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

Westmont, Illinois is a railroad suburb of Chicago, a middle-ring suburb, located in DuPage County.  It is nineteen miles west of the Chicago Loop.[1] Ready access to roadway and railroad transportation networks played a major role in the development of the town.[2]  Downtown Westmont runs along Cass Avenue, but the corridor of retail, commercial, and medical enterprises that runs continuously along Ogden Avenue/Illinois Route 34 through DuPage County runs through Westmont on an east-west axis at the northern end of town.  Lombard, Oakbrook Terrace, and Oak Brook are north of Westmont.  Clarendon Hills, east of Westmont, is sandwiched between Hinsdale and Westmont.  Downers Grove, Lisle, and The Morton Arboretum are to the west.  Woodridge and Darien are to the south.  The public school districts that serve the majority of Westmont residents are 201, 60, 58, 86, and 99. The Westmont Junior High School and Senior High Schools are part of School District 201. Located nearby in Glen Ellyn is the College of DuPage, which has a satellite facility in Westmont.[3]  By 1834, two stage routes passed through what is now Westmont, one along the route of Ogden Avenue and the other down Naperville Road.[4] Early on, Westmont was called Bushville.  Another part of town, settled in the second half of the 19th Century, was called Greggs.[5]  The Chicago-Aurora line of what became the Chicago, Burlington & Quincy (CB&Q) Railroad began to stop in Bushville in 1864.[6]

While the neighboring towns of Oak Brook and Hinsdale were settled by affluent people, Westmont’s population grew through the efforts of working-class people. In 1872, in the aftermath of the Great Chicago Fire of 1871, William L. Gregg found the region to have good clay for brick-making and founded the Excelsior Brick Company.[7] Gregg chose this area because it was the highest mound between Chicago and the Mississippi River on the CB&Q line.  He was not the only brick-maker to have a brickyard in the area.  The Phipps Industrial Land Trust purchased a large amount of land in the area and sold some of it Gregg and the other brick-makers.  Gregg had an initial capital investment of $250,000.  According to Marilyn Elizabeth Perry’s history of Westmont in The Encyclopedia of Chicago, Gregg “built his brick factory on the highest point of the railroad so that after bricks were loaded onto a railcar, the load was easily shuttled downhill to the city. In the 1870s, Excelsior employed 120 people and produced 70,000 bricks a day.”[8] In the 1880s, Gregg built a house on Cass Avenue near Richmond Street.  Gregg House is now the oldest in Westmont.[9]  By turns, the Gregg House, built in 1872, had served as a farmhouse, a restaurant, a funeral parlor a speakeasy during Prohibition, a rectory for Holy Trinity Church, and a convent for Holy Trinity Church, before it became rundown and faced demolition.[10]

Czech, Polish, and Italian workers settled in a new neighborhood named Greggs.[11] Two schools and a train depot called Gregg’s Station or Gregg’s Milk Station were built.[12] According to Marilyn Elizabeth Perry and the Westmont Historical Society, Gregg “invented a triple-pressure brick machine, which manufactured bricks able to withstand 100,000 pounds of pressure without cracking.”[13] The Gregg brickyard was abandoned after 1900, leaving only the Gregg home and a few surrounding farms as most of the workers and their families departed.[14]

In 1919, real estate developer Arthur McIntosh bought land in Westmont and offered working-class Chicagoans an opportunity to own property for a $5 down payment and small monthly installment payments.[15] By 1923, his subdivision had more than 1,800 residents, many first or second-generation Austrian, Polish, or German-Americans.[16] At first, these new landowners lived in tents and shacks.[17]  They had neither paved streets nor utilities.[18] Soon, though, they built cottages.[19]  On November 10, 1921, the village incorporated as Westmont with a population of approximately 400 residents.  During Prohibition, Westmont began to be called “Whiskey Hill” and “Wet Mont.”[20]  People in neighboring towns frequented the taverns involved in the area’s black market trade in liquor.[21]

In 1922, the Westmont Police Department formed with a single officer who acted as town marshal on call twenty-four hours a day.  The next year, the Westmont Fire Department formed with a single fire truck.[22]

The History of Holy Trinity Parish

Holy Trinity Parish started in 1923 as Holy Trinity Chapel, as a mission of St. Joseph Parish in Downers Grove, which was then part of the Archdiocese of Chicago.  George Cardinal Mundelein (1872-1939), Archbishop of Chicago (1915-1939), approved the mission at the suggestion of Fr. Eneas B. Goodwin, the rector of St. Joseph’s.  The chapel was a tar-paperd building that stood at 110 North Washington Street.  The first Mass was said there on Christmas Day.  For the next fifteen years, the chapel was served by secular (archdiocesan) priests and Franciscan friars from Mayslake.

