Our History

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.

Wheaton Chamber of Commerce
108 E. Wesley St., Wheaton, IL 60187
fax: 630-668-2744
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Copyright 2001 Wheaton Chamber of Commerce, Wheaton, IL