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updated: 1/15/2014 5:50 AM

Land of 'beauty and fertility' attracted Easterners here

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Like the Maria character in the recent revival of "The Sound of Music," Daisy Daniels "began at the very beginning" when she wrote her history of Arlington Heights called "Prairieville, U.S.A."

She described the land we walk on every day before there was anything on it resembling human beings.

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There were "deep forests" in the eastern part of the region and "to the west a vast expanse of prairie land mostly treeless except for groves of trees, like islands, which were found near creeks, rivers and lakes." (Interestingly, many local towns were named after those groves: Buffalo Grove, Elk Grove, Plum Grove, Deer Grove, Long Grove, Downers Grove and Morton Grove, for a few.)

Daniels tells of the first settlers, the Indians who came across the Bering Strait from Siberia some 20,000 years ago and spread across the continent. It was when those Indians were pushed from their hunting grounds around here across the Mississippi into lives of desperation that the history of our village could begin.

After the end of the local Indian wars in 1832, "Soldiers returning to the East from the Black Hawk War carried glowing accounts of the beauty and fertility of the country west of Lake Michigan, and a tide of immigration was started."

With the Indians gone, the U.S. government owned the land, which was now available for settlement. At $1.25 an acre the land where Arlington Heights stands today was one of the greatest bargains in history. It could be bought by heads of families, widows, and single persons 21 years of age. They all had to be citizens. They were allowed 160 acres.

There were other stipulations. To complete the title, the homesteader had to begin to live on the land within six months and continue residing there for five years without a break while cultivating the land.

The new life on the prairie was not all the bliss and beauty the returning soldiers had made it out to be to their friends back East. As Daniels writes, "Hordes of blackbirds destroyed the first crop of anything. Corn fields had to be guarded by men, dogs, and muskets. Other pests included crows, prairie chickens, wild geese, migrant pigeons, squirrels, raccoons, and weasels.

"Wolves killed cattle and calves, and foxes preyed on the poultry. Cattle and horses were plagued by flies and mosquitoes bred in the many sloughs."

The actual history of Arlington Heights began when a stonecutter from Oswego, N.Y., brought his family in March 1836 to homestead in Illinois. Asa Dunton filed claims for himself and his two minor sons, William and James. They got final title to the land in 1841 and moved to Lemont, where Asa resumed his stone cutting. Because Asa filed the original claims to the land that is now Arlington Heights, people often think of him as the town founder.

But it was his son William, who came back to his claim in 1844, who actually deserves the title and the handsome Fran Volz statue of him at Arlington Heights Road and Northwest Highway.

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