Dunklee’s Grove, Lester, Sagone, Salt Creek – by any other name, Wood Dale has a colorful past.
Even a veteran Wood Dale resident studying a map of the area from the 1800s might be excused for thinking, “I don’t understand what I’m looking at.” That’s because the roads and locations – even the town itself – have changed their names over the years.
The area was first settled in 1833 by Hezekiah Dunklee and Mason Smith. But Frederick Lester, who arrived two years later with his father and four brothers, is often considered the city’s true founder because only after he arranged for the Chicago and Pacific Railroad to come through town in 1873 did Wood Dale really begin to take off.
Dunklee and Smith called their stand of prairie and forest “Dunklee’s Grove.” Another town developed just north of there was named Sagone. The Chicago and Pacific’s train station and the area around it became known as Lester Station, or simply Lester. But in 1874 the U.S. Post Office granted the area a postal franchise under the name “Salt Creek, Illinois.”
In the 1890s, a developer planned a subdivision named “Woodale Acres” near the center of town. Historian Mary Lou Mittel writes that residents liked that name so much that they changed the train station’s name from Lester to Wooddale. Finally, in 1928 the village incorporated and asked Washington to change the name of their village and post office to “Wooddale.” But because there already was another “Wooddale” in Southern Illinois, they compromised on the name “Wood Dale.”
Some other tidbits about Wood Dale names and faces noted by Judi Ryan, who succeeded Mittel as curator of the Yesterday’s Farm Museum:
- Today’s Irving Park Road originally was known as Plank Road because it only had a surface of wooden boards to keep travelers from sinking into the mud.
- Today’s Wood Dale Road was originally named Forest Avenue. Thorndale Avenue was named Pierce Road and Lawrence Road.
- The Chicago and Pacific Railroad soon took on the nickname “The Milwaukee Road.” The tracks between Chicago and Elgin, running through Wood Dale, are now owned by the Metra commuter rail service, which calls them the Milwaukee District West Line. During the later 1900s, the Milwaukee Road’s freight operations fell into the hands of the Soo Line, then I&M Rail Link, then the Iowa, Chicago & Eastern Railway, and now the Canadian Pacific Railway. Canadian Pacific operates its main Chicago-area rail yard in Bensenville, right across the Wood Dale border.
- Dunklee and Smith discovered it was actually easier to cut down trees in their forest and plant crops in the soft soil left behind than it was to hack through the dense mass of roots below Dunklee Grove’s prairie plants. Those plants stood as high as the shoulder of a man on horseback.
- Winnebago Indians based in Beloit, Wisconsin, kept a signal hill at what is now Army Trail Road and Lake Street. Passing through the area, they would set up a camp along Salt Creek and burn the prairie. That would force deer and other game into the woods, where other hunters would kill them.
- Dunklee and Smith journeyed to the area along a trail made by Gen. Winfield Scott’s army on its way to fight Indians in the Blackhawk War. That trail became what is now Grand Avenue and the appropriately named Army Trail Road.
The Wood Dale Historical Society is based at the Yesterday’s Farm Museum, at 850 N. Wood Dale Rd.
For information, visit www.wooddalemuseum.org or call (630) 595-8777.