HISTORY OF ROMEOVILLE
The Village of Romeoville is a southwestern suburb of Chicago that is located on the Des Plaines River in the northeastern part of Will County. The first non-Native American men to travel through the Romeoville area were probably Jesuit missionary Father Jacques Marquette and the French geographer Louis Jolliet, who explored the region in 1673.
In 1816, Congress decided to construct the Illinois and Michigan Shipping Canal, which would connect Lake Michigan and the Illinois River. To begin the project and to facilitate greater settlement of the area, a strip of land 20 miles wide, including the Des Plaines River, was acquired from the Native Americans.
Romeoville was one of the last of the Illinois areas to be occupied by Native Americans. In 1830, during President Jackson's administration, the Indian Removal Act became law. Over the next four or five years, Native American villages were removed and new towns were laid out along the course of the proposed canal. Supplies and laborers were brought in from Fort Dearborn.
By state law, the canal's board of commissioners were empowered to set the route of the canal and to lay out the land on each side in tracts and town lots. One town planned by the commissioners was Romeo, named in honor of the Shakespearean hero. The plat of Romeo was recorded on September 14, 1835 in the Cook County Court House (Will County would form four months later.). In 1835, the commission sold land for $1.25 per acre and one year later, it sold for $200 per acre. Ground for the canal was finally broken on July 4, 1836 in Bridgeport.
1837 saw two new towns, Lockport and Juliet, spring up around Romeo. When the depression of 1837 hit, it greatly hurt canal land sales and growth slowed. At this point, most of Romeo's inhabitants were transient canal construction workers, a majority of which were Irish immigrants.
The Illinois and Michigan Canal was completed in 1848. More digging occurred in Romeo from 1892 to 1900 when the Chicago Drainage Canal was constructed in the area between the Des Plaines River and the Illinois and Michigan Canal.
1895 was an important year for Romeo’s government. On January 19, residents of Romeo voted 42 to 20 for incorporation at John Miller's Barber Shop and to change the name of the town to Romeoville. Two days later, Romeoville was officially proclaimed as a village. On February 16, Louis Hamann was elected the first President of the Romeoville Board of Trustees. The first village hall was also built in that year. Besides government business, it served as a meeting room, space for dances and parties, and a jail (there was one cell).
Although Romeoville was once economically dependent on nearby agriculture and dairy farms, the village prospered from its adjacent stone quarries. In 1916, Romeoville gained importance again when it became the distribution point for pulverized limestone, which farmers used to combat alkali spots on their land. The bustling quarry industry supplied the basic materials for early road construction and buildings in such large quantities that, even before Joliet, Romeoville acquired the nickname "Stone City." One of the most famous buildings constructed with Romeoville limestone is the Illinois State Capitol Building in Springfield. The coming of concrete as a building material, however, spelled the decline of quarrying and Romeoville's importance was greatly diminished. The quarries didn’t just serve the purposes of mining though. One of the quarries was filled with water and became known as Romeo Beach, attracting visitors from as far away as Chicago.
Gleaners Hall on Naperville Road & Illinois Route 53 was built in 1922 and became the center of Romeoville community life for many years. In 1963 the hall was burned down in a controlled practice by local fire departments to make way for a subdivision of modern homes.
1922 saw the construction of the Lemont Refinery, supplying both construction and then refinery jobs that boosted Romeoville’s economy. A $200 million expansion of the facility around 1965 was called “the greatest thing to happen to our village,” by then Village President Neal Murphy.
The population of Romeoville in 1929 was 200 people and approximately 46 homes. This was also the year Neil Murphy was elected President of the Romeoville Board of Trustees, a position he would retain for 40 consecutive years before retiring in 1969.
Digging again occurred in Romeoville in the early 1930s when the Chicago Drainage Canal was deepened. Following the project, it was renamed the Chicago Sanitary and Ship Canal. Also occurring in the early 30s was the opening of Holy Name Technical School, an institution that would later become known as Lewis University.
Lacking new industries, Romeoville's population gradually declined during the first half of the twentieth century. Records show only ten telephone subscribers in the village in 1935. Census figures show 180 residents in 1939; 170 residents in 1940; and 147 residents in 1950.
Romeoville entered a new era in 1957 when over six hundred acres of farmland on Illinois Highway 66A (Route 53) became the Hampton Park subdivision. The prefabricated houses, which sold for around $13,000, were first constructed on Fenton Avenue and arrived on trucks. Doors and windows were preinstalled and tile or carpet was already attached to the floor. Cranes would unload the pieces and workers built ten homes in a day.
In the face of this rapid expansion, the Village Board created the Public Works Department on November 5, 1958 to oversee and maintain the new and existing infrastructure of the growing community. In April of 1960, a group met at the old Romeoville village hall to form the Romeoville Volunteer Fire Department. Four months later, the newly organized department took delivery of its first fire engine.