Hidden History of the Baker House

A Blog Story About Nature in Our DuPage Forest Preserves

Hidden History of the Baker House

Posted by Keith McClow | 6/30/22 3:41 PM

It’s hard to fathom the connections a little old house on St. Charles Road has to the history of DuPage County, Illinois and the nation.

Coming to America

The family that lived in the house most likely came from Ireland in the 1830s or 40s. The Bakers came to Illinois to help build the Illinois and Michigan Canal. The I&M Canal literally shaped the state of Illinois and is the reason the state is so long. Plans to build the canal were made before Illinois became a state, and the state’s border was moved north so the entire length of the canal would be under one state’s jurisdiction. As a result, Illinois became bigger and Wisconsin became smaller.

Baker-House-restoration-1000x600

 

Connecting the Illinois River to Lake Michigan

The I&M Canal was built to connect the Illinois River to Lake Michigan, improving regional access to markets in the eastern states and around the world. It was an economic boon to farmers and industry and made Illinois a more attractive place to settle. Many towns were established along its path.

 

The Indian Boundary Line

The canal project was also part of the brutal federal policy of Indian removal. The Indian Boundary Line is a swath of land from Chicago to LaSalle, IL, that runs through DuPage County. It was taken from the native people so it could be used to move equipment and labor to build the canal. The Indian Boundary was one of the first treaties in what is now Chicagoland that pushed the native people off their land.

Baker-House-tree-1000x800

 

Bakers Turn to Farming

In 1842 work on the canal was temporarily halted for financial reasons, so the Bakers took up farming. In 1843, a road opened between Chicago and what is now St. Charles, making land along the route prime farmland, so people started buying land and building farms.

In 1845, the Bakers purchased 140 acres of land and a newly built brick house along the new St. Charles Road. The Baker family grew and prospered on their farm. Their seventh daughter was born in the house.

Baker-Homestead-1000x600

 

They continued purchasing farmland, and by 1860 the Baker family was listed as the 6th largest landowner in Wayne Township. Farming was paying off in the area because goods could be easily transported on the growing system of roads and canals. The Baker family remained in the home until 1887.

The Baker House is the oldest structure in West Chicago. The bricks were made locally from DuPage County clay. The home is considered the best surviving example of a small front-gabled Greek-revival farmhouse in DuPage County and now sits near West Branch Forest Preserve in Bartlett.

The next time you drive down St. Charles Road and you pass the little brick farmhouse, appreciate its connections to the histories of immigration, Indian removal, transportation, and farming in this area. Although they were not all happy stories, they are the stories that helped make this area what it is today. And ponder that the house has stood in that spot for almost 180 years!

Baker-house-plaque-1000x1399

A plaque on the grounds of the historic Baker House on St. Charles Road.

 

 

 

 

 

About Hidden History blogs

From glaciers to mounds, mammoths and farms, each month we highlight the often-overlooked history of our preserves and provide context to deepen your connection to the land, as well as tell the stories revealed to us through the objects and formations left behind. Stay tuned as members of the Forest Preserve District's collections committee bring you closer to your community through story every month.

Topics: Insider, Locations, History

Written by Keith McClow

Keith McClow is the heritage experience manager for the Forest Preserve District of DuPage County. He has a B.S. in management from Purdue University and an M.A. in historical administration from Northern Illinois University. Keith started his museum career as an intern at the Hoosier Grove Schoolhouse Museum. He worked at many other local museums before becoming executive director of the Glen Ellyn Historical Society. After volunteering for many years with the Forest Preserve District, he joined the staff as a naturalist at Kline Creek Farm in 1998. Keith has a wife and twin children and enjoys getting outside, camping and canoeing.