In 1938, Cardinal Mundelein appointed Fr. Ligouri Logsdon as the first resident pastor, and the present site of the parish buildings was soon acquired.  [Fr. Logdson was pastor for just one year, from 1938 to 1939.  He was succeeded by Fr. Daniel J. Stokes, who was pastor from 1939 to 1946.] The parish was built on the site of Excelsior Brick Company, so it included the Gregg House, which became the rectory.  It served that function for thirty-seven years.  Then it became a convent for the sisters who staffed the parish school.

In 1939, the parish planned to build a new church, but with no wealthy parishioners, they had to get creative to finance its construction.  Consequently, they started a fundraising campaign whereby every parishioner who bought a brick for twenty-five cents received pins that read, “I bought a brick for the church.”  In the summer of 1940, they were able to begin construction of a small, Colonial-style church that through a heroic effort was ready for Mass to be celebrated inside by Christmas Day.  This church was built on the site of the present church.  The parishioners were able to pay off the debt they had incurred in the church’s construction.  This was possible in part because some parishioners had donated labor.

Holy Trinity School opened in 1950 and Holy Trinity Church opened in 1958.  This basement church is now located on the ground floor of the present-day school building.  The Colonial-style church remained the parish’s sole church until a basement church was built in 1958, but the old church remained in use continuously until 1989, when it was razed to make way for the new church, which was dedicated on December 5, 1992, in time for Fr. William O’Shea to celebrate Masses there for the 1992-93 Christmas season.

In 1948, Pope Pius XII (lived 1876-1959, reigned 1939-1959) created the Diocese of Joliet with the Most Reverend Martin D. McNamara as the first Bishop of Joliet, and Bishop McNamara gave Fr. Thomas Dennehy a mandate to build an eight-room schoolhouse, to build a new rectory, and to convert the old rectory (Gregg House) into a convent.  [Fr. Dennehy was pastor from 1956 to 1958.]  Groundbreaking for the school occurred on February 12, 1950.  The cornerstone was laid on Mother’s Day.  The school was completed in 1952 and the new rectory was built shortly thereafter.  The Sisters of Charity moved into Gregg House.  Groundbreaking for a new, two-story convent occurred on September 21, 1958.

Fr. Salvatore Formusa was pastor from 1958 to 1963.  Briefly, Fr. John Doyle was administrator of the parish from May to June of 1963.  Subsequently, Fr. John Jerbi was pastor from 1963 to 1965.  The next three pastors held the position for nine years or more.  Fr. William Koch was pastor from 1965 to 1980, Fr. William O’Shea was pastor from 1980 to 1993, and Fr. James Nowak was pastor from 1993 to 2002.  On September 26, 1977, Gregg House moved to Westmont Park District property across the street on Linden Street where the Westmont Historical Society operates it as the Gregg House Museum.  The schoolhouse underwent renovations for thirteen weeks in 1992-93 and was rededicated on January 23, 1993.

Fr. William DeSalvo was pastor from 2002 to 2010.  In 2004, Fr. DeSalvo, announced a new three-phase fundraising program called the Heritage of Faith.  The unfinished church basement became Holy Family Hall in 2005 under the first phase.  The oldest wing of the school building, which started out as the original schoolhouse that opened in 1952, became the Mother of Life Wing in 2008 under the second phase.  It now houses the preschool, library, parish offices, and the Sacred Heart Chapel of Eucharistic Adoration.  Further, the convent was demolished to make way for the Parish Center, which will be built with funds from the third phase.  Meanwhile, in 2010, Holy Trinity Church underwent renovations.  Briefly, Fr. Gerald Tivy was pastor from 2010 to 2011.  The next two pastors would belong to a religious order, the Congregation of the Resurrection.  Fr. Michael Danek (1958-2015), C.R., was pastor from 2011 until his death in 2015.  In March of 2015, Fr. Danek, announced it was time to begin the third phase of the fundraising campaign to finance construction of the Parish Center.

