and marsh, and 240 plant species, including a large variety of wildflowers and an impressive collection of trees.
Bliss Woods is also home to a unique and increasingly rare geologic feature, the Kaneville Esker. The esker is a ridge of gravel, rocks and sediment left by a river flowing underneath the melting glacier from approximately 13,000 years ago. Oschenschlager said that after years of gravel mining, most of the esker is gone, but they have been lucky to have saved some of it.
These ecological and geological features led to the designation of a portion of Bliss Woods as an Illinois State Nature Preserve. The Kane County Forest Preserve District, also recognizing its value, purchased the Bliss Woods property in order to preserve it.
Sugar Grove remains a small farming community into mid-20th century
Sugar Grove Township remained mostly a small farming community from the 1830s to the mid-20th century. Farming, especially dairy farming, was an important business to the area for many years.
The Ingham & Paull cheese factory located at Galena Boulevard and Densmore Road during the 1860s, purchased the milk for its operation from the dairy farmers in the area.
Peleg Young Bliss, one of the early settlers, opened a successful mercantile in 1839 at the corner of Bliss and Merrill roads. The Bliss House was later moved to its current location at 259 Main St., where preservationist Barb Hollmeier spent the next five years restoring it. The building currently houses the Sugar Grove Historical Society.
Keck’s store on Main Street was, for a number of years, the only retail business in town. Will E. Keck bought the building, and his son, William Roscoe “Spiv” Keck, eventually took over the operation of the store, where residents would buy groceries and other household items.
According to Elaine (Keck) Fox, Spiv’s daughter, her dad would buy sides of beef from the packing plant in Aurora, and cut it into steaks and grind it into hamburger to sell in the store. He bought his eggs from Alan’s Hatchery, located north of Sugar Grove.
Elaine said her dad eventually expanded the store to include hardware, where people could also buy work clothes and have keys made and screens and glass cut.
“Dad always hired a lot of people from town—kids and stay-at-home moms,” Elaine said. “He would work their hours around their schedules.”
A number of people recalled that you could charge what you bought at the Keck Store.
“I can remember going up to Keck’s grocery store and buying a pound of hamburger and saying, ‘Will you put this on my bill?’” resident Karen McCannon said.
The store housed one of the four fire phones and a button to activate the siren that alerted the firefighters of a fire. For a time, the local post office was also located there.
The Keck family still owns the building at 231 N. Main St., where a home decor business is currently located.
Another building still standing on Main Street from that era is the Sugar Grove United Methodist Church. The original building was constructed in 1888, with the fellowship and Sunday school wing added many years later. Many Sugar Grove families have been active members of the church for generations.
During the early 1900s, the area was home to a grain elevator and mill, lumber and coal business, a blacksmith shop, the West Hotel, and the J.S. Miller Store, ice cream parlor and pool hall.
The Sugar Grove Township Community House, located across Main Street from the church, was built in 1929 by Leigh Sauer, Edgar Snow, Ben McCannon and others for community events and township residents’ use. The building includes a basketball court, as well as meeting rooms and spaces to hold lunches and dinners.
The women from the Sugar Grove United Methodist Church stocked the kitchen, with dishes, pots and pans and other equipment, still in use today.
Over the years, the building has been host to the scouts, 4-H clubs, youth athletic groups, a men’s indoor basketball league, Fire District pancake breakfasts and spaghetti dinners, as well as aerobics classes, wedding receptions, showers, anniversary and birthday parties. For a time, the library was also housed there.
Sugar Grove incorporates in 1957
The village was incorporated in 1957, with a population of 125. The Aurora Airport, built around the same time in North Aurora, relocated to Sugar Grove Township in 1960.
Residential development began to take place during the early 1960s, beginning with the construction of Richards’ subdivision on the east side of Route 47.
Ruth and Groff Frantz and their children were among the first residents within the Richards’ subdivision. Ruth recalled that when they moved in, the roads within the development were just being built. There were no fences, and she said that her backyard was always full of children.
“Everyone knew who the kids were,” she said. “If you saw somebody doing wrong (even if it wasn’t your child), you yelled at them.”
Joan Perrin and her husband, Gerald, who was from Kansas, moved into the Richards’ development about the same time as Ruth and Groff. Gerald worked as an air traffic controller at the Aurora Air Traffic Control Center.
Joan was one of the organizers of a summer program created in 1968 to provide activities for the children. Volunteers taught classes in archery, golf, tennis, volleyball, arts and crafts, nature studies and more. She and a number of the other mothers took the children swimming to a pool in Yorkville, provided Friday night dances, hayrides and other activities for the teens, and held picnics and street dances, with a Wednesday night family night.
The activities were free to the children, because of contributions from the local businesses, social organizations and individuals. She said they even had enough money to hire a director, and Willa McCannon Bretthauer signed up for the job. Many of the parents helped out, either by driving the children or providing other types of assistance.
“We ran it for about three years,” she said. “We had a great program going for awhile.”
Before a formal park district was created, parents were the park district, Frantz said.
“When you have children, you’re involved in everything,” she said.
McCannon said that she and her husband Mick spent many years helping out with the youth baseball program.
“We raised our kids on the baseball field,” she said with a laugh. “We carried around catcher’s equipment, balls and bats and a playpen in our car.”
Karen, who came to Sugar Grove in 1965, said the McCannons have lived in the community for generations and have been involved in many community projects and activities through the years.
Mick’s father, Willis, was one of the charter members of the volunteer fire department and was township supervisor for a time. Mick’s mother, Grace, was instrumental in creating the community’s first library. And Mick and his cousin, Ted McCannon, brought a number of people together to build the Volunteer Pavilion in Volunteer Park.
“Mick was the general contractor and Ted got the land,” Karen said.
Karen, whose grandchildren are the sixth generation of McCannons in Sugar Grove, said she has appreciated being a part of this community. She said that when her father passed away, her neighbors came over and did her laundry, began packing her suitcase and had arranged for care for her children and her animals before she got home.
“When you needed them, the neighbors were right there,” Karen said.
Sugar Grove continued to grow, and a special census in 1965 put the population at 562. In 1967, the population was set at 1,230.
The Sugar Grove Newspaper began publication in 1969, and for more than two decades reported on the news of the day. Helen Jorgensen was the editor, Karen McCannon was the front page editor, and since Ruth Frantz owned a mimeograph machine, she ran off the copies.
A total of 10 women participated in its operation, and a group of children in town delivered it free-of-charge to the residents.
Oschenschlager, who moved to Sugar Grove in 1975, said that as a new resident and a young mother, she had really appreciated receiving the newspaper.
Development continued in Sugar Grove throughout the 1970s, with the annexation of Dugan Woods subdivision in 1977. Development of the Windstone, Black Walnut Trails, Strafford Woods, Mallard Point, and Chelsea Meadows subdivisions began in late 1980s and continued into the late 1990s.
The population reached 2,005 in 1990. The development of Windsor Pointe and the Walnut Woods Subdivision from the late 1990s into the early 2000s pushed the 2000 census numbers to 3,909.
But the same volunteer spirit continued. Whether the Sugar Grove Farmer’s Market, the Village Board or the annual Corn Boil, it’s the volunteers who continue to make things happen.