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

Bensenville is in DuPage County, approximately seventeen miles west of the Chicago Loop.[1]  It is in the northeast corner of DuPage County and touches O’Hare International Airport, the westernmost extension of Chicago.[2]  Over the course of centuries, Bensenville has evolved from a farm town to a railroad suburb to an airport suburb.  The village motto used to be “Proud of our past, Pride in our future.”  Now, it is “Gateway to Opportunity.”  Before the U.S. Government compelled the Potawatomi tribe to withdraw in 1833, they were the largest American Indian tribe in what became Bensenville.[3]  As recounted by Aaron Harwig in The Encyclopedia of Chicago and Chicago Neighborhoods and Suburbs: A Historical Guide, “New Englanders Hezekiah Dunklee and Mason Smith established claims near Salt Creek soon after the Indian removal in a wooded grove west of present-day Bensenville in Addison Township.  Political strife in Europe contributed to building the area’s population, as many Germans settled in the area.” [4]

According to the timeline on the Website of the Bensenville Community Public Library (B.C.P.L.), taken from Bensenville: Proud of Our Past by Martha Kirker Jones, in 1833 Dunklee and Smith were joined by twelve German immigrant families from Benzen, which is a tiny village in Lower Saxony. In 1835, the neighboring suburb of Wood Dale was founded as Lester’s Station.

By 1837, thirty families lived in Dunklee’s Grove, which evolved into the separate communities of Bensenville and Wood Dale.  Though they did not belong to the same denomination, as some were Lutherans and others were Calvinists, the German families were united in Protestantism and founded the German United Reformed Lutheran Church of Addison.

In 1847, the congregation split.  The Reformed (Calvinist) members formed St. John’s Church.  Meanwhile, the Lutheran congregation changed the name of the church in 1848 to the German United Lutheran Church of Addison and later added Zion to the name.

The Lutheran church purchased over forty-eight acres of land from Louis Schmidt for $200.  In 1856, the Lutheran church joined the Missouri Synod and in 1862 sold its first church building for $100 and built a second for $10,000.  The gold-trimmed interior of that second church was destroyed when a summer light strike sparked a fire.

The next year, when the Missouri Synod expressed a desire to establish a “teacher’s seminary” to produce teachers for Lutheran schools, Zion offered land behind the church, part of what is now the White Pines Golf Course, but the Missouri Synod wanted to build the college in Addison, Illinois.   The church paid $10.00 to purchase George Bartling’s pasture and fourteen acres adjoining it and donated $3,128.00 to build Concordia Teacher’s Seminary, which later changed its name to Concordia Teachers College and remained in Addison until 1913, when it moved to River Forest.  [Yes, River Forest is home to two universities, the other being Dominican University (formerly Rosary College).]  The name of the school changed to Concordia College and is now Concordia University Chicago.

Local farmers in the Bensenville-Wood Dale area raised wheat and produced dairy products.[5]  The farming community benefitted from a stage road that connected Chicago to Elgin and Galena, a plank road that had a route like that of today’s Irving Park Road, and the Galena & Chicago Union Railroad, which came through south of Bensenville in 1849.[6]

 

The Korthauer Legacy

Henry Korthauer emigrated from what is now Germany, with his family, to New York in 1840, and arrived in what is now Bensenville in 1841.  With his wife, Mary, he raised three children there.  Around 1844, he built what is now called the Korthauer Log House.  This is a log house rather than a log cabin.  It features a hip roof and handmade bricks.

The Korthauers were active in both the literal construction of the village as a place and the figurative construction of the village government.  They helped built the mill at Mt. Emblem Cemetery and Freiden’s Evangelical Church.  In 1894, Henry’s sons Herman, who had helped build the church, and William were elected, respectively, Chief and Treasurer of the Bensenville Fire Department.  Herman Korthauer also sat on the board of School District 2, served as a Justice of the Peace, and was twice elected Village President.  The firehouse at 500 South York Road is dedicated as a memorial for the Korthauer family’s legacy of public service in the community.

