Park to showcase Naperville's first homestead

History made its way to the surface Wednesday in Naperville where the city's founding settlers established their homestead.

And it showed up sooner than expected.

Mill Street and Jefferson Avenue, where Joe and Almeda Naper settled, is the future location of a historic interpretive site that will give visitors a feel for what the homestead looked like without re-creating its buildings. Funded by a $350,000 grant included in the state's capital program, the interpretive site is scheduled to be complete by October.

But Wednesday, construction crews doing excavation before an afternoon groundbreaking ceremony unearthed some artifacts not discovered during archaeological digs on the site in 2006 and 2007.

And as Mayor George Pradel spoke about the importance of preserving Naperville's beginnings, he proudly displayed one of the just-discovered artifacts: a piece of the lid to a chamber pot.

“Naperville was born through the hard work of Capt. Joe and Almeda Naper,” Pradel said in front of about 80 community members and elected officials. “(When) they laid the foundation for their home right on this site, they were also laying the groundwork for a community that has grown into a thriving city of 145,000 people.”

The interpretive site will be part park and part museum, displaying the first, second and third homes the Napers built on the site with low stone walls outlining the actual location of their foundations. The space also will include a hand water pump, benches and signs explaining the site's past uses and significance, said Craig Farnsworth with Hitchcock Design Group, the firm designing the area.

State Sen. Kirk Dillard, a Hinsdale Republican, said the site will function as an extended classroom for Naperville-area students to learn about the family that established the city, calling the project “something that is long overdue and it's done well.”

Naperville City Manager Doug Krieger agreed the site, with its focus on Naperville's founding family, fills a void in the city's recognition of important people.

“We have lots of statues ... and we have lots of commemorations,” Krieger said. “One of the things we don't have is a lasting monument to the city's founders Joe and Almeda Naper, and that was really the driving impetus to get the city to purchase this property.”

The city bought the land in 2006 for $765,000, when state Rep. Darlene Senger, a Naperville Republican, was a city council member.

“We thought it was very special and important to keep,” Senger said. “We are about doing the right things, including saving our history.”

Although the city didn't have the money to fund the development into an open space that relays its historical significance, the $350,000 state grant now is making the project possible, said Dave Kelsch, chairman of the ad hoc committee that planned the site's use after the city bought it.

“I can't wait to see the land be turned into a historic interpretive site honoring Joe and Almeda Naper,” Pradel said. “The legacy and sense of community the Napers began has remained in place throughout the years.”