Walter Blanchard was one of the first pioneers of Downers Grove and most prominent citizens of DuPage County. He was a respected local judge who organized a company of local men to serve in the Civil War. He died in battle leading his men in battle in Ringgold Gap, Tennessee in 1863. Walter Blanchard was honored by the Downers Grove Historical Society as the 2018 Founder of the Year.
Walter Blanchard was born in New Hampton, Grafton County, New Hampshire on 31 March 1807. He was the son of Ahimaaz Blanchard and Mary Tolford. Walter was the fourth of six children. As a child, the family moved to Moriah, Essex County, New York and later Washington County, New York. His father was a surgeon and his sister Mary Blanchard was the wife of Henry Carpenter, another early Downers Grove pioneer.
Move to Downers Grove
Walter arrived in Downers Grove in 1836. He purchased a farm in 1837. His family first lived in log cabin. Around 1840 they moved into a frame house. He raised a family of five children while he practiced law and eventually served as a DuPage County judge for seven years. His law office was in Naperville.
In 1850, the first Downers Grove Township meeting was held and Walter was elected Moderator. He was elected Supervisor for the years 1851-1853 and 1855.
Blanchard was a DuPage County Probate Judge from 1853 to 1859.
Walter Blanchard was a Whig as early as 1854. By 1856 as the Whig Party started to implode, he switched to the Republican Party, which aligned more closely with the North's anti-slavery beliefs.
In 1856, Walter was selected to represent DuPage County at the first national Republican Convention in Bloomington, Illinois. One key issue of the day was the propagation of slavery in the west, to which Blanchard and the Republicans were vigorously opposed.
He and eldest daughter Mary were present at the Wigwam in 1859 in Chicago when Abraham Lincoln was nominated for president in 1860. He also worked to help elect Lincoln.
As the Civil War approached, Walter could not ignore the call to help. He was moved by the attack on Fort Sumter in April 1861. Soon after, he organized a company of the 13th Illinois Infantry, even enlisting himself at the age of fifty four. Walter was elected captain of his Company K. His sons William also joined his company.
Initially, the company of men drilled on Maple Avenue. They were mustered into service on 24 May 1861 in Dixon, Illinois.
As Captain of this company he fought alongside his men and sadly he was wounded on November 27, 1863 at Ringgold Gap. His leg wound caused a great loss of blood and the best efforts of the doctors could not save his life. He died on 4 December 1863. His body was escorted back to Downers Grove for burial and he was buried Main Street Cemetery.
His service and sacrifice for DuPage County was remembered for years after his death. Major Edward Blodgett, son of Israel Blodgett, remembered the Captain as "a man like no other and whose memory may be an inspiring force for all as the years go by."
Walter was married twice. In Yates, New York he first married Mariam Daniels on 11 October 1834. Mariam died on 17 June 1836, shortly after the birth of her only daughter Mary.
Walter married Alvira Norris on 1 November 1837 upon his return to New York from Downers Grove. Alvira and Walter's daughter Mary, from his first marriage, returned to Downers Grove shortly after the marriage. Alvira and Walter were the parents of four children, all born in Downers Grove.
The five children of Walter Blanchard were:
- Mary (b 1836), married Charles Carpenter
- Franklin (b. 1838), married Julina Clifford
- William (b. 1842), married Eveline Standish
- Elizabeth Blanchard Ashley (b.1848), married Benjamin Ashley
- Nancy Dickerman (b. 1851), married Jake E DeArmond
The Grand Army of the Republic (GAR) Post 386 was organized in Naperville in 1884. The post was named in honor of Walter Blanchard. His son Franklin was a member of the post.
- Blanchard, Rufus. History of Du Page County, Illinois. O.L. Baskin & Company, 1882. https://books.google.com/books?id=xHwUAAAAYAAJ.
- "Captain Walter Blanchard (Namesake of Blanchard Post # 386 in Naperville, Illinois)." The RailSplitter: The Newsletter of the Department of Illinois, Sons of Union Veterans of the Civil War. Fall 2017:7. https://www.heckercamp443.us/Railsplitter/Railsplitter%20Fall%202017Rev.pdf.
- Dunham, Montrew, and Pauline Wandschneider. Downers Grove, 1832-1982. Downers Grove, Ill: Heritage Festival Task Force, 1982. https://downersgrovehistory.org/uploads/media/Downers-Grove-1832-1982-book.pdf.
- Find a Grave, database and images ( https://www.findagrave.com/memorial/11479176/walter-blanchard : accessed 27 November 2021), memorial page for Walter Blanchard (31 Mar 1807–4 Dec 1863), Find a Grave Memorial ID 11479176, citing Main Street Cemetery, Downers Grove, DuPage County, Illinois, USA ; Maintained by Sherri of Indiana (contributor 47317779).
- "Grand Army of the Republic." Naperville Heritage Society Library/Archives Collections. https://napersettlement.org/DocumentCenter/View/859.
- "History of the Thirteenth Infantry." Report of the Adjutant General of the State of Illinois - Volume I. Springfield, Illinois: Phillips Brothers State Printers, 1900. 605-606. https://libsysdigi.library.illinois.edu/oca/Books2008-12/reportofadjutant/reportofadjutant01illi1/reportofadjutant01illi1.pdf.
- "Republic Convention-- Du Page County." Chicago Tribune. 24 Apr 1856:2. https://www.newspapers.com/clip/89641154/walter-blanchard-downers-grove/.
- "United States Census, 1860", database with images, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:MX4F-FC9 : 18 February 2021), Walter Blanchard, 1860.
- "Walter Blanchard." Portrait and Biographical Record of Cook and Dupage Counties, Illinois. Chicago: Lake City, 1894. https://books.google.com/books?id=QN0pAAAAYAAJ&pg=PA352.