History Research Guide
In Honor of Carol Wandschneider
This Downers Grove history research guide is dedicated to Carol Wandschneider (1944-2020). Carol was a valued and much-loved Historical Society director and local historian. She also spent many volunteer hours at the Downers Grove Museum. She was dedicated to preserving the history of Downers Grove in every way possible and always strived to find a way to help others get the information they needed, whether for genealogical research or finding a little-known fact about Downers Grove. Her decades of research created a legacy of lasting impact.
The main items of research interest from the Downers Grove Historical Society are on our two websites. Most notably, the book Downers Grove 1832 - 1932 is now available here. This main web site also includes newsletter archives, biographies for Historian of the Year, Montrew Dunham Award, and Founder of the Year, and information on various historic buildings and sites in the village. The second Downers Grove Historical Society web site, https://mainstreetcemetery.com, includes biographical information on nearly every individual interred at the downtown Main Street Cemetery. The Downers Grove Historical Society does not have physical repository or library.
There are two main facilities for researching Downers Grove history in the area.
Local History Section. The Downers Grove Public Library has organized their local history resources into a separate section of the library to simplify use by local history researchers. The local history section is located in the northwest corner of the second floor of the library. Most of the collection is reference materials, so they are always readily available in the library. This section features 30 feet linear feet of shelving of books and other materials including:
- Local history article vertical files - organized by topic
- School year books and alumni reports
- Church histories
- Old maps and atlas - dating back to the 1800s
- DAR contributed materials
- Historical Society newsletters
- Large number of locally produced unpublished manuscripts and materials.
- Village documents including the architectural surveys done by the village.
Newspapers. The library also has the following local newspapers on microfilm:
- Downers Grove Reporter (1895-2013) - early years are incomplete. The library has also digitized the years 1895 to 1922. Access to these issues are available at https://vitacollections.ca/dgpl/search.
- Downers Grove Journal (1939-1941)
- Downers Grove Press (1891-1893) - incomplete
- Downers Grove Suburban Life - (2013-present)
- Downers Grove Sun (2002-2006)
Obituary Index. The library also has an obituary index of over ten thousand deaths in the Downers Grove area deaths dating back to the 1800s. This index was developed by Carol Wandschneider, former Downers Grove Historical Society board member. The index can be accessed at https://dglibrary.org/genealogy-services/
Additional information on the local history holdings at the library are available at http://www.libraryaware.com/949/NewsletterIssues/ViewIssue/cb22c453-3c90-4b06-aaa7-6ef775c20a0a and additional genealogy focused resources are available at https://dglibrary.org/genealogy-services/.
The Downers Grove Museum is of particular interest to the history researcher for:
- Artifacts and archival materials from Downers Grove residents.
- Photograph collection including 1000's of photographs from the Downers Grove Reporter.
- Surname vertical files - with newspaper clippings, compiled genealogies, other research materials
- Business name vertical files - with newspaper clippings and other materials
- Downers Grove phone books and directories
- A large number of books about the history of Downers Grove, DuPage County and Illinois.
- Underground Railroad research
No materials from the museum are available online. More information on the collection is available at https://www.dgparks.org/downers-grove-museum-research-collections.
Numerous books and pamphlets are available that highlight the history of Downers Grove.
Downers Grove 1832 to 1982. This 300-page book is the most comprehensive book about the history of Downers Grove. It was written by local historians, Montrew Dunham and Pauline Wandschneider, the founder of the Downers Grove Historical Society. This out-of-print book is now available online here. Bound copies are also available at the Downers Grove Public Library and the Downers Grove Museum. Occasionally, the society has limited used copies available for sale.
What You Didn't Know About Downers Grove and Didn't Know Who to Ask. This 41-page booklet was written by local resident Bartle R Herrick. The book is now available online here. The book includes many pictures from the early years of Downers Grove. It is written in a conversational style with sections starting with "Did you know..." Copies are also available at the Downers Grove Public Library.
Downers Grove Revisited. This book by local historian Montrew Dunham, is a follow-on to the original Downers Grove 1832 to 1982. This book provides updates on the village since the printing of the original book. The book also features numerous pictures from the Downers Grove Museum. This out-of-print book is available in the local history section of the Downers Grove Public Library.
Historic Downtown Walking Tour. This village-produced pamphlet features, 23 properties around downtown Downers Grove. The village has copies of this pamphlet available. This pamphlet is also available on the village website.
Walking/Driving Tour: Sears Catalog Houses. This village-produced pamphlet provides a walking tour of Sears Catalog houses around Downers Grove. The village has copies of this booklet available. his pamphlet is also available on the village website.
Five cemeteries can be found in the Downers Grove area.
- Main Street Cemetery. This pioneer cemetery in the middle of downtown Downers Grove is owned by the Village of Downers Grove and managed jointly with DGHS. In 1991, the village assumed control of the cemetery and DGHS joined the village in a stewardship role to assist in the efforts to rehabilitate the neglected cemetery. DGHS board member Lois Sterba is the stewardship liaison with the village in these efforts. Among the major accomplishments are:
- Annually, DGHS coordinates with the village's efforts to replace damaged monuments, add monuments for newly researched burials, and other site improvements.
