This past August, two readers of Plainfield Patch — Sheila Raddatz and Lori Janiec — raised questions about Thomas Alva Edison and his wife’s association with Plainfield’s famed Electric Park. This is the second in a two-part column exploring the legends.
Plainfield’s Electric Park came into existence due to the advancements of technology of the day — including that of the incandescent light bulb produced by inventor Thomas Edison. During its heyday, Electric Park was visited by many local, state and national dignitaries, socialites and performers as well as seasonal residents from the Chicago area.
So, how is it that Edison’s second wife, Mina (Miller) Edison Hughes, gets tangled up in Plainfield’s Electric Park story?
The answer is rooted in the lives of Plainfield’s earliest settlers.
Arriving from Pennsylvania, Hugh and Cynthia Alexander settled at St. Clair County, Ill., in 1821. There, a daughter, Mary, was born in 1830.
Relocating to the new town of Plainfield, the Alexander family is recorded among our first pioneer settlers. In 1836, Hugh Alexander built a home just east of the current Plainfield Village Hall (within present-day “Settlers’ Park”).
Here, Mary Alexander met Lewis Miller, who was a partner in an early Plainfield industry, the Dillman Foundry, from 1848 to 1851. Lewis Miller returned to Canton, Ohio, in 1851.
In September 1852, Miller wed Mary Alexander in Canton, and their daughter, Mina, was born in 1865. The Miller family remained in Ohio and amassed a sizable fortune in the iron and agricultural implement businesses.
Back at Plainfield, Hugh Alexander and his wife moved one more time, settling in Iowa sometime between 1854 and 1860.
Lewis Miller was a deeply religious man, interested in self-improvement. His convictions led him to establish the national Chautauqua movement. Chautauqua events included religious and secular lectures and demonstrations designed to enrich and cultivate both young and old. Toward the end of the 19th century, Miller also developed the Akron Plan for religious instruction in Protestant churches.
His prosperity allowed his family to enjoy the finest lifestyle of the period. A prominent and wealthy industrialist by the late 19th century, Miller circulated socially with men such as B. F. Goodrich and, later, a young Thomas Edison. Through these associations, Edison met his second wife, Mina Miller, whose grandparents were the Plainfield pioneers, Hugh and Mary Alexander.
During her lifetime, Mina (Miller) Edison returned frequently to the Plainfield-Joliet area, where many relatives and friends continued to live. Occasionally, Mina socialized at Electric Park, where Chautauqua events — the national movement instituted by her own father — were held annually for many years.
At Plainfield’s Electric Park, Mina relaxed in a picturesque setting just yards away from her grandparents’ pioneer homestead, established more than 75 years before her summer visits.