Indian mound survives Schaumburg sprawl
In 1919, a researcher for the Chicago Historical Society named Albert Scharf recorded the existence of an American Indian mound among the prairie land and farms northwest of the city, an area then best known as Palatine Township.
In 2011, Rolling Meadows resident Tom Hahn has virtually rediscovered the mound -- almost miraculously undisturbed amid office buildings, apartment complexes and restaurants along bustling Algonquin Road in Schaumburg.
The presence of the mound remained recorded on old maps of the township for all the years in between. But until Hahn found the records at the Palatine Public Library while researching the area's first cemetery for European settlers, the mound stayed unknown to both Schaumburg officials and those marketing the site for commercial development.
"I was amazed that maybe there was a mound still there," Hahn said. "I went out there and saw that slab" of land still vacant.
Though he quickly informed Schaumburg officials and an anthropology professor at Harper College of his find, Hahn has since revisited the site a few times a week just to assure himself that the bulldozers called for by the "For Sale" sign on the property haven't shown up yet.
David Blanchette, spokesman for the Illinois Historic Preservation Agency, said his organization certainly hasn't forgotten the mound.
Because the mound is recorded on the agency's maps, an archaeological survey of the site would have to precede the moving of any earth -- even if the mound itself were no longer there, Blanchette said. The state automatically is notified of a pending development through the permitting process even if the municipality issuing the permit isn't itself aware of a site's historic or environmental significance, he said.
"This does not necessarily preclude development," he added. "It's not unusual in Illinois to find Indian mounds. Places that are popular places to live now were often popular places to live then."
Until an archeological survey is done, however, it's impossible to say what the true significance of the site might be, Blanchette said. One could not even speculate about which culture built the mound and when, or what the purpose of the mound was. Not all Indian mounds were burial mounds, he added.
Because of the agency's workload, however, it remains unlikely that anything short of a development proposal would get the archaeological survey done any earlier, Blanchette said.
Until then, it's impossible to pin the mound down to even a specific millennium, said Rochelle Lurie, president and principal investigator of Midwest Archaeological Research Services in Marengo.
While the Potawatomie lived in the area as recently as the 18th century, other American Indian cultures resided here as far back as 10,000 to 12,000 years ago, she said.
What caused Scharf in 1919 to label the topographical feature he found an Indian mound also remains unknown. Did someone who lived in the area tell him what it was, or did he personally discover artifacts on or near the site?
Scharf's sketchy notes, still held by the historical society, shed no new light on the question other than his apparent familiarity with other mounds.
"Basically, we don't know for sure that it's a mound," Lurie said. "As far as I know, he didn't go poking around in the mound."
She believes an archaeological survey could be done quickly and inexpensively, given the relatively small size of the site. It could even be commissioned by the current land owner instead of waiting for a development proposal to bring out the Illinois Historic Preservation Agency.
But an obvious question is how such a visible site stayed undeveloped among the rampant growth of Schaumburg.
The location of the property -- wedged between two existing office complexes just east of Quentin Road -- makes the lack of development more perplexing.
For Patricia Hamlen, the Harper College anthropology professor Hahn contacted, the idea that the site has been left alone by coincidence seems the least likely.
Even though village officials and the real estate marketers just learned of the mound's existence, Hamlen believes that a developer truly interested in the site could have discovered a record of it at an early stage of due diligence.
And while the mound won't necessarily prohibit development, firms may have looked elsewhere rather than go through an archaeological survey.
"Why would I want to buy a piece of property if I can't develop it?" Hamlen asked.
But for Schaumburg officials and sales agents, market forces alone are enough to explain the lack of activity.
"It's truly been just market forces," said Michael Flynn, executive vice president of NAI Hiffman, the firm hired to sell the 6.5-acre site.
Flynn said that if the land were zoned for retail, it would almost certainly have been developed by now. But the lot is zoned for office uses, and the market for new office buildings is down considerably.
Marisa Warneke, development review planner for Schaumburg, has been researching the development impacts of the mound with the state for the past few months. But the current lack of serious interest in the site has hardly made the information a burning priority, she said.
Hahn and Hamlen said they're pleased the presence of the mound is at least being acknowledged now and will have some impact on any plans to develop the site.
Hamlen said people often call her and other anthropologists with wild suggestions of evidence of extraterrestrials and other theories. So she was understandably skeptical when Hahn called her to tell her of an untouched mound sitting quietly amid the hubbub of Schaumburg.
She was as surprised as anyone to find there was actually some truth to the claim, Hamlen said.