History of Gurnee

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Early settlers in the Gurnee area came by foot, horseback and by “Prairie Schooners” drawn by oxen or via the Erie Canal and the Great Lakes. They came from the town of Warren, New York, which was named in honor of Major Joseph Warren, killed in the battle of Bunker Hill. Warren Township, formed in 1850 was also named after him. The first settlement of Warren Township commenced in 1835 in the vicinity of the Aux Plaines River (Now the DesPlaines River).

In 1835-36, a land company from New York State erected a Community House (site of the old Gurnee Grade School) to accommodate families while they were locating and getting government grants to their farms. Near the Community House, there was a ford used by the Potowatomi Indians for crossing the river. A floating log bridge was built there in 1842. Later, a stationary wood bridge was constructed, and still later an iron bridge was erected.

With the permanent bridge, roads were established and the area became the township hub. It was at this junction that the Milwaukee Road crossed the river from east to west, and then continued north to eventually connect Chicago to Milwaukee.

The hamlet was originally called “Wentworth” after Congressman John Wentworth, who also served as Mayor of Chicago from 1857 to 1863. Walter S. Gurnee, the 14th mayor of Chicago and one of the directors of the railroad, agreed to develop a station in Wentworth, which was called “Gurnee Station” in honor of Gurnee. Over time, Gurnee Station became simply known as Gurnee.

Gurnee’s population is well over 31,000 residents in about 13.5 square mile area. Founded in 1928, Gurnee is now celebrating 90 years as a village. Gurnee also celebrates its 200th anniversary in the State of Illinois Admission to the Union, which was on Dec. 3, 1818.

A complete history, with pictures of Gurnee will soon be available on our website in June.