Over the course of decades, Henry Korthauer’s descendants encased the old log house in drywall on the interior and siding on the exterior.  In 1989, the owners of the house decided to demolish it and discovered the log house.  They offered it to the Bensenville Historical Society with the provision that the B.H.S. move the structure.  The Bensenville Library offered a site and volunteers labeled the logs, disassembled the house, and reassembled it on the property provided by the Bensenville Library.  The Bensenville Community Public Library District owns and operates the Korthauer Log House as a living history museum.  It is open to the public the second Sunday every month.  The address is 900 West Wood Street.  For more information, call (630) 766-4642.

The town was founded as such in the 1870s when Dietrich Struckmann, T.R. Dobbins, and Roselle Hough purchased land and subdivided it to build a town.[7]  The Chicago, Milwaukee, St. Paul & Pacific Railroad added a stop on its line between Chicago and Elgin.[8]  Residents voted to incorporate on May 10, 1884.[9]

The first school was built in 1886.[10]  The next year, the town gained storm sewers.[11]  At the dawn of the next century, the town gained phone service, electricity, and sidewalks.[12]   The population in 1900 stood at 374.[13]

In 1916, the Chicago, Milwaukee & St. Paul built a roundhouse and freight yard in Bensenville.[14]  The freight yard provided many jobs, and attracted new residents, including the town’s first Mexican residents.[15]  By 1940, the population of Bensenville had reached 1,869.[16]

It was in 1940 that the U.S. Government announced plans to construct an aircraft manufacturing plant for cargo planes in Cook County to the east of Bensenville.[17]  The plant operated during the Second Great World War from 1943 to 1945.[18]  In 1946, the City of Chicago purchased the facility as a preliminary step for the construction of a large-scale airport.[19]  Another prerequisite for the construction of so large an airport as big city leaders envisioned was the acquisition of land in unincorporated DuPage County.[20]

The Village of Bensenville challenged in court the right of the City of Chicago to annex this territory, but (obviously) the city government prevailed.[21]  A number of structures in what had been unincorporated Bensenville (physically but not legally part of the town) were moved or demolished to make way for the airport, which opened in 1955.[22]  Having created O’Hare, Chicago annexed it in 1956.[23]

The population of Bensenville doubled by 1950 and tripled by 1960, at which point it stood at 9,141.[24]  In 1969, Bensenville and sixteen other suburbs near the airport established the O’Hare Area Noise Abatement Council.[25]  The population reached 17,767 in 1990 and 20,703 by 2000.[26]

As part of the F.A.A. Compatibility Study, the firm AECOM is helping the Village of Bensenville create plans for future residential and retail real estate development to accommodate the westward expansion of O’Hare International Airport and construction of the Elgin O’Hare-West Bypass.  Presentations were made on January 11, 2012 and March 7, 2012.

This proposed tollway is now being called Interstate 490, but people are still alternatively calling it the O’Hare West Bypass and the Western O’Hare Beltway.  This tollway and beltway will connect Interstate 294 (the Tri-State Tollway), run along the western side of O’Hare International Airport, connect to a western access point of O’Hare, and continue northward to connect with Illinois Route 390 (also known as the Elgin-O’Hare Tollway and formerly known as the Elgin-O’Hare Expressway) and Interstate 90 (the Jane Addams Memorial Tollway).  Two years ago, the Illinois Tollway Authority sued the Canadian Pacific Railroad for the right to build ramps over railroad tracks west of O’Hare, as Mary Wisniewski reported in the Chicago Tribune.  The Village of Bensenville has developed a 20 Year Plan to take advantage of its position relative to the Elgin O’Hare West Bypass and O’Hare’s Western Terminal.

Bensenville residents elect six trustees, a clerk, and a board president.  Frank DeSimone is the Village Board President.  The Village of Bensenville has a council-manager form of government.  The village manager reports to the board.  Evan K. Summers is the Village Manager.

