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In June 2004, Marilyn and I took a trip to Chicago and went to Romeoville, in DuPage Township, where my great great grandparents, Patrick and Bridget Biggins, had lived on a farm in the 1800s. We saw an abandoned farm house on the property. I took a photo, but had no idea whether whether my ancestors had ever lived there. We thought nothing more of it until, thirteen years later, I stumbled upon a 2001 historic preservation report that included a photo and short write-up on the Biggins farmstead. It took me a couple weeks to remember that we had seen a farm in 2004 and had taken a photo. I found my photo and compared it with one in the 2001 report. They were the same.
Patrick and Bridget Biggins were born in Ireland and married sometime between 1825 and 1829. They were married in County Monaghan or Cavan, Ireland, where Patrick was from, or Ontario, Canada, where their second child is known to have been born.
Patrick and Bridget's first child was a girl, born sometime between 1826 to 1830, based on the 1840 census, which included only the name the head of the household. This is all we know of their first child. She has not been found in future censuses. Sometime before 1835, Patrick and Bridget immigrated to Canada. They settled somewhere Ontario. Sometime between 1835 and 1838, they immigrated to the United States. They settled in Lockport, DuPage Township, Will County, Illinois.
In 1816, two years before Illinois became a state, Congress decided to construct a 97-mile canal to facilitate greater non-Indian settlement in Illinois. The canal would connect the Chicago River at what is now called Bridgeport in Chicago with the Illinois River at LaSalle, allowing travel from New York City through the Hudson River, the Erie Canal, and the Great Lakes to the Illinois and Mississippi Rivers and New Orleans. The Federal government negotiated with the Potawatomi and other Indian tribes to sell their land to the Federal government and leave for lands west of Illinois.
Illinois land was surveyed and divided up into square townships, six miles by six miles. The townships in turn were divided into 36 square sections, one mile by one mile, which amounts to 640 acres. The sections could be further divided into 160-acre quadrants or half quadrant (80 acres) or quarter quadrants (40 acres). In 1827, the U.S. Congress gave the Canal Commission alternating sections of land five miles on either side of the Illinois and Michigan Canal to finance construction.
According to the Canal Corridor Association, the Irish began arriving in northern Illinois in large numbers in 1836, to work on the I&M Canal. A history of St. Dennis Church in Lockport (150 Years of Faith by Georgene McCanna Bankroff, 1996) says newspaper ads in Ireland offered good wages for canal workers, $26 a month, food, and lodging. Thousands of men were attracted by this offer during a depression caused by the Panic of 1837. Most Irishmen were uneducated farm workers who were looking to better their station in life.
The Illinois and Michigan Canal was constructed from 1836 to 1848. In 1838, there were 2,000 men employed on the Illinois and Michigan Canal. Patrick could have been employed by the canal as a laborer. The Census shows that he and Bridget could not read or write. Or, he could have been a supervisor or a supplier.
Sometime between 1840 and 1845, Patrick and Bridget moved from Lockport to DuPage Township. An 1845 report from school district No. 4 to DuPage Township shows P. Biggins with three children under age 20. These would be the girl born in Ontario, 15+, Ann, 10, and Frank, 7. This is the first evidence that Patrick and Bridget had moved from Lockport to DuPage Township. It is possible that they were farming the land that they later purchased in 1848 prior to the purchase.
The Canal Commission report to the Illinois State Legislature for the year ended November 30, 1848 indicates that a P. Beggins sold oats to the Commission for $9.97 on January 18, 1848.
The first barge came down the canal on April 19, 1848. Barges were powered by mule. Traffic increased until the mid-1850s when the Chicago, Rock Island, and Pacific Railroad was completed far enough to make shipping and travel by rail more attractive than barge.
On September 11, 1848, Patrick Biggins purchased 160 acres of land from the Illinois & Michigan Canal Commission for $640. The land was on the south side of Normantown Road in Romeoville, Illinois. The western 80 acres is now a subdivision called Lakewood Estates. The eastern 80 acres is now the Beverly Skoff Elementary School and the John J. Lukancic Middle School.
On June 23, 1866, Patrick purchased 160 acres on the north side of Normantown Road, kitty-corner from the original 160 acres, for $6,500. The Thos. J. Sprague farm, on which the Sprague school stood, abutted the east side of this plot. The western 80 acres was developed as Misty Ridge, a community of 166 homes, built from 2009 to 2016 by Beechen & Dill Builders, Inc. The eastern 80 acres was developed in 1963 as a residential subdivision, part of Hampton Park 2 West.
1955 Aerial Photo
John W. Drury (1898-1973) published in 1955 This Is Will County. It was No. 26 in his American Aerial County History Series. The Biggins farm on page 95 is one of 176 in the DuPage Township section. The description under the photo is: "George Mather, Rte. 3, Lockport, 160 acres." George Mather owned the Biggins farm in 1955. Route 3 was Normantown Road. The book divides DuPage Township into five areas based on the nearest city or town: Joliet, Lemont, Lockport, Naperville, and Plainfield. The Lockport area of DuPage Township is the one nearest the city of Lockport and includes Normantown Road.