In 2016, Fr. Rafal Wasilewski, C.R., became pastor.  Born in Poland to Jan and Danuta Wasilewski in 1982, he is the youngest of three children.  When he was ten years old, his family immigrated to the U.S.A. From that point onward, he grew up near St. Hyacinth Basilica in Chicago.  On January 6, 2007, he became a novice of the Congregation of the Resurrection.  One year later, he professed his vows of chastity, poverty, and obedience, whereupon he moved to the Resurrection House of Studies in Saint Louis, Missouri.  There, he studied philosophy at Saint Louis University, which is a Jesuit school, and theology at the Aquinas Institute of Theology, a Dominican school.  On August 15, 2011, he professed his perpetual vows.  On May 29, 2012, he was ordained a deacon and was assigned to St. John the Baptist Parish in Johnsburg, Illinois.  Later that year, on December 1, 2012, he was ordained a priest at St. Hyacinth Basiclica.  He continued to minister to the flock at St. John the Baptist.  On September 1, 2013, he joined Holy Trinity Parish.  Nearly three years later, on July 23, 2016, he became pastor of Holy Trinity Parish.

1Figure 1 Credit: Sean M. O’Connor Caption: This is the south entrance of Holy Trinity Catholic Church in Westmont, Illinois.  There is also a street entrance on the west side of the building.

2Figure 2 Credit: Sean M. O’Connor Caption: Patriotic banners were hanging from the lamp posts the day I visited Holy Trinity Parish on Friday, September 14, 2018.

The parish buildings are on the northern end of the block bounded by Richmond Street to the north, Linden Avenue to the east, Dallas Street to the south, and Cass Avenue to the west.  The address of Holy Trinity Parish is 25 East Richmond Street, Westmont, Illinois 60559.

Returning to the year 1923, that year, South School was built to serve school-age children in families who lived south of the railroad tracks.  The current South School was later built at the same location.[23]

What we now know as Cass Avenue was a dirt road until 1927. Westmont lacked sewers or water mains until 1923 and electricity until 1925.  However, in the 1920s Westmont was the only town around to have a lighted ballpark, which attracted semi-professional baseball teams from Chicago.[24]  Central School was built in 1928.  In this case, the original school building remains standing as the oldest part of Mannering Elementary School.[25]

By 1930, the population had grown to 2,733 residents.[26]  As late as 1939, 35% of residents were foreign-born.[27]  Due to the fact that Westmont remained a village of mostly agricultural character, the Second Great Depression did not have as much of a deleterious impact on Westmont as some other suburbs.  In 1932, the Works Progress Administration (W.P.A.) built a park and fountain at a site now occupied by the parking lot of the Westmont Metra Burlington Northern Santa Fe (B.N.S.F.) Railway line train station at 1 West Quincy.[28]

Development increased in the period after the Second Great World War. In the 1940s, Argonne National Laboratory purchased land south of Westmont (or rather the U.S. Government purchased land on which to build Argonne National Laboratory).[29]  A number of brick houses were built in a large development called Blackhawk Heights. By the 1960s, a large number of laborers and skilled tradesmen moved into the area, having taken jobs at Western Electric and International Harvester.[30]

In 1956, Miller School was built.  It was named in honor of Superintendent C.E. Miller, who had earlier served as first president of the Library Board.[31]

The Westmont Park District forms. The first two parks, Kiwanis Park and LeBeck Park, are built on land purchased for $3,000. The Westmont Park District forms. The first two parks, Kiwanis Park and LeBeck Park, are built on land purchased for $3The Westmont Park District formed in 1960.  With $3,000 it purchased two sites that became Kiwanis Park and LeBeck Park.  In 1960, the Westmont Park District purchased Veterans Memorial Park for $25,000.[32]

In the 1970s, the Village of Westmont annexed the 700-acre Healy Farm, the largest annexation up to that point.  In 1974, the Westmont Chamber of Commerce formed with its original nineteen members.  Two years later, Westmont High School was built.[33]

In 1977, the Westmont Historical Society formed with the goal of saving Gregg House.  The Westmont Historical Society later helped move the Gregg House to property owned by the Westmont Park District.  In 1981, the Gregg House Museum opened. [34]

1Figure 3 Credit: Sean M. O’Connor Caption: This is the Gregg House Museum as seen on Friday, September 14, 2018.

Gregg House Museum is located at the northwest corner of Veterans Memorial Park and is directly across the street from Holy Trinity Catholic School.  It is next door to, and directly south of, a park district administration building where the Westmont Lions Club holds meetings – the Ronald J. Gunter Administrative Center – and it is kitty corner to the Westmont Park District Community Center. The address of the Gregg House Museum is 115 South Linden Avenue, Westmont, Illinois 60559.  It is open from 1:00 p.m. to 3:00 p.m. on Sundays and Wednesdays.  Admission is free.  The address of the Ronald J. Gunter Administrative Center is 55 East Richmond Avenue, Westmont, Illinois 60559.  The address of the Westmont Park District Community Center is 75 East Richmond Street, Westmont, Illinois 60559.

