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updated: 2/29/2012 11:40 AM

German farmers overcame hardships to settle Arlington Heights

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In 1848, Friederich Hogreve ran away from his home in Wettmar, Hanover Province, Germany, and found his way across the Atlantic Ocean to Detroit where he boarded a train to Chicago. From Chicago he walked out to the Arlington Heights area. There was, of course, no local Union Pacific in 1848.

Hogreve got himself a job on the Kirchoff farm that paid $25 a year. That is, just over $2 a month. Or 50 cents a week. Or a penny an hour (truly a minimum wage) if he worked only 50 hours a week, which was unlikely. He probably worked more.

Of course, he had to eat. So he got room and board. Even so, a penny an hour was not handsome recompense.

Nevertheless, in 1862, after he had been rejected as a Civil War soldier because of a double hernia, Hogreve married and bought a farm, 80 acres at what would become the intersection of Windsor and Palatine Roads. He had to borrow the money from a farmer in Itasca who charged him 25 percent interest.

That his great-grandson lives at that confluence to this day exemplifies, as much as any fact could, the skill and tenacity and diligence of the German farmers who came to the Arlington Heights area before the Civil War.

Friederich's great-grandson, Elroy Hogreve, is no longer farming. Like the farms of other early German farmers, the land sprouted subdivisions, schools and shopping centers. The acre that once cost $25 brought the thrifty farmers $1,400 an acre and more when Arlington Heights expanded north.

The family history was not without drama. Elroy's grandfather had three siblings who died in January and February 1870 of black diphtheria.

The early Hogreve dairy operation was decimated, like most local herds, by hoof and mouth disease. All the cows had to be destroyed. After the herd was built up again, the cows contracted tuberculosis. That was the end of dairy farming for the Hogreves.

Then they bred pigs. They grew horseradish, a labor-intensive crop, which ripened happily each year at the time of the Jewish high holidays. They grew potatoes and trundled them down the plank road that is now Milwaukee Avenue into the Belmont-Addison neighborhood in Chicago where boardinghouse keepers bought them.

They had to be highly innovative as well as industrious. Pigs, which had been profitable, went for a penny a pound during the Depression, so by the 1940s the family had 200 acres in corn and soybeans.

Perhaps no part of the Hogreve story is more remarkable than the iconic Arlington Heights early days image of local dairy products feeding the great city to the southeast.

Elroy Hogreve reflects today on early milk production in the area. One of the things that continues to amaze him is the fact that early farmers milked their cows and filled large milk cans without any refrigeration.

"Then they took the cans by horse and wagon to the depot in Arlington Heights where the cans of milk would sit out on the platform with (sometimes) 90-degree weather beating on them," he said, "waiting for unrefrigerated train cars to take them into the city.

"I'm always amazed the milk didn't spoil," Hogreve says. "Or maybe it did, and they couldn't tell the difference."

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