Lambert: A Tiny House with a Huge History, Part 3
The final installment in a series on the white house at Renwick and Route 59.
Joan, a Plainfield Patch reader, asked, “What is the history of the little house across from the McDonald’s restaurant at Renwick Road and Route 59?” The evolution of the small house between 1833 and 1845 has been related in prior columns (click here to see part one, and here to see part two). However, the intriguing history of the property is concluded in this third installment about the home’s evolution.
The present house on the property was built in three distinct sections. Presumably, bachelor Walter B. Wattles built the existing, rear wing of the house around 1835.
The second section of the unassuming house is the south wing built by Jay Dyer in the early 1840s. One story in height, the building form is typical of that era. The addition, shielded by a wide porch across the entire façade, faces present-day Route 59.
The Dyer Family at Plainfield
Natives of Vermont, the members of the Dyer family who settled at Plainfield descended from Daniel and Susannah (Olin) Dyer.
Daniel and Susannah Dyer had eight children. Their second son, Jonathan Dyer (b. 1792), was the older brother of Charles Volney Dyer (b. 1808) and George Randolph Dyer (b. 1813). (read their story at http://plainfield.patch.com/articles/lambert-plainfield-brothers-became-celebrated)
C. V. Dyer, the first resident physician at Plainfield, arrived in the last few months of 1834. However, the young doctor relocated to Chicago the following spring. A respected physician within the city of Chicago, C. V. Dyer was a personal friend of Abraham Lincoln, was an ardent Abolitionist, and was widely-recognized as the unofficial “president” of the Illinois Underground Railroad.
George Randolph Dyer, also an outspoken Abolitionist, established a farm northeast of Plainfield (in present-day Bolingbrook). George Dyer is recognized as one of the nominators of Abraham Lincoln as a candidate for U. S. President at the Coles County, Illinois convention; served as a Union General at Pilot Knob, Missouri during the Civil War; and was elected Sherriff of Will County. Capt. G. R. Dyer also established a post office at Long John, Illinois—a virtually-forgotten site where Plainfield and present-day Bolingbrook meet.
Jonathan Dyer’s son, Jay (b. 1819), was only six years younger than his uncle, George R. Dyer.
Born in Vermont, Jay Dyer graduated from the University of Vermont in 1838. By that time, his parents had moved to Ohio, where Jay relocated for a few months following his graduation. Jay Dyer came to Illinois with a railroad surveying party in the fall of 1838. After a short time, Dyer transferred to a group that was surveying the Illinois River from Ottawa to Peoria. Dyer gave up that position due to illness. He returned to his parents’ home in central Ohio and taught school for one year, beginning in 1840. In 1841, he returned to Illinois, locating at Plainfield the same year as his uncle, George.
Jay Dyer remained at Plainfield for five years, living on the former W. B. Wattles property. Although the property was owned his father, Jonathan Dyer of Ohio, the young bachelor is the man who enlarged the former Wattles home.
History is unclear whether or not young Jay Dyer, while at Plainfield, assisted the efforts of his uncles to provide safe passage of escaped slaves. However, given the convictions of his uncles, it is likely that Jay Dyer may have participated in the harboring of fugitive slaves at this site.
The Cutler Era (1845 – 1855)
James Harvey and Orilla (Howard) Cutler came to Illinois from New England, by way of Ohio. Likely, the Dyer and Cutler families became acquainted with one another while living in Ohio.
The Cutler family consisted of six children: Robert Otis (b. 1821), Harvey (b. 1824), Charles (b. 1825), Rennsalaer (b. 1827), Albert (b. 1828) and Matilda Orilla (b. 1829).
As a young man, Robert Cutler had moved to Winnebago County, Illinois. There, he wed Mary Curley in 1841. Within two years, he returned to Ohio with his infant son, likely upon his young wife’s unexpected death. Around 1844, Robert Cutler married his second wife, Lydia, in Ohio.
In 1845, James and Orilla Cutler purchased several parcels of improved Plainfield farmland, stretching ¾ mile west of and ½ mile south along present-day Route 59. Their land included the former W. W. Wattles homestead along Renwick Road as well as the former W. B. Wattles-Jonathan Dyer home.
The Cutler family, including their five youngest children, came to Plainfield and settled along Renwick Road. The following year, Robert Cutler acquired the small house and 20 acres at the country crossroads from his father. There, he and Lydia along with their 11-year-old son, Theodore, settled in.
By 1850, the Cutler family had become part of the Plainfield community. Charles Cutler was working as a local farmhand. Harvey Cutler had completed his college studies and had become a physician in the village. The younger Cutler children remained at home.
Meanwhile, Robert and Lydia Cutler expanded the small pioneer home on their property. He erected a 1-1/2 story addition at the north side of his existing dwelling. Constructed in the then-popular Greek Revival style, the north wing was a testament to its occupants’ social and economic status.
The exterior of the addition is defined by the broad entablature moldings at the roofline, interrupted by the second floor windows on the east façade and the small frieze windows on the north façade. The interior of the addition provided a formal parlor and a private bedroom on the first floor as well as separate bedrooms for their two children: Theodore and Mary. The two earlier wings of the home were remodeled. The former Dyer section was converted into a spacious dining room and family parlor.
In 1855, Robert and Lydia Cutler and their children, along with Robert’s brother, Albert, moved to Iowa. Within months, Robert’s aging parents and younger brothers, Charles and Rennsalaer, followed. Harvey Cutler had moved to Kane County and married Caroline Sheets in 1852. Matilda Cutler remained at Plainfield, where she married Willis D. Alford, in 1856, before departing to Iowa. Charles Cutler died in Iowa less than two years later.
Upon the departure of the Cutler family, the architectural form of the little house on the Plainfield prairie was complete. The Wattles-Dyer-Cutler Home has changed very little since 1855. By all accounts, daily life on the quiet country corner was as ordinary as life on any other local farm.
The Cutler families sold their Plainfield farms to Riley W. and Cornelia (Randall) Hess of New York state. At that time, the Hess family included one son and four daughters. Their youngest daughter was an infant when they moved into their farmhouse, south of the village. A second son was born at the comfortable home in October 1858.
In the Stillness of a Country Morning
The Riley W. Hess family lived on the farm until the late 1870s, when the farm was sold to Wilson and Jemima (Hartong) Smith. The farmhouse provided a good home for the growing Smith family, which included a particularly shy daughter who loved to read.
Ada Lula Smith (b. 1887) was a good student, graduating in 1905 from the local high school. Ada possessed many notable qualities, including a beautiful singing voice. However, her lovely voice was silenced just as dawn broke early one morning in 1907. Rejected by the local man to whom she believed she would be married, Ada slipped out of the house quietly. In her anguish, Ada took her life by drowning herself in a shallow amount of water that remained in a horse trough near the barn. Understandably, the tragically sad news shook the Smith family—and the entire, tight-knit farm community—to its very core. After Ada’s death, the Smith family moved from the farm.
Today, the tiny house along the busy highway is all that remains of the pioneer homestead built on the prairie at the edge of a once-sprawling forest. Though linked to a heartbreaking event, the Wattles-Dyer-Cutler Farmhouse stands as a testament to the lives, dreams and convictions of Plainfield’s early settlers—as well as a tangible link to our earliest industry, namely James Walker’s Sawmill (1830-1838).
Next Column: Turk Bird: The Tale of a Pioneering Pilot
Have a question about Plainfield’s history? Send your inquiries to Michael Lambert via Plainfield Patch.
© 2012 Michael A. Lambert. All Rights Reserved