Wheaton ranked No. 1 in Illinois in magazine's 'Best Places to Live'
Wheaton's history, charm and schools have earned the city a unique distinction in the Land of Lincoln: the top Illinois ranking in Money Magazine's annual list of the "Best Places to Live in the U.S."
The recognition has quickly become a point of pride and validation for the town of nearly 54,000. Money Magazine based the rankings on more than 70 categories of data, including cost of living, public school performance, diversity, crime, income and amenities.
The publication spotlighted Cosley Zoo and the DuPage County Historical Museum as city landmarks. The rankings also focused on the historical character of the downtown, encouraging visitors to "take a horse-drawn carriage ride" and stop in The Little Popcorn Store, a 1920s-era institution housed in a former alleyway just 49 inches wide.
"Founded by a group of abolitionists in the 1850s and home to the Wheaton Flag antislavery newspaper, this safe, well-educated suburb of Chicago has a rich history readily discovered at the DuPage County Historical Museum, founded by John Quincy Adams -- a distant relative to the president of the same name -- in 1891," the magazine states.
Nancy Flannery, the chairwoman of the city's historic commission, clarified that Wheaton was developed by abolitionists, but two brothers -- Warren Wheaton and Jesse Wheaton -- as well as Erastus Gary are considered the founders.
The Wheaton siblings and Gary claimed hundreds of acres of land during the 1830s in present-day DuPage County and donated property for a railroad passage. Warren Wheaton served as the town's first president shortly after its incorporation in 1859.
They were favorable to abolition, Flannery said, but the strong abolitionists were at Wheaton College, where slaves found refuge along the Underground Railroad in the school's Blanchard Hall. Warren Wheaton donated land to the Illinois Institute, later renamed Wheaton College in his honor.
"Wheaton College was really seminal to the development of Wheaton," Flannery said. "It was the first institution of higher learning in Illinois to graduate an African-American."
Flannery said she and other commission members who have worked to spread awareness of and preserve Wheaton's history were thrilled to see the ranking. The group is now partnering with the city to develop an online map of historical sites tied to the development of golf -- an effort inspired by last summer's activities leading up to the inaugural U.S. Senior Women's Open at Chicago Golf Club.
"I think people in Wheaton are waking to a new love of their town's history," Flannery said. "We're starting to get more people interested in the commission and what we're doing."