In 1983, famed Blues musician Muddy Waters (1913-1983) died at his home in Westmont.  He had lived in Westmont for around ten years.[35]

In 1996, a new combination Westmont Police Department / Fire Department facility opened at 500 North Cass Avenue.  This facility is next door to the new Westmont Public Library that opened in 1993.[36]

In 1990, renters dominated the housing market, accounting for almost 50% of residents, with single-family houses beginning to replace apartment buildings. Car dealerships were prevalent along Ogden Avenue and generated 40% of the sales tax revenue in 1994. Car dealerships continue to dominate this stretch of Ogden Avenue.  Westmont’s population had grown to 24,554 by 2000, with 12% of residents being Asian, 7% of residents being Latino, and 5% of residents being Black.[37]

In 2001, Ty Warner Park opens as part of a partnership between Ty Corporation, located across the street, and the Westmont Park District. Warner produced the successful Beanie Babies stuffed toys since opening in 1993. Ty Warner Park opened in front of the Ty Corporation factory.  This represented a private-public partnership between the toymaker (manufacturers of Beanie Babies) and the Westmont Park District. [38]

Finance Director Lisa VanBogget is fired and indicted for stealing more than $40,000 from the village. She pleads guilty in 2011, and is sentenced to 180 days in jail, plus time served.

As of 2007, Westmont had over 26,200 residents in an area almost evenly divided between owner occupied homes (54%) and renter occupied homes (46%).   Well over half (59%) of the population lived in family households, while 36% of the population lived alone. [39]

Data from the U.S. Census Bureau’s 2006-2008 American Community Survey (A.C.S.) 3-year Estimates indicate about 17% of the Westmont’s population was age sixty-five or older, and 22% was below eighteen years of age.   In the 2000 Census, 45% of the senior population (age sixty-five or older) reported at least one disability. The median income was $59,570.   The vast majority (92.4%) of the population over twenty-five graduated from high school, 41.4% have a bachelor’s degree or higher, 77% of the workers over sixteen years old commuted in a car, van, or truck and the average commute time is 30 minutes.[40]

The A.C.S. reports 20% of the population were foreign-born and 80% native-born, including 64% who were born in Illinois. Among people at least five years old living in Westmont in 2006-2008, 27% spoke a language other than English at home. Of those speaking a language other than English at home, 20% spoke Spanish and 80% spoke some other language; and 42% reported that they did not speak English “very well.”[41]

Before the real estate bubble burst, it was estimated that with a scarcity of empty lots, many properties in the coming years would be redeveloped into larger single-family homes or into multi-family homes in the form for duplexes, town homes, and condominiums. The 2003 DuPage County Land Use Assumptions estimated the Westmont area would top out at 28,000 residents in 2015.[42]

In 2010, Finance Director Lisa VanBogget was fired and indicted on charges she stole $45,000 from the village government.  The next year, she pled guilty.  DuPage County Judge John Kinsella sentenced her to 120 days in DuPage County Jail, ordered her to serve 150 hours of community service, ordered her to pay restitution, and fined her $5,000.  Her lawyer attributed her crime to impulsive shopping.[43]

Today, Westmont is home to affluent residents and businesses that cater to them, as well as middle-class and lower-middle-class residents and business that cater to them.  This is a spillover from Oak Brook and Hinsdale, as the three towns have grown until they touched each other.  The same is true of Clarendon Hills, parts of which come across as outposts of Hinsdale.

8Figure 4 Credit: Sean M. O’Connor Caption: The Westmont Public Library, seen here on June 5, 2012, is a unit of the Village of Westmont.  It has an elected board and its own tax levy.  The address is, 428 North Cass Avenue Westmont, Illinois 60559.

ENDNOTES

[1] Marilyn Elizabeth Perry, “Westmont, IL.” The Encyclopedia of Chicago. Ed. James R. Grossman, Ann Durkin Keating, and Janice L. Reiff. 2004 © The Newberry Library Chicago and London: The University of Chicago Press (2004), p. 874

See also Marilyn Elizabeth Perry, “Westmont.” In The Electronic Encyclopedia of Chicago. Ed. James R. Grossman, Ann Durkin Keating, and Janice L. Reiff. 2005 © Chicago Historical Society

(http://www.encyclopedia.chicagohistory.org/pages/1346.html) Accessed 05/10/12

[2] Ibid

[3] Westmont Public Library, Collections Development Policy, p. 3

[4] Perry, p. 874

[5] Perry, p. 874

[6] Perry, p. 874

[7] Perry, p. 874

[8] Perry, p. 874

[9] Dave Heitz, “The ‘Progressive’ Village of Westmont marks 90 years of growth – and history,” Westmont Progress (mysuburbanlife.com) 9 November, 2011, p. 4

