Where was Walkers’ Grove?
Many people believe, falsely, that Walkers’ Grove and Plainfield began as the same place. Although many of the Walkers’ Grove settlers became residents of the village of Plainfield, the two places were unique to one another.
Because of their close proximity and that both places shared generations of common descendants, the two places are linked through a common history.
As northeastern Illinois was settled, pioneers banded together out of necessity more than a common sense of community. Although some pioneer men were completely self-sufficient, most early settlers relied on others for manual labor, safety and company.
Those first pioneers, typically, did not come to the area with the purpose of establishing formal towns. Often they came to pursue American freedoms, the advancement of religious convictions or the establishment of industrial trades.
Many settlers came with the hope of escaping the rapid urbanization of the East.
Walkers’ Grove Emerges
The settlement of Walkers’ Grove was little more than a string of cabins scattered along a rutted trail, now known as River Road. In 1829, a dense wooded grove flanked the DuPage River. The expansive forest spread northward into the present-day campus of Plainfield Central High School. The eastern edge of the woods nearly reached to present-day Route 59.
Operational by 1831, the James Walker Sawmill, stood just south of present-day Renwick Road. The mill was the singular, industrial enterprise within the settlement.
Approximately six to eight cabins were constructed between fall 1829 and summer 1831. James Walker also erected a cabin for his extended family. Some of the pioneer bachelors shared small cabins as well. Others lived by themselves. The Rueben Flagg family joined the settlement by July 1830.
Walkers’ Grove, in late 1830, consisted of fewer than 10 families — a close-knit band of hardy souls, mostly men. The entire settlement numbered fewer than 30 people. Fewer than 10 of those were women and young girls; nearly one-third were children younger than 10.
A few other robust souls, including Chester Ingersoll, James Mathers, James Turner and Levi Arnold, joined the settlement in 1831. Ingersoll staked his claim nearly 1.5 miles northeast of the James Walker Sawmill. Mathers and Turner claimed land along the upper DuPage River, another mile northeast of Ingersoll.
A log cabin, erected as early as 1796 by wandering fur traders, became the home of the Rev. Stephen Beggs and his new wife in very early 1832. The Beggs cabin was fortified during the Black Hawk War that terrorized the region between April and September that year.
Rapid Growth, Overcrowding
In 1833, Walkers’ Grove lay wholly east of the DuPage River, stretching more than four miles north to south and nearly two miles wide. Potawatomi villages and open prairie lay west of the DuPage River.
As many as 20 new families built cabins here between 1832 and 1834.
Many of the first pioneers believed that Walkers’ Grove had become overcrowded. In 1834, John Barber moved further northeast along the DuPage River, where fewer pioneers had claimed land. His claim became known as Barber’s Corners (at present-day Boughton Road and Illinois 53 in Bolingbrook). Some moved to western Illinois while others crossed the Mississippi into Iowa Territory.
American Town Planning
As the northeastern Illinois frontier was being tamed, new ideas about town planning were spreading westward across America, advanced by the first pioneer settlers.
Unlike the sprawling and unplanned pioneer settlements of the early 1830s, new towns were being laid out on grids of nearly square blocks with regularly-sized lots. Promoting a sense of order and civility, most town plans incorporated dedicated public squares and parks.
With distinct ideas about town development, Ingersoll and Mathers platted formal towns on their land claims. Ingersoll’s new town included the site of James Walker’s 1830 cabin. However, Levi Arnold did not embrace the evolving concepts of town planning and pursued his own ideas of community development.
Each of these men’s claims lay at the northern limits of the 1829-1833 settlement. The founding of the three, compact communities set the course for the demise of Walkers’ Grove.
In this region, many pioneer settlements, like Walkers’ Grove, were superseded by formally planned communities. The Hickory Creek settlement was so vast that it is, today, part of Homer Glen, Frankfort, New Lenox and Joliet. Yankee Settlement, in part, became Runyontown and, later, Lockport. Along the Fox River, Pierce’s Crossing became Graytown and, later, Montgomery. McCarty’s Mills became Aurora.
Walkers’ Grove Today
Today, few remnants of Walkers’ Grove remain. James Street and River Road follow the general alignment of the early, regional trail. James Walker’s mill site can be seen from the historic iron bridge on Renwick Road.
Although the Walkers’ Grove subdivision and elementary school memorialize the historic pioneer settlement, neither is located within the original boundaries of their namesake community.