Naperville history lessons can come in several forms
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Spring came and went before I got around to my seasonal cleaning.
OK. Truth is, I have a writer's curse. As hard as I try, it's tough for me to toss cherished history or just about any memento given to me. I seem to walk out the door practically empty-handed, only to return with an armful of brochures, books, photos and much ado about everything.
For the better part of June and July, I've been determined to discard my piles, a project made even more difficult because every piece of paper or photo comes with a memory.
My husband rented a Dumpster. Neighbors asked if we were moving.
One box of stuff had been dropped off at our doorstep by a well-meaning friend who also couldn't part with "history." While thumbing through her treasures, I discovered a copy of an Illinois Bell Magazine dated August 1974. The cover photo features four members of the Naperville Municipal Band sitting on park benches in Central Park. Inside is an eight-page feature titled "Naperville. It didn't just grow out of a cornfield."
With a landmark photo of Old Main at North Central College, the story highlighted Naperville as one of Chicago's fastest-growing suburbs and the fact that Bell Telephone Laboratories had built a large research and development facility here a decade earlier.
Making news for the Bell System that month was a proposed electronic system that "will let customers dial person-to-person, third number, credit card and collect calls with only minimal operator help."
The story previewed other new equipment that would help keep up with Naperville's rapid growth, noting that since 1969 the city's population had doubled to a rousing 28,000 residents in 1974.
What a difference the past 40 years have created in technology, as well as keeping up with local development and growth as Naperville's population now hovers around 150,000. Do youngsters even know the influence of Ma Bell?
One paragraph began, "Naperville has a rich history." I wondered how many times I'd written those exact words during the past 20 years. Many things about Naperville remain constant.
The story talks about the founding of the Naperville Heritage Society in 1969 and "a park that takes you into the past," referring to the 12-acre outdoor history museum known as Naper Settlement.
"The society raises money to move early Naperville architectural gems to Naper Settlement, which is a city-donated park land," noted the editor.
At the time, only Century Memorial Chapel had been "reborn" near Martin Mitchell Mansion and its Carriage House, while three other structures were being refurbished, including The Meeting House, DuPage County's oldest church.
That paragraph reminded me that sometimes residents at first think Naper Settlement, now with 30 historic structures, originally was the city's center. Folks are surprised to learn most of the buildings have been relocated to the outdoor museum as a huge preservation mission to tell the story of a Midwestern farming community, primarily in the late 1800s.
Back in the summer of 1974, I was single, living in Manhattan, working in advertising and planning to open a new cupcake-sized custom cake business in New York City that December. I had never heard of Naperville. The Naperville Riverwalk from Jefferson to Hillside did not exist.
All these years later, I'm mindful that in addition to North Central College, good schools and health-care facilities, Naper Settlement was among our family's top five attractions to move here in 1993.
And certainly in 1974, I never imagined being one of four judges for Naper Settlement's Apple Pie Baking Contest during its Hometown Picnic last summer. Or that I'd return Saturday, Aug. 10, when folks again have a chance to bake their best apple pie recipes and enter the contest.
Preregistration is required by Wednesday, Aug. 7. Homemade pies must use apples as their key ingredient, and any type of crust can be used. Judging criteria includes appearance, crust, filling and overall impression. For complete details, download the information at napersettlement.org or call (630) 305-5252.
I just found the index card for my mother's apple crumb pie in my overstuffed recipe box, a reminder it's high time to clean out my vintage recipe box, too.
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