Formation of a Great Community
The prairie land which was to become Wheaton was settled in the
1830's by the Babcocks, Butterfields, Wilsons, Browns, Chadwicks,
Wheatons, and Garys. It was primarily the efforts of Erastus Gary
and the brothers Warren L. and Jesse C. Wheaton, two teachers and
a carpenter, which led to the establishment of a community; they
had the vision and the land! Realizing the importance of the railroad
for future growth, they offered three miles of free right-of-way
to the Galena and Chicago Union Railroad. When the first trains
arrived in 1849, railroad officials hung the sign, "Wheaton
Depot," thereby naming the new town.
To encourage the construction of homes and businesses, the Wheaton
brothers gave away lots free of charge, and by 1853 the population
numbered over 600. Also in 1853 the Illinois Wesleyan Methodists
opened an institution of higher learning in Wheaton, and when Warren
Wheaton donated land for expansion, the Illinois Institute was renamed
Wheaton College. With its central location and the railroad, many
Wheatonites felt that the DuPage County offices should be moved
from Naperville to Wheaton. After much politicking and a successful
referendum in 1867, Wheaton became the official county seat. Population
increased overnight, and the village of Wheaton was incorporated
as a city in 1890, thus qualifying for funding to pave the streets
and to install water, sewer, and electricity lines.
City government changed to a commissioner-mayor form in 1917, with
a population of 3,423; to a mayor-manager in 1961, with a population
of 24,312; and adopted a seven-member City Council in 1993 when
the population exceeded 50,000. True to the vision of the Wheatons
and the Garys, growth continues today because of the high standards
for city services, education, mass transportation, housing, healthcare,
and cultural and recreational opportunities. Today, the former courthouse,
built in 1896, still stands as a reminder of our founding fathers'
vision to build a prosperous community with a rich heritage.
Becoming a County Seat
When DuPage County was carved from Cook County in 1839, Naperville
was the county's first government center. In an attempt to centrally
locate the county seat, a referendum was held to move it from Naperville
to Wheaton in 1857. The referendum fell short and Naperville remained
the county seat. In 1867, after waiting the required 10 years, male
residents were again asked to vote on moving the county seat to
Wheaton. This time, the referendum was successful by a narrow margin,
1,686 in favor and 1,635 opposed.
A courthouse was needed before Wheaton could officially take on
the responsibility of county seat. Jesse and Warren donated land
and labor for the first courthouse, which was located on present-day
Reber Street. In 1868, the courthouse was completed and Wheaton
was ready to serve as the government center of DuPage County.
Naperville, however, was not willing to relinquish reign. The story
of the infamous "Midnight Raid" recalls how the men from
Wheaton rode their horses and drove their wagons down the dirt-paved
Naperville-Wheaton Road to "steal" the county records.
As luck would have it, before the Wheaton men could get out of town
with the loaded wagons, several Naperville men awoke and took chase.
In the escape, some plat books fell off a wagon and were retrieved
by Naperville loyals. They were sent to Chicago for safe-keeping
while Naperville residents tried to get the court to reverse the
referendum. The fight ended when the "Great Chicago Fire"
destroyed the evidence in 1871 and Wheaton was secured as the County
Seat of DuPage.