Quintessential Barrington

Emaline’s View

A Barrington Octagon House Outtake

by Barbara L. Benson

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My attachment to this old residence, now a unique office for Corporate Identity, is derived from the many hours that I was immersed in writing a series of articles based on the over 700 letters that Emaline Hawley Brown and her daughter, Hattie Brown Porter, wrote to the elder Brown daughter, Laura Nightingale, who lived in Fairmont, Minn. The letters were found by a descendant, Ruth Nightingale, in the Fairmont house.

Emaline was articulate, and her pithy, irascible, and loving character comes through in her letters. She is my favorite Barrington historical character. She chronicled the daily activities of her family, her neighbors, the town fathers, and even ventured into national politics (from 1889 to 1907) in Barrington’s Octagon House, her home. But it is her letter of August 20, 1889, that holds a special significance for us today.

“Dearest Laura,

Rec’d your nice long letter last night, and as Hattie is away will answer. Irving and Maud came up after Hattie Monday evening. Sunday, Jim Sizer hitched up his team, and took Ariette, your Pa and Ma over to Pomeroy’s big slough to see the railroad men drive pile (note: this slough was in the area west of Cuba Marsh Forest Preserve) … they have a pile driver that goes by steam, and the tower looks some like a windmill tower, and at the top of that is fastened a heavy weight or hammer, weighing sixteen hundred pounds and that is raised up by steam (they have a small engine) and then down comes the hammer on the log, and then raised again, and then down it comes again, until the pile is driven deep enough, they drive these in the ground over 30 feet. The way they get the logs up on end, they hitch a rope on the end of the log and drag it by steam power up close to the tower, then put on steam and pull it up on end, fetching it right in the tower under the hammer. It is quite a sight I think to see them work. I think there were more than a hundred people there on Sunday. Carrie Kendall said everybody and their dog was there.

They do not commence at one end of the road and work right through but have a gang of men working in different places. There is a gang at the Center (Barrington Center near Routes 59 and 62), a gang here and up by Pomeroy’s (the crossing at Lake Zurich Road near Citizens Park today) and so on all the way through. They are going to have a depot at the Center, one here, and one at Lake Zurich. Some places they dig through, and some fill in, there is a deep place over on the old Clausen farm (west of Evergreen Cemetery) that they have had to fill in about thirty feet to make it an even grade with each side. Our town is full of railroads. I guess you have heard enough about railroads, but I have not much else to write about. Carrie Kendall boards the Civil Engineers.”

Further letters went on to describe activities around the new railroad, and the “nuisances” often caused by the railroad men in town.

Emaline’s descriptiveness detailed the beginning of what has become one of the greatest challenges for present-day Barrington as the sleepy Elgin, Joliet & Eastern Railway has woken up as the oft-daily rolling might of the Canadian National freight line.

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Barbara L. Benson grew up in Kent, England, and later moved to New York. She later settled in Barrington and has walked with our history since she first arrived here in 1980. (Photo: Susan McConnell)

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Editor’s note: If you enjoyed this story, order your copy of Quintessential Barrington’s special edition due March 1, 2015. This special edition is the official publication for the Sesquicentennial. Order forms are available at Village Hall at 200 S. Hough St.