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Historical Society Looking for Material

The Melrose Park Historical Society needs your help! The upper floor of the Melrose Park Library has a section dedicated for historical information about Melrose Park. The Historical Society is collecting and sorting materials to be displayed for perusal. Library Director Barbara Giordano has worked diligently on this project.

If anyone has material relating to Melrose Park and its people, the Library/Historical Society would like to put it on display. Additionally, there is a fund-raising effort in progress that will allow for digital archiving of these materials so they will be preserved for future generations. Donations will gladly be accepted. Please send them to:
Melrose Park Library
801 N. Broadway
Melrose Park, IL 60160
Attn: Melrose Park Historical Society

For more information, call the Library at (708)343-3391.

Early History

Before Melrose, travelers reported fields of waving grass four feet high, wild flowers, prairie chickens, rabbits, and foxes. There were no trees, except along streams.

No Indians lived here. There were small villages and burial grounds nearby-where Forest Park and Elmhurst are and north of North Avenue, east of the DesPlaines River. All of those Indians departed toward the west by 1835. A small Indian encampment was reported to have been near Seventeenth Avenue, south of Salt Creek, until about 1900.

Indians and animals traveled through the Melrose Park area. Herds of buffalo meandered through to salt licks along the Vermillion River near what is now Danville. Indians traveled the route for a thousand years from the great Indian villages along the Fox and Rock rivers. They obtained salt for trading. The trail followed Lake Street from Addison to the DesPlaines River, continued diagonally to Cermak and the lakeshore, and turned south to the Vermillion River.

In 1832, General Winfield Scott's army arrived aboard the first steamship to reach Chicago. After camping at Riverside for several weeks, 750 men with supply wagons marched along the DesPlaines River to the Indian trail (Lake Street) and continued west to fight Blackhawk's warriors.

After 1835, the trail became Salk Creek Turnpike (Elgin Road), a state route. It was scraped, ditched, and partially planked. Stage coaches raced through at a maddening rate of 12 m.p.h. Cartage wagons hauled lead down from Galena and salt on return. Cattle were driven through from Freeport and Rockford to Chicago. Wheat and produce also came this way to Chicago.

In 1848, the Galena and Chicago Union Railroad became the first railroad to go west from Chicago. In 1849, the railroad bridge was the first to cross the DesPlaines River. In 1851, Proviso Township built the first highway bridge across the DesPlaines River at Lake Street for $600.00.

In 1816, the Treaty of St. Louis established Indian Boundry Line, allowing access to land needed to build the Illinois-Michigan Canal. Before 1818, when Illinois became a state, this was part of the Northwest Territory. Before Cook County was created, in 1831, this was part of Clark County, which extended 200 miles south. Applications for U.S. land patents had to be done at Palestine, along the Wabash River. The Northwest Ordinance of 1785 established the survey system that laid out sections and townships of land.

In 1849, townships were established. When Taylor became a township, the census counted 482 people. Soon the name was changed to Proviso Township to commemorate Wilmot Proviso. Proviso Post Office was at Cermak and Wolf Roads, where there was a small town. Over the years, that post office evolved to become a branch of the Melrose Park Post Office.

In 1869, seven Vermonters under Col. William Nichols came to create Maywood. In September 1871, one month before the Chicago fire, one of the seven, Allen Eaton, joined with Edward Cuyler, a Chicago developer, to form Melrose Realty Company.

In 1836, Simon Z. Haven obtained a patent from the U.S. land office for 960 acres at $1.25 per acre. The land stretched from Madison Street to Division and Ninth Avenue to Twenty-fifth. Due to financial difficulties, in 1864, the Superior Court of Chicago divided the 460.84 acres between Ninth and Twenty-fifth avenues and the Chicago Northwestern Railroad tracks and Division Street into five "lots". The Court awarded two of the lots to some of Haven's heirs. The remaining three lots went to his creditors.

In 1871, Melrose Company purchased three "lots" west of Twelfth Avenue (comprising 342.74 acres). That land became Melrose Subdivision and Town.

The Name of Melrose

In September, 1871, Allen Eaton and Edward Cuyler formed Melrose Realty Co. to develop the land west of Maywood. Edward Cuyler was a developer who probably subdivided what is now that part of Chicago including Melrose Street.

There are communities named Melrose in California, Connecticut, Florida, Iowa, Louisiana, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Montana, New Mexico, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Virginia, and Wisconsin; and there was another Melrose in Illinois.