There is a good deal of green space at the center of Bensenville.  The Bensenville Park District owns the White Pines Golf Club, a thirty-six-hole golf course.  White Pines Golf Club & Banquets occupies 240 acres of land.  37 Bar & Grill (formerly known as the Club Room Restaurant & Patio) serves breakfast, lunch, and dinner.  Wedding ceremonies and receptions can be held on the grounds.

The White Pines Golf Course (W.P.G.C.) was hit hard by the emerald ash borer.  The affected over 1,200 trees.  Within five years, every ash tree on the grounds will have to be cut down.  To compensate, the W.P.G.C. has founded a nursery.  The W.P.G.C. planted elm trees that are not susceptible to Dutch elm disease, and linden trees that are resistant to Japanese beetles, as well as red maple trees, oak trees, pear trees, and serviceberry trees.

The 149-acre Fischer Woods Forest Preserve is part of the Forest Preserve District of DuPage County.  The Bensenville Park District offers educational programs at the Fischer Farm homestead at the Fischer Woods Forest Preserve.  The Fischer Farm Museum is open Wednesdays through Saturdays from 9:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m.

The aptly named Church Road has four churches and a Sanatan Hindu temple, True Jesus Church, First United Methodist Church, Zion Evangelical Lutheran Church, Holy Trinity Ukrainian Orthodox Church, and Manav Seva Mandir Temple.  [There are two Orthodox churches on Church Road as St. Demetrious Greek Orthodox Church is located at 893 North Church Road in Elmhurst.]  The Diocese of Joliet has two parishes in Bensenville, both of which celebrate Masses in English and Spanish.  St. Alexis Roman Catholic Church is at 400 West Wood Avenue.  St. Charles Borromeo Catholic Church is at 145 Grand Avenue.

In 1954, Fenton High School was built.  Four years later, the Wesley A. Johnson School was built.  Holy Family Catholic School (H.F.C.S.) is located at 145 Grand Avenue as part of the St. Charles Borromeo Parish campus.  It was founded by St. Charles Borromeo Parish in Bensenville and St. Joseph Parish in Addison, both of which are part of the Diocese of Joliet. The school offers half-day preschool classes, full-day kindergarten classes, and 1st through 8th grade classes.  Zion-Concord Lutheran School at 865 Church Road is part of the Zion Evangelical Lutheran Church complex, which also is affiliated with Walther Lutheran High School in Melrose Park and Walther Lutheran Academy in Forest Park.

In 1960, Bensenville residents voted to approve the establishment of the Bensenville Community Public Library District.  To build the third and current iteration of the Bensenville Community Public Library of field stone and cedar wood, in Varble Park, required the cooperation of the Bensenville Park District and the passage of a referendum.  It opened in November of 1978.  The architectural firm Ray Basso & Associates designed the building.

The auto salvage yard Victory Auto Wreckers in Bensenville aired the same TV commercial, with very few changes, from 1985 to 2015.  Bob Zajdel, the young fellow in the commercial, has become something of a local celebrity.

ENDNOTES

[1] Aaron Harwig, “Bensenville, IL.” The Encyclopedia of Chicago. James R. Grossman, Ann Durkin Keating, and Janice L. Reiff, editors. © The Newberry Library Chicago and London: The University of Chicago Press (2004), p. 75

See also Aaron Harwig, “Bensenville, IL.” Chicago Neighborhoods and Suburbs: A Historical Guide. Ann Durkin Keating, editor. © The Newberry Library Chicago and London: The University of Chicago Press (2008), p. 106

[2] Ibid

[3] Ibid

[4] Ibid

[5] Harwig, p. 75

See also Harwig, p. 106

[6] Ibid

[7] Ibid

[8] Ibid

[9] Ibid

[10] Harwig, p. 75

See also Harwig, p. 107

[11] Ibid

[12] Ibid

[13] Ibid

[14] Ibid

[15] Ibid

[16] Ibid

[17] Ibid

[18] Ibid

[19] Ibid

[20] Ibid

[21] Ibid

[22] Ibid

[23] Ibid

[24] Ibid

[25] Harwig, p. 76

See also Harwig, p. 106

[26] Ibid

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