History is who we are today

History teaches us how past generations faced and solved their problems

By Caron George Stillmunkes, Plainfield Historical Society

To some, history is boring, just a collection of dates of events we were made to memorize in school or stories of ancient times.  But, to others, history is a guide for living in the present.

History teaches us how past generations faced certain circumstances and how they solved their problems.  History is who and why we are the way we are today. 

My love of history began at Plainfield’s Indian Trail Junior High with two great History teachers – Mr. Carmine Corsetti (sixth grade) and Mr. Vernel Bannister (eighth). I just missed having the wonderful Mrs. Marge Parks as my teacher, but both my husband and my older sister were lucky enough to be her students. 

It wasn’t until I was an adult that I discovered the Plainfield Historical Society Museum which contains a significant collection about Plainfield’s history.

Each time I stop by the museum I learn something new about Plainfield’s past, or of those who lived here.

The information I found there was of great help to me when I was working on my Plainfield soldier’s project, Cease Firing – A Call to Duty. 

The Museum is open each Saturday from 1-4 p.m. and there are always friendly and helpful volunteers  to assist with research or to explain about the exhibits. 

While the Plainfield of today is a busy hub of activity – lots of people, various fests, restaurants and yes, traffic – similarities can be discovered in the Plainfield of yesteryear.    

This year marked the 25th commemoration of the 1990 tornado which struck here.  While that tornado was the deadliest natural disaster on record, a tornado in March of 1920 caused approximately $10,000 in damage to one local farm alone.  (A major tribute to the 25th Year Commemoration of the 1990 Tornado is currently on display throughout every room in the Plainfield Museum.) 

Plainfield also experienced two severe fires.  In the fall of 1888, a fire destroyed the bank, bakery, wagon shop and grocery store located on the south side of downtown Lockport Street. 

In December of 1891, another fire destroyed almost the entire block on the north side of Lockport Street. Only three buildings were saved – the corner building that used to be the A.C. Steiner Shop (now home to the School of Rock) along with the two buildings to the west. 

I personally think that Gruben’s Uptown Eatery & Tap serves a pretty good hamburger, and there are many other good choices of where to have a good meal in town. 

Years ago, however, Keeley’s Snack Bar and Owens Café were the places to go. 

According to Plainfield – then and now, Keeley’s was “the gathering place for athletes and their fans to celebrate a victory or to bemoan a loss.”  And you could always count on enjoying a good meal at Owens Café for a little over two dollars. 

Many long-time Plainfield residents will recall the Clock Tower, known for its friendly service and great chicken dinners.

Currently, Plainfield is host to a variety of festivals such as Plainfield Fest, Harvest Fest and the Irish Parade.  Early Plainfield residents enjoyed the Plainfield Fair which began in 1906 at Electric Park.

It drew visitors from miles around.  The Wheatland Plowing Match was held north of town for many years and beckoned people from across the United States and even Europe.

It featured world-class champion plowmen including Bob Erickson.  During the summer a carnival was held at the Village Green and eventually grew into Plainfield Fest. 

May Day parades were a major event with local school children walking from the ceremony at the Plainfield Township Cemetery to place flowers at the base of the Soldier’s Monument located on the lawn of what is now Plymouth Congregational Church.

Plainfield residents – old and new – there are many great stories to be discovered about your home town! 

Do you know of our connection to Naperville’s North Central College, the Lincoln Highway, the Underground Railroad and the role our own Eddie Gardner played in the establishment of the modern day Airmail service? 

There were bank robberies, political involvements, horse racing, an Opera House and dance hall, and a daring balloonist who died while performing at Electric Park. 

In an upcoming column, I will tell the story of “Silver-Plated Peterson.”

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