Some of those communities are known to have been named by someone who came from Melrose, Massachusetts-now a city of 30,000 people. The Massachusetts city celebrated 100 years of progress in 1950. It had derived its name from Melrose Abbey, Scotland (an ancient Catholic institution).

With all those Melroses in the world, there is still only one Melrose Park.

The Weiss Family of Melrose Park

America is a nation noted for its mobile population. In contrast to this mobility, one of the strengths of Melrose Park lies in the stability of its families. Many families have been in the Village for several generations, and it sometimes seems that half of Melrose Park is related to the other half.

In researching the pioneer families of Melrose Park, the Historical Society has so far found one family whose youngest members constitute the sixth generation to live in town. This is the Weiss family, descendants of Frederick and Laura Weiss, who settled here in 1848.

Representing the many pioneer families still in Melrose Park, the following history has been edited from an account written by Lucille (Mrs. Ray) Weiss on May 11, 1982.

Great Grandfather Frederick Weiss and his wife Laura bought a farm in 1848 in what is known as Proviso Township. It ran south of North Avenue to near Augusta and from the DesPlaines River to Ninth Avenue. They had three sons-Emil, Herman, and Henry.

Henry ran the farm and married Anna Koehn, whose parents came from Germany and settled on a farm on Seventeenth Avenue near North Avenue. Grandpa Koehn was one of the founders of St. Paul Lutheran Church. He died in 1911 at the age of 93. Henry and Anna had six children. Of these, Herman was the only one to spend his entire life in Melrose Park.

Herman married Mathilda Mesenbrink in 1912. Her parents farmed part of the area which is now the Proviso Yards. Upon selling this land to the Northwestern Railroad, they moved to 1012 Broadway. Herman and Mathilda moved into their own home at 1018 Broadway in 1912. They lived at this same place until their deaths.

Herman went into banking at an early age. His first job was at the Melrose Park State Bank. In 1905, he started working at the Melrose Park State Bank and remained there until its closing. Herman was one of the founders of the Bellwood State Bank, which moved to Melrose Park and became the Melrose Park National Bank. He served as a director of the Melrose Park National Bank from 1913 to 1960.

After the closing of the State Bank, Herman opened a mortgage and insurance office at 136 Broadway. A currency exchange was added shortly thereafter. This office was moved to 130 Broadway in 1956.

Over the years, Herman was active in many civic and religious organizations. He was president of the Melrose Park Kiwanis Club and served as Village Treasurer for 22 years. He held several offices at St. Paul Church. After a long and active life, he died on October 28, 1964, at the age of 82.

Herman and Mathilda Weiss had five children. Of these, Ray and his family are still residing in Melrose Park. Ray married Lucille Ladewig in 1943. They built and moved into their home on Tenth Avenue in 1955. This location is about three blocks from the original property line of Great Grandfather Frederick Weiss. They have five children, and their grandchildren are the sixth generation to live in Melrose Park.

The Weiss Currency Exchange is now being run by Ray and his son, John. Ray started working full time after his return from serving in the Army Air Force from 1942 to 1945.

Following in the family tradition, Ray is also very active in civic affairs. He is a Director of the Melrose Park National Bank and a past president of the Melrose Park Kiwanis Club. He, too, has served as Village Treasurer. He has also been president of the Chamber of Commerce and has served on the board of Westlake Hospital. The Weiss Agency was one of the original sponsors of the Melrose Park Little League, as it still is.

In recognition of his many activities, Ray Weiss was voted Man of the Year by the Tanagers Club in 1965.

The Weiss family is just one example of the many pioneer families who have remained in Melrose Park and have been part of its growth over this past century. These families serve as a link with our past, and their children will be our future. Through them we are truly "Remembering Yesterday, Living Today, Trusting Tomorrow."

Historical Society Looking for Material

The Melrose Park Historical Society needs your help! The upper floor of the Melrose Park Library has a section dedicated for historical information about Melrose Park. The Historical Society is collecting and sorting materials to be displayed for perusal. Library Director Barbara Giordano has worked diligently on this project.

If anyone has material relating to Melrose Park and its people, the Library/Historical Society would like to put it on display. Additionally, there is a fund-raising effort in progress that will allow for digital archiving of these materials so they will be preserved for future generations. Donations will gladly be accepted. Please send them to:
Melrose Park Library
801 N. Broadway
Melrose Park, IL 60160
Attn: Melrose Park Historical Society
For more information, call the Library at (708)343-3391.

Information Provided by:
Melrose Park - 100 Years of Progress, 1882-1982