Historical Highlights of Plainfield
Events in the early 1800s laid the foundation for Plainfield to be established as Will County’s oldest community. Long before the arrival of the earliest white settlers, a large community of Potawatomie Indians had settled in the dense woods and vast prairie along the banks of the DuPage River, where they hunted and fished.
The first permanent white settler was James Walker who was introduced to the area along the DuPage River by his father-in-law, Rev. Jesse Walker, a pioneer Methodist circuit rider. Together they created what we know as Walkers Grove.
In 1834, the southern portion of “Plainfield,” consisting of 13 blocks, was laid out by Chester Ingersoll and predated the creation of Will County. The new town, located northeast of the original settlement of Walkers’ Grove, was given the name of Plainfield, referring perhaps to the flat expanse of verdant prairie stretching outward from the dense timberland along the DuPage River.
An inn and tavern were among the first businesses established on Main Street in the northern part of town; other businesses and industries were located around the intersection of Joliet Road and Commercial Street in the southern part of town.
In 1834, many fine, though simple, wood-framed residences were erected. Several congregations were formed and built beautiful houses of worship. By the late 1840s, businesses and industries began building in the central part of the village along the Lockport, Plainfield and Yorkville Plank Road, a direct route to the canal docks at Lockport.
Another road of the 1851 era, the Oswego-Indiana Plank Road, was established through the heart of Plainfield’s business district. The road between Plainfield and Joliet was impassable because it was constructed of dirt; the Plank Road made travel possible.
In 1861, Plainfield College was founded, graduating its first class in 1866. However, in 1869, it was moved, due to transportation problems, to Naperville and renamed North Central College.
The EJ&E Railroad (Elgin, Joliet, & Eastern Railway) was operational in 1886 and provided freight service and grain transportation for the thriving agricultural community.
In 1904, the Aurora, Plainfield, & Joliet Railway established a streetcar line with a popular, 20-acre camping resort in Plainfield. Known as Electric Park, the attraction included camping cabins, a large auditorium, a dance pavilion, restaurant, bowling alley, swimming and boating along the banks of the DuPage River. A baseball diamond with an enclosed grandstand and horse driving track also were included. The park closed in 1923 when the streetcars were replaced by buses. Plainfield was served by the Joliet, Plainfield & Aurora Bus Line, which began in 1924.
Plainfield’s main thoroughfare, Lockport Street, was chosen as the route of the Lincoln Highway, which began in 1913. The road was the first paved, transcontinental highway and stretched from New York to San Francisco. Later, when U.S. Route 66 crossed the Lincoln Highway in the heart of the village, Plainfield was at the intersection of the two longest highways in the world.
By 1960, Plainfield had grown, attracting many new residents, businesses and industries. Although it maintained its small-town image, Plainfield was slowly transforming from a small, rural community to a modern suburb in the Chicago metropolitan area.
The local park district was established in November 1966. In 1976, the village celebrated its bicentennial, and a new village hall and police station were constructed along with other improvements throughout the village.
On Aug. 28, 1990, a devastating tornado struck the community resulting in the loss of life and property. Despite the destruction, the community mustered its pride and strength, rebuilding better what it had lost.
Local Historic Sites
The community continues to build toward the future, while honoring its past. New businesses and residences are being interwoven into the existing fabric of the community. The village has designated several local landmarks and one historic district, the East Side Historic District.
Three buildings are listed on the National Register of Historic Places: the Plainfield/Halfway House at 24038 W. Main St., the Flanders House at 24044 W. Main St. and the former Standard Oil Station/Andreasen Travel Building at 15102 W. Lockport St.
Plainfield Historical Society
Museum and Depot
Looking for a glimpse of yesteryear? Researching Plainfield’s past? Step back in time with the Plainfield Historical Society.
The Historical Society’s Main Street Museum features many artifacts and exhibits from Plainfield’s past. Located near downtown Plainfield at 23836 W. Main St., the newly-renovated and updated Main Street Museum is open regularly and by appointment.
The Historical Society also operates the restored EJ&E Depot #4 Museum, which is located in downtown Plainfield on Lockport Street at Wood Farm Road. The Depot Museum is open to the public during special community events and by appointment.