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Lambert: A Tiny House with a Huge History

An unassuming house at Renwick Road and Route 59 has ties to Plainfield's pioneer history.

The Inquiry

Joan, a Plainfield Patch reader, asked, “What is the history of the little house across from the restaurant at Renwick Road and Route 59?”

The Facts 

Today, vehicles of all shapes and sizes roll just a few feet from the front wall of an unassuming structure. 

Once home to some of this area’s earliest pioneers, the tiny white residence was built on the open prairie at the edge of the immense forest that was known as Walkers’ Grove.

In fact, a portion of the house is—most certainly—associated with the settlement of Walkers’ Grove that occurred between 1830 and 1834.

The present house on the property was built in three distinct sections.

The rear cell is the oldest section of the house. Based on its exterior form, the rear cell may be constructed of rough-hewn logs covered with clapboard siding.

The second section is the south 1-1/2 story wing that faces present-day Route 59. The building form is typical of the early 1840s.

The last section to be constructed is the “upright” section, closest to the heavily-travelled intersection. Although its north façade has sagged in recent years, the north wing was once a symbol of prosperity.  Constructed in the Greek Revival style, the north wing was a contemporary testament in its day.

The story of this forlorn structure and its builders is linked directly to ’s earliest settlement. 

Timothy Barrett Clark: Pioneer Settler

An 1834 map, created for the federal government, shows vast woodlands that extended a mile east of present-day Route 59.  Much of that forest, lying south of present-day Renwick Road between the DuPage River and present-day Route 59, was claimed by Timothy Barrett Clark as early as 1829.  Clark was one of the pioneer men who accompanied the Jesse, James and Joseph Walker to this area one year earlier. 

A carpenter and builder from Trumbull County, Ohio, Timothy Clark lived within his timber claim and cut down trees to be sawn into lumber at the Walker Mill a short distance away.  A veteran of the War of 1812, Clark transferred his timber claim to William Wallace Wattles shortly after the close of the Black Hawk War in September 1833.

However, the land claim transferred from Clark to Wattles did not include the nearly 20 acres of open prairie at the southwest corner of the present-day intersection where the tiny house now stands.

Little Interest in Prairie

In those early days, few of the original pioneers had an interest in open prairie.  Those first pioneers were not farmers but were lumbermen motivated by the value of the timber.  As the region exploded with growth and the demand for lumber continually increased, many early pioneers became quite wealthy.

At that time, pioneers necessarily travelled to Danville, Illinois when purchasing a tract of land in this area.  According to early land sales records, all of the wooded land east of the DuPage River was occupied by pioneer settlers by the close of 1834.  The open prairie was not. 

In fact, when the Federal government sold land to the original settlers of the one-mile square section lying southwest of present-day Renwick Road and Route 59, each land grant noted that the purchaser had established “pre-emption rights.”  Those rights indicated that the identified property owner had lived on a specific tract of land before the Federal government sold it to them.

The Wattles Family

William Wallace Wattles was born in Connecticut in 1782.  He married Eunice Polly Newhauser around 1800.  They moved to New York state and, later, Pennsylvania.  There, eight children were born.  W. W. Wattles and his entire family moved to Illinois around 1832 or 1833.  They soon settled on the former Timothy Clark timber claim.  To earn a living, W. W. Wattles and his older sons cut down trees and sold the valuable logs for lumber.

The Wattles’ seventh child was a son, named Walter.  Born in 1815 in Pennsylvania, he was more interested in farming the Illinois prairie than timbering.  As a young bachelor of 18 or 19, he settled on the 20 acres of open prairie, now the southwest corner of present-day Renwick Road and Route 59.

At that time, he built the first house on the site, which is believed to be the western (rear) section of the house that still stands today.  The simple, pioneer home measured approximately 14 feet by 14 feet. Most certainly, the small structure was constructed of timber felled on his property and milled at Walker’s Sawmill, one mile west of the homestead.  Soon, Walter B. Wattles constructed a small barn and other outbuildings.  He also began to till the tough prairie sod to establish a field for crops.  

Shortly after the Chicago land office opened in 1835, Walter B. Wallace purchased the 80 acre property that included the 20 acres of open prairie land.  By mid-summer 1836, young Walter B. Wattles sold the land with nearly 60 acres of timber, some fields and a few crude structures for $1,600.00 to Archibald Clybourn.

With his earnings, W. B. Wattles moved to southern Wisconsin.  In June 1842, he married Charlotte Tallmadge, who gave birth to a daughter, Olive, the following year.

Meanwhile, William Wallace Wattles sold 140 acres of his timber land at Plainfield to Archibald Clybourn as well.   The land was sold for the enormous sum of $5,000.00.  W. W. Wattles retained a 20 acre homestead, but—just 9 months later—sold the homestead parcel to Mr. Clybourn. 

W. W. Wattles and his family moved to Boone County, near Belvidere, Illinois.  Within a few years, Walter B. Wattles and his young family also relocated to Boone County.  There, they raised their 9 children before moving further west.  

Next Column: A Tiny House With A Huge History – Part Two

Have a question about Plainfield’s history? Send your inquiries to Michael Lambert via Plainfield Patch. 

© 2012 Michael A. Lambert.  All Rights Reserved

Joel Craig September 07, 2012 at 02:50 PM
To add to what Michael says here, Plainfield's history and it's remnants (whether they be historic buildings, locations, open lands, etc.) are one of its greatest assets. Plainfield even bills itself as "Will County's Oldest Community." The recent Opera House restoration is a perfect example of taking something old and not very appealing, restoring its beauty, and not only making the building useful for another generation of Plainfield residents but also giving the community something of which to be proud. If we continue to just knock everything down, what's left? And what does Plainfield become? The appeal that enticed so many to come here in the first place (not just residential but small business as well) is gone forever. Creative planning can always (if there is a will, there is a way) find a balance between 'appropriate' preservation and progress.
Joan Senffner September 07, 2012 at 05:13 PM
I agree with Joel. I have lived here since 1957. Historically Plainfield never kept up with the 'quant small town' idea, which is a shame. This was d/t the people in office & advertising the 'schools" as the best. Then the T hit & the flood gates opened for construction companies & boat loads of people. I understand the schools=tax $ but everytime an historic building is destroyed a bit of 'Will County's oldest ' fades. We learn from the past to help the future. Perfect example = Galena, Il!!!!
Joan Senffner September 07, 2012 at 05:16 PM
Agree, Rich. Today's homes are built with no pride or love, just to get that tax revenue into the town.
Amy smith September 09, 2012 at 03:39 PM
My great grandma Lumley grew up in this house in 1917. Her mom hired a one armed paper hanger she had two brothers and her dad chief magistrate of Joliet.
Michael Lambert September 21, 2012 at 03:57 PM
Amy, I would like to hear more about what you know about this house and your family's time there. You can contact me directly by clicking the email link in my byline above. Thanks. Michael Lambert


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