“Open space” is one of the most frequently used ways to describe why people love Barrington. Today, you can drive up and down the rolling hills of our countryside, just 40 miles from Chicago, and still see it dotted with waving fields of grasses, 19th century white-frame farmhouses, grazing horses, and even the occasional pig, llama, or donkey.
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Our forefathers had the foresight to protect this area’s valuable open lands, even as development crept up all around us, and we reap those benefits today. But it all started with the pioneer farm.
After the 1833 Treaty of Chicago, which pushed the Pottawatomie Indians further to the west and opened up Northern Illinois for settlement, pioneers began coming to our area in droves. They had heard that the land was cheap and could be easily farmed to provide them with a living for their families. The east had become too settled up, so these pioneers put their families in the wagon and headed west to “Barrington Center.”
According to Arnett C. Lines’ definitive History of Barrington, the first white men known to have settled in Barrington township were Jesse F. Miller and William Van Orsdal, who arrived in 1834. At that time, all the homes were made of logs. Lines wrote that the first frame house was built in 1841 by Shubuel W. Kingsley on his Penny Road farm.
In his book, Lines described the farming pioneer life of these times:
“Lights in the evening, if they stayed up after dark, were from candles made at home. Every home had a candle mold for making tallow candles….Evening meetings or gatherings were usually in the church or school house and were lighted by each one bringing his lantern and hanging it up in the room.
Cooking was in the fireplace or on the wood stove….The pioneer had no convenient corner store to run to for tin cans and boxes of prepared food. They prepared their meals with homemade or home cooked foods. They raised their own wheat and corn for flour; cane sorghum was used in place of sugar. They made their own cheese and churned their own butter.”
The original Barrington pioneers were of hardy stock, and as if in tribute to their lasting legacy, many of the road names we still have today reflect some of those old settler families: Miller, Kelsey, Lageschulte, Otis, Hawthorne, and Hager.
The pioneers farmed their land for several generations, passing it down to their children. But by the late 1890s and early 1900s, many of the original farm tracts were being sold to wealthy “gentleman farmers” who had made their fortunes on the railroads. These men were looking to escape the heat, soot, and dust of the big city during the summer, so they often purchased several adjoining farms to create their lavish summer estates. They enjoyed farming not for sustenance, but for pleasure, raising dairy cattle, thoroughbred horses, and prize pigs. They employed farm managers and dozens of farmhands to do the work, and enjoyed bringing their families to the “country place” each year when the weather turned warm.
Out of this tradition was born the Barrington Hills we know today. Wealthy gentlemen farmers of this area included George Van Hagen, Harry Stillson Hart, James Cardwell, Spencer Otis, and Floyd Bateman. They were also the original founders of the Barrington Hills Country Club, which they built to serve as their social and recreational hub. Similarly, in the 1920s, Tower Lakes and Biltmore were settled as summer-home communities on smaller parcels of land.
Until World War II, many of the original pioneer families continued to farm their properties, until the vast suburbanization of our area took hold in the 1950s, and farming became simply an old-fashioned way of life.
If you take an evening drive along the back roads of Barrington, be on the lookout for old, white frame houses, barns with stone foundations, and waving fields of open space. These landmarks represent the earliest history Barrington has to offer, and they’re still with us today.
Patty Dowd Schmitz is a local writer and Barrington-area historian. She is a member of the Village of Barrington’s 150th Sesquicentennial Committee.
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Editor’s note: If you have a piece of Barrington history and a photo to share with it, please feel free to contact us at 847-381-3860, or email email@example.com.