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Thursday, February 22, 2024

The Curious Curator – To save a garden

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Brian-Ogg-DSC_5596Recently the deed or abstract of title for Lots 8, 9 & 12, Block 16 Original Town of Naperville was reviewed in response to a research question.  The document is 57 pages long spanning 74 years of property ownership.  Most abstracts are boring lists of who bought what land, when and for how much.  Although invaluable for people researching their home or property, the bulky documents are full of legal terminology and sometimes hard to read.  The exchange of real estate no longer requires the seller to provide the buyer with an abstract of title.  Abstracts therefore are rare.

The purpose of the abstract was to prove clear title to the property – that the property being sold did not have any liens or claims against it. Sometime special provisions were outlined regarding construction or demolition of structures.  In some instances, the last will and testaments and court proceedings are also included in the abstract in order to prove land ownership.  This information can be a great benefit to genealogists.

Part of the 57 page abstract dealt with the land transfer between Nathan Allen, Jr. and his wife Elizabeth to Joseph Weaver in February 10, 1852.  The deed was specifically written and recorded in the DuPage County courthouse (then located in Naperville’s Central Park!) with the following addition:  “But the said Allen reserves from sale the rose bushes, lylocks [syc], flowering almonds and all other shrubs and trees that can be taken away and also all bulbous roots and vines now growing on said lots and reserves to himself the right to enter on said lots and take the same away the ensuing spring.”  Part of this legal document allows us a glimpse into the hobbies and interests of one of Naperville’s famous attorneys that otherwise was not known.

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Most of the 57 page abstract regarding Lots 8,9 & 12 Block 16 were primarily concerned with the ownership of Martin Otis Walker who bought the downtown Naperville property in September 19, 1853 for $600.  Walker was born in Vermont in 1809.  He came to Chicago in 1839 and went in to partnership with John Frink in 1840.  They formed the famous Frink, Walker & Co. – one of the largest and most lucrative stagecoach lines in America.  One of the routes ran through Naperville and most likely stopped at Postmaster Alexander Howard’s home on the NE corner of Jefferson and Webster – the Paw Paw Post Office now at Naper Settlement.  The bulk of Walker’s fortune was made in government postal contracts.  Walker was also involved in many capital and transportation companies as well as real estate development across the Midwest.  When he died in 1874 the Walker estate was valued at well over a million dollars in cash, property and investments about $21million in today’s dollars.

Walker’s heirs and business partners contested his will in light of his second marriage to the widow, Mrs. Martha Morton which took place just 19 days before he died.  The large amount of property and cash involved including the three lots in downtown Naperville were held up in probate courts across the Midwest.  Clear title to the Naperville property was not realized until 1887!

Once clear title was gained, businessmen like John Collins and Otto Sieber were able to purchase the property.  In 1891 the First National Bank of Naperville bought portions of Lots 8 & 9 in Block 16 and built a large bank building of native limestone in the Richardsonian Romanesque style of architecture.  The bank and the Masonic Euclid Lodge shared this building until 1917.  From 1917 – 1971 Naperville City Hall was located in the building now known as La Sorella Di Francesca at 18 W. Jefferson.

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Bryan Ogg
Bryan Ogg
Bryan Ogg is a local historian and curator of local legend, stories and lore.

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