- In 1999, a new stone wall and stairs were added to the east side of the cemetery.
- In 2008, a new pergola was added on the west entrance to the cemetery with two interpretive signs
- In 2019, a team of DGHS volunteers developed and released the Main Street Cemetery Web App including a map, biographical information for all those located in the cemetery. Audio narratives for the most notable individuals are also available. Additional audio was added in 2021.
- In 2021, a ground penetrating radar (GPR) project identified additional interments and revealed an existing headstone just below the surface of the ground.
Additionally, DGHS and the Downers Grove Museum routinely run educational program, include Living Cemetery, where local citizens and children take on the personal of our pioneering citizens who were buried here. Check the DGHS Facebook page or subscribe to our email list for the current event schedule.
- Pierce Downer Burial Ground - This small family cemetery was donated to the Downers Grove Park District in 1974. Only members of the Downer family are buried here. In 2021, the Downers Grove Historical Society and the Downers Grove Park District added a new interpretative sign.
- Oak Hill and Oak Crest Cemeteries. These adjacent cemeteries in the southwest Downers Grove area are actually located in the Downers Grove Township, not the village. The township maintains these cemeteries. A list of interments is maintained by the Township on their website.
- Holy Family Cemetery. This Catholic cemetery was formerly known as St. Bernard's Cemetery. The first known interment was in 1913. In 2015, the Roman Catholic Diocese of Joliet renamed this long-forgotten cemetery to Holy Family as part of renovation and expansion that included a land acquisition and construction of a new columbarium. Interments have increased since the expansion.
Numerous printed maps and atlases, and online historical maps are available for Downers Grove and DuPage County.
Sanborn Fire Insurance Maps - These maps generally cover just downtown Downers Grove and some nearby residences as they were developed for business fire insurance purposes. The maps contain detailed property information including building and roof material, number of stories, and the location of the "hoosegow" in the police station.
- Maps for Downers Grove for the years 1892, 1898,1909, 1921, and 1927 are available at from the U.S. Library of Congress website. These maps can be viewed and downloaded at: https://www.loc.gov/maps/?q=Downers+Grove
- The Downers Grove Public has the 1933 and 1947 maps (along with those mentioned above) on microfilm. The maps can be printed or copied to a USB drive from the microfilm reader. The last update for Downers Grove was 1947. These maps are no longer produced.
DuPage County GIS Viewer - These maps from the county include maps that show the location of existing buildings. Satellite maps as early as 1956 can be also be overlayed against the maps of today. These maps can be viewed at: https://gis.dupageco.org/parcelviewer/.
Map Gallery - Village of Downers Grove - This collection of interactive maps includes a diverse set of maps include of all trees in on village parkway and property, centennial homes, landmarked homes, and foursquare homes in the village. These maps can be viewed at https://vdg.maps.arcgis.com/home/index.html.
Atlas and Map Books - A large collection of local maps is available at the Downers Grove Public Library in the local history section of the library.
Downers Grove Historical Society and the Village of Downers Grove both have a collection of videos online that highlight different aspects of Downers Grove history. The Downers Grove Public Library also has videos on DVD in the Local History section.
- The Downers Grove Historical Society YouTube Channel includes recent events such as Historian of the Year, Montrew Dunham Awards ceremony, Living Cemetery and older videos from our archives, such as programs produced by Montrew Dunham. Our videos include:
- Life and Times of James Henry Breasted - narrated by Montrew Dunham
- Images of the Past - narrated by Montrew Dunham
- 2020 Montrew Dunham Award Ceremony for Floyd Mizener
- 2021 Montrew Dunham Award Ceremony for Dave Humphreys
- 2021 Historian of the Year for Marilyn Ludwig
- The Village of Downers Grove produces the Inside DG series of videos on their YouTube channel which often touch on the history of Downers Grove. Recent Historical Topics include:
The Downers Grove Museum has a collection of 1000's of historical photos. The highlight of the collection are the photo archives donated to the museum by the Downers Grove Reporter. As of 2021. the museum is engaged in a long-term project to scan those pictures. Contact the museum information about reviewing the pictures.
The Downers Grove Historical Society web site has a photo gallery featuring over 40 images from the earliest days of Downers Grove. Many downtown businesses and organizations honor the history of Downers Grove by displaying historical photos of their property or other scenes from Downers Grove's past. The Village Hall has a display case with a picture of nearly every mayor (and president) of the village in the hallway outside the council chambers.
Many businesses of Downers Grove embrace the history of the village by displaying old photos of Downers Grove, often of their own building. A partial list of businesses with such displays includes the Downers Grove U. S. Post Office, Tivoli Theater, Maximum Printer, Downers Grove Community Bank, and Anderson's Book Store.