(http://www.mysuburbanlife.com/westmont/features/x1696634377/The-Progressive-Village-of-Westmont-marks-90-years-of-growth-and-history?zc_p=3) Accessed 05/14/12

[10] Westmont Historical Society, “Westmont Historical Society – Gregg House Museum,” (http://www.wpd4fun.org/facilities/Gregg-house-museum.htm) Accessed 05/14/12

See also Heitz, “The ‘Progressive’ Village of Westmont,” Westmont Progress, 9 November, 2011, p. 4

See also Dave Heitz, “The ‘Progressive’ Village of Westmont marks 90 years of growth – and history,” Westmont Progress (mysuburbanlife.com) 9 November, 2011, p. 3

(http://www.mysuburbanlife.com/westmont/features/x1696634377/The-Progressive-Village-of-Westmont-marks-90-years-of-growth-and-history?zc_p=2) Accessed 05/14/12

[11] Perry, p. 874

[12] Perry, p. 874

[13] Perry, p. 874

[14] Westmont Public Library, Collections Development Policy, p. 2

See also Westmont Historical Society, “Westmont Historical Society – Gregg House Museum,” (http://www.wpd4fun.org/facilities/Gregg-house-museum.htm) Accessed 05/14/12

See also Perry, p. 874

[15] Perry, p. 874

[16] Perry, p. 874

[17] Perry, p. 874

[18] Perry, p. 874

[19] Perry, p. 874

[20] Perry, pages 874 and 875

[21] Perry, p. 875

See also Westmont Public Library, Collections Development Policy, p. 2

[22] Heitz, “The ‘Progressive’ Village of Westmont,” Westmont Progress, 9 November, 2011, p. 4

[23] Heitz, “The ‘Progressive’ Village of Westmont,” Westmont Progress, 9 November, 2011, p. 4

[24] Westmont Public Library, Collections Development Policy, p. 2

[25] Heitz, “The ‘Progressive’ Village of Westmont,” Westmont Progress, 9 November, 2011, p. 4

[26] Perry, p. 875

[27] Perry, p. 875

[28] Heitz, “The ‘Progressive’ Village of Westmont,” Westmont Progress, 9 November, 2011, p. 4

[29] Heitz, “The ‘Progressive’ Village of Westmont,” Westmont Progress, 9 November, 2011, p. 4

[30] Perry, p. 875

In the early 20th Century, world-famous banker J.P. Morgan oversaw the merger of the McCormick Harvesting Machine Company (formerly McCormick Reaper Works) and the Deering Harvesting Company, along with some smaller competitors, to form the International Harvester Corporation.  In the mid-1980s, the International Harvester Company sold its agricultural equipment-manufacturing division and became Navistar International Corporation.

[31] Heitz, “The ‘Progressive’ Village of Westmont,” Westmont Progress, 9 November, 2011, p. 4

[32] Heitz, “The ‘Progressive’ Village of Westmont,” Westmont Progress, 9 November, 2011, p. 4

[33] Heitz, “The ‘Progressive’ Village of Westmont,” Westmont Progress, 9 November, 2011, p. 4

[34] Heitz, “The ‘Progressive’ Village of Westmont,” Westmont Progress, 9 November, 2011, p. 4

[35] Heitz, “The ‘Progressive’ Village of Westmont,” Westmont Progress, 9 November, 2011, p. 4

[36] Heitz, “The ‘Progressive’ Village of Westmont,” Westmont Progress, 9 November, 2011, p. 4

[37] Perry, p. 875

[38] Heitz, “The ‘Progressive’ Village of Westmont,” Westmont Progress, 9 November, 2011, p. 4

[39] Westmont Public Library, Collections Development Policy, p. 2

[40] Westmont Public Library, Collections Development Policy, p. 2

[41] Westmont Public Library, Collections Development Policy, p. 3

[42] Westmont Public Library, Collections Development Policy, p. 3

[43] Art Barnum, “Former Westmont official gets jail for stealing village funds,” Chicago BreakingNews, A Tribune Newspaper website (http://www.chicagobreakingnews.com/news/local/chibrknews-former-westmont-official-gets-jail-for-stealing-village-funds-20110707,0,4401722.story) Accessed 05/14/12

See also Heitz, “The ‘Progressive’ Village of Westmont,” Westmont Progress, 9 November, 2011, pages 3 and 4

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