History of Romeoville

The Village of Romeoville is located on the Des Plaines River (named by the French for the maple trees found along its banks) in the southeastern corner of DuPage Township (named in honor of Du Pazhe, a French hunter and trapper, who at the beginning of the nineteenth century settled at the junction of the east and west branches of the river that now bears his name) and the northwestern corner of Lockport Township (named for the community which was established in 1837 just east of the site of the first look of the Illinois and Michigan Canal) in the northeastern part of Will County (named in honor of Dr. Conrad Will, a pioneer southern Illinois politician,  member of the first Constitutional Convention of 1818, and a member of the Illinois legislature from 1818 until, his death in 1835) and in the northeastern part of the State of Illinois (named in honor of the Illini Indian tribes who lived in the region before the non-Indian settlers arrived). With a history dating back to the middle of the 19th century, Romeo, as it was originally known, grew with its bustling stone quarrying, which furnished the basic materials for early road construction and buildings.
Quarry Workers
Although Romeoville was once economically dependent in the main on nearby agriculture and dairy farms, the Village prospered from its adjacent stone quarries. The bustling industry supplied the basic materials from early road construction and buildings in such quantities that, even before Joliet, Romeoville acquired the distinction of becoming the "Stone City". In its heyday, two trainloads of limestone were shipped throughout the Midwest each morning on the Chicago Rock Island and Pacific Railroad. Loads were also carried in great quantities on the Chicago and Alton Railroad. 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, for stone was Romeoville's most famous export.
The first non-native American men to travel through the Romeoville area were probably the French geographer Louis Jolliet and the Jesuit Missionary Father Jacques Marquette who explored the region in 1673. Large numbers of white settlers did not arrive in the area until the late 1820s as access to the Great Lakes Plaines became easier due to the opening of the Erie Canal in New York.

In 1816, Congress decided to construct the Illinois and Michigan Shipping Canal to facilitate greater non-Indian settlement. A strip of land 20 miles wide was then acquired from the Native Americans, the Des Plaines River being in the center of the acquired strip. Plans for the construction of the Illinois and Michigan Canal would connect Lake Michigan and the Illinois River.

Romeoville was one of the last of the Illinois areas to be occupied by Native Americans in 1820s. Supplies and laborers had to be brought in from Fort Dearborn (later to become Chicago). A road from Chicago to Lockport was named Archer Avenue, being named after one of the canal commissioners.

In 1830 during President Jackson's administration, the Indian Removal Act became law. Over the next four or five years, Native American villages were moved out and new towns were laid out along the course of the proposed canal.

With visions of commercial prosperity from the projected canal and the eventual railroads, real estate developers came to Romeo. Some lots were sold, especially in the area known as "Rairdon's subdivision," and a post office was established at what became known as the Alton Railroad station from October 29, 1833 to February 27, 1834, with John Blackstone as postmaster.

By state law, the canal's board of commissioners were empowered to fix the route of the canal and to lay out the land on each side of the canal in tracts and town lots and sell them at public sale. One town planned by the commissioners was "Romeo". It was named in honor of the Shakespearean hero and planned as a romantic twin city and rival for nearby Juliet. The plat of Romeo was recorded in September 14, 1835, in the Cook County Court House (Will County was formed January 12, 1836). In 1835 the land sold for $1.25 per acre, one year later it sold for $200.

In 1837 one town was laid out at the site of the canal locks and was named Lockport. Towns four miles north and south were also laid out, creating Romeo in 1835 and Juliet in 1837. The depression of 1837 greatly hurt the canal land sales and most of Romeo's inhabitants were the transient canal construction workers. A majority of the workers were immigrants from Ireland.

The Illinois and Michigan Canal was completed in 1848 and connected the Great Lakes to the Mississippi River watershed along a longstanding Indian portage route. The 97-mile canal extended from the Chicago River near Lake Michigan to the Illinois River in Peru, IL. It rapidly transformed Chicago from a small settlement to a critical transportation hub between the East and the developing Midwest. The towpath trail along the canal is a State park that runs through a rural and wooded landscape linking a number of towns such as Romeoville.
Old Village Hall
From 1892 to 1900, more digging occurred in Romeoville as the Chicago Drainage Canal was constructed in the area between the Des Plaines River and the Illinois and Michigan Canal. In connection with this project, a post office was re-established in the village from December 5, 1892 to August 30, 1902.

On January 19, 1895, residents of Romeoville voted 42 to 20 for incorporation at John Miller's Barber Shop and on January 21, Romeoville was officially proclaimed as a village. A month later, on February 16, Louis Hamann was elected the first President of the Romeoville Board of Trustees. The name of Romeo was changed to Romeoville when residents voted to incorporate in 1895. The presiding judges were Thomas Farrell, Louis Hamann, and William Miller. The attorney for the incorporation was D.F. Higgins. In 1900 there were three taverns in Romeoville, and a streetcar line, which ran from Chicago to Elgin, coming what is New Avenue and going on through Lockport. This was disbanded in 1933.
In 1916, Romeoville again became important when it became the distributing point for pulverized limestone for three counties as farmers purchased the stone to combat alkali spots on their lands. The Bruce family also turned some of the quarries into a beach area, which was known as Romeo Beach.

On April 11, 1918, the entire village was threatened by fire as Peter Startz's saloon, residence, icehouse, garage and barns valued at $20,000 were burned. Richard Farrell's grocery store and dwelling were also destroyed before the fire was checked.

In 1922, Gleaners Hall on Naperville Road at Illinois 53 was built 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 modern subdivision of homes.

On November 2, 1926 the village gained attention when Romeoville born Albert E. Markgraf was elected Sheriff of Will County.

The population of Romeoville in 1929 was 200 people with approximately 46 homes. Romeoville boasted having the Lockport Grain Elevator, three taverns and Romeo Beach within its corporate limits. In April of 1929, Neil Murphy defeated incumbent Anthony A. Startz for Presidency of the Romeoville Board of Trustees and remained in that office for forty consecutive years before retirement in 1969. When Neal Murphy took office, the Village had an outstanding debt of $400, which he managed to pay off that year.

Digging again occurred in Romeoville in the early 1930's when the Chicago Drainage Canal was deepened. The Canal then became known as the Chicago Sanitary and Ship Canal.

Lacking new industries, Romeoville's population gradually declined during the first half of the twentieth century. Illinois Bell Telephone Company records indicate 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.

In 1955, the Will County Electric Generating Station was placed into service by the commonwealth Edison Company at Romeoville's southern edge.

In 1957 Romeoville entered a new era in its history when over six hundred acres of farm land on the west bank of the Des Plaines River on Illinois highway 66A (now known as State Route 53) was allotted for the development of the Hampton Park subdivision. In 1964, another section of 446 acres of the subdivision was annexed to the contiguous area of the village. These annexations, in addition to other small parcels of annexed land, greatly increased the Village's population. It rose from 197 residents in 1957 to 3,574 residents in 1960, 6,358 residents in 1963, and over 15,000 in 1971. As of the 2010 census, Romeoville boasts 39,680 residents. 

If Romeoville history interests you, be sure to stop by the Romeoville Historical Society at 14 Belmont Drive. The James P. Sczepaniak Museum is open Tuesdays from 6:00 p.m. - 8:00 p.m., Wednesdays from 1:00 p.m. - 4:00 p.m., the third Saturday of each month from 1:00 p.m. - 4:00 p.m., and by appointment. You can visit them at www.romeohistory.org/ or call them at 815-552-9080.