2001 Rural Historic Structural Survey
The Will County Historic Preservation Commission has undertaken a Rural Historic Structural Survey that includes DuPage Township (completed in 2001 by Wiss, Janney, Elstner Associates, Inc.). In Chapter II, pages 24-26, there is a section on Significant and Contributing Farmsteads in Du Page Township, starting with the photos and a buildings diagram of the "Amsden-Biggins-Mather farmstead" on Normantown Road.Significant and Contributing Farmsteads in Du Page Township 59
"Albert Amsden is shown on the 1862 plat map as being the owner of the southeastern quarter section of Section 28 in Du Page Township. The plat map also shows the farmstead fronting on contemporary Naperville Road. The 1860 federal population census lists Albert Amsden, 36; his wife Sarah, 30; and three children: Oscar (born in Michigan), 11; Ella (born in Illinois), 8; and Alice, 9 months. The Agricultural Schedules of the 1860 federal census listed the A. Amsden farm as having 160 improved and 5 unimproved acres. The estimated values of the farm and the farming implements were $4,125 and $200, respectively. The farm had livestock valued at $600, which included 5 horses, 8 dairy cows, 5 cattle, and 12 swine. The output of the farms for the preceding year was 150 bushels of wheat, 700 bushels of corn, 450 bushels of oats, 10 bushels of peas and beans, 60 bushels of potatoes, 65 bushels of barley, 700 pounds of butter, and 40 tons of hay. (Albert Amsden was the census taker in Du Page Township in 1860.)
"The 1860 census also lists Patrick Biggins farm as being 160 acres. As shown on the 1862 plat map, Biggins farm was located in the northwest quadrant of Section 33 in Du Page Township, land he had owned since 1848.60 The 1850 federal population census listed Patrick Biggins (spelled “Begins” on census forms), 40, born in Ireland; Bridget, 45, also born in Ireland; sons Francis, 12; Philip, 9; and James, 4; and daughters Ann, 15; Catherine, 10; and Rosanna, 7. Ten years later, the census does not include Bridget Biggins, indicating that she had died.
"Between 1860 and 1870, Biggins purchased the Amsden farm (this is shown on the 1873 plat map). The 1870 census indicates the Biggins farm contained 320 improved acres. The estimated values of the farm and the farming implements were $16,000 and $1,000 respectively. A total of $600 were paid in wages for hired help including the cost of board. The farm had livestock valued at $1,900, which included 11 horses, 6 dairy cows, 28 cattle, and 10 swine. The output of the farms for the preceding year was 300 bushels of spring wheat, 1200 bushels of corn, 2500 bushels of oats, 110 bushels of potatoes, $3 worth of orchard produce, 300 pounds of butter, and 60 tons of hay.
"Presumably after Patrick Biggin’s death the farm in Section 28 passed to his son James.61 This is the farmstead that is present on Normantown Road today. As shown on the 1893 plat map, the farmstead belonging to the James Biggins family occupied the west half of the southeastern quarter section in Section 28. The eastern half of this quarter section is identified as belonging to Margaret Reardon (her relationship to the Biggins family, if any, is not known).
"The 1909 plat maps show E. Biggins as the holder of the farmstead in Section 28 (Catherine Biggins, discussed below, is listed as owning the land in Section 29). The Will County Farmers’ Directory of 1918 lists E.W. Biggins as a chicken farmer married to Mamie O’Connor with five children: William, James, May, Catherine, and Margaret. His farm was 182 acres and he had lived in the county since 1870. H.R. Phelps is listed as owner of the farmstead on the plat map from circa 1940. By the 1960s, this farmstead had passed to members of the Mather family. George, Millie, and George L. Mather are listed in succession on the plat maps between 1966 and 1998."
59Illinois Public Domain Land Tract Sales Database.
60This portion of the narrative describes the families who occupied significant extant farmstead sites in the threetownship survey area. A few, although by no means all, of the families who had a significant impact on Will County agriculture and whose farmstead sites have not survived are also described. Sources of information have included the plat maps listed in the bibliography to this report as well as a variety of historical writings, including Will County Property Owners (1842); George H. Woodruff, History of Will County Illinois (1878); Souvenir of Settlement and Progress of Will County, Illinois: A Review (1884); Portrait and Biographical Album of Will County, Illinois (1890); Genealogical and Biographical Record of Will County, Illinois (1900), W.W. Stevens, Past and Present of Will County, Illinois (1907); August Maue, History of Will County, Illinois (1927); as well as federal census data and the Agricultural Schedules from the 1850, 1860, 1870, and 1880 censuses.
61The James Biggins discussed here is not to be confused with the James Biggins discussed below. Based on the research materials that were reviewed, it is not clear if the two were related. However, the farms comprising the James Biggins Estate did pass to Catherine Biggins as of the 1909 plat map.
On page 62 of Chapter I, the survey says the "area has numerous examples of Italianate or Italianate-influenced buildings." "Other houses have Italianate detailing, such as shown above at the gable of the Biggins-Phelps-Mather farmhouse on Normantown Road in Section 28 of Du Page Township."
U. S. Agricultural Census
The Agricultural Census for Patrick's farm for 1850, 1860, and 1870 shows livestock (horses, milch cows, working oxen, other cattle, and swine) and farm production (wheat, Indian corn, oats, Irish potatoes, butter, and hay).
History of the Biggins Farm, 1827 to 2007
The table below shows transactions and listings from plat maps and other sources from 1827 to 2007 for the plots of land purchased by Patrick Biggins.
DuPage Township Plat Maps
Plat maps have been collected for DuPage Township, Will County, Illinois, where Patrick and Bridget Biggins had a farm. Sources include Dupage Township Rural Historic Structural Survey (Appendix A), Fountaindale Historical Society, Joliet Public Library, Lewis University, and Lockport Public Library. Twenty-one maps have been collected to date: 1873 1893 (partial) 1909 1925 1930 1933 1940 1948 1963 1966 1972 1978 1980 1982 1988 1992 1994 1996 1998 2000 2002
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