Glenn Miller - String of Pearls
John - as monkey
This turned out to be the site of our new house. The diving tree with a nailed-on ladder was preserved
Sewer line (top)
water line (bot)
Looking out the living room window
The high dive (tree), the low dive (with cousin Rose) and the bag swing on the right
One day in 1947 or 48, when I was about sixteen, our parents asked my brother and I if we would like to take a ride. “Where to,” we asked.
“You'll see," they replied. With surprise in the air, we got in the car and took a short ride down Main street, as though we were going to grandmas, but at the last minute we turned right, up Aurora road and after only a mile or so, right across from where the high school is now, we turned down a long, narrow winding dirt road, dense with acres of maple trees on either side. We got out of the car in the middle of a small clearing just south of the river. The water of what seemed like a small lake could just be seen in the distance, through the trees. My mother had not packed a lunch for a picnic and we were somewhat mystified as to the reason for this trip.
We had come to what was known as the Little Quarry, the
smallest of the three stone quarries in
To our astonishment we were informed that we were going to
live here in a little while after dad built a new house here. As we wandered
about, mom said—dad was already off looking around and dreaming—that dad and
another man, Harry Ridley, who owned the Chrysler dealership across from the
shop, had bought the quarry and the surrounding woods from the von Oven sisters,
the heiresses of Naperville Nurseries.
Much of the woods surrounding the quarry consisted of regularly spaced small
maple trees because the land had been used by the company as a tree nursery
after the stone had been quarried. They pointed out a frame house on the other
side of the quarry that was still occupied by one Leonard Hedstrom, an old
Scandinavian fellow who had worked for years at the nursery, was then retired,
and who was to live there until he died; that was part of the deal with the von
Oven sisters. Apparently, the von Ovens had owned considerable property in the
area including land south of
It was kind of hard to see how this could be our home since
it was so woodsy and uncivilized, unlike our well established home on
We almost always had a large fire burning just to get rid of the deadwood and the undergrowth that had not been cleaned up for years. We also adopted the practice of cutting down two of every three maple trees, there in great abundance, trimming them, and stacking their trunks in large piles to dry. The trees had originally been intended to be dug up and sold by the nursery and they were crowding each other out. Thinning them in this way, would permit the remainder to grow to full maturity. At least that was the plan. We quickly got tired of playing lumberjack, though it was kind of neat to swing a two-bladed ax like Paul Bunyan. Chainsaws had yet to be invented.
That winter my father engaged an architect, John S. Van Bergen.
Supposedly, he designed in the manner of Frank Lloyd Wright, trying to fit the
house into the look of the land rather than forcing the land to accommodate to
the traditional needs of a house. My folks had come to like this style. I remember
a one-day trip to the architect’s house near Barrington,
I could hardly imagine what sort of place we might now live
in. A house like our humble
After some months, and many changes and corrections, the final plans were completed and shortly thereafter, the next spring as I recall, construction began. It was not an easy job because of the stone. A deep trench was dug using a large backhoe for thousands of yards from the Little Quarry down the wide path that passed between the Big Quarry and the river, part of an area that has now come to be known as the Riverwalk, and a large sewer pipe was laid in it connecting to the city’s sewer system. One could not use a septic tank because the area around the quarries was all stone with the exception of perhaps a foot or so of topsoil. In order to get water a temporary dam was built across the DuPage River, half at a time, and another trench was dug in its lee for a cast iron water pipe which connected to the city water supply at Centennial Beach. These were major projects merely to build a single house in a rather isolated and unaccommodating place.
My father had sent someone he trusted to
The resulting one-story house, built in the small area just
between the river and the quarry, was novel in many respects. First of all,
largely built of quarry stone, it blended smoothly and naturally into the landscape.
As in our architect’s house in
My father did not hire a contractor to construct the house. Instead, he closed the shop and the guys who worked there were put to building it. Machinists and welders became excavators, stonemasons, carpenters, pipe fitters, electricians and general all around constructors, a quite remarkable transformation. It was a very interesting experience to be somewhat involved in its construction myself.
It was fantastic to live there, a huge change from living on Mill Street. And of course my brother and I were getting older. In the summers we swam in the quarry, our own huge swimming pool. The top ten feet or so, heated by the sun, was quite warm. Sometimes the whole family swam together, even in the late evening in the warm, silky water, light provided only by the moon. One day my brother, something of a monkey at that time, climbed very high into a large tree near the bank of the quarry and fastened a long rope onto a large horizontal limb for a bag swing. On the lower end of the rope we fastened a burlap bag stuffed with pieces of foam rubber. We would pull the bag back up the hill and stand at the very top of the bank, then jump onto the bag and swing way out over the quarry, leaping off at the end of the swing for a marvelous plunge. Dad also put in a diving board, and a wooden raft was built and put out in the quarry in the summer. All my boyhood friends joined us frequently, and of course all our relations were happy to come over. Sometimes at night we just sat out on the screened porch in the dark, not talking, just quietly listening to the crickets and the locusts and taking in the evening.
A year or two later, my dad and Ridley sold a piece of the property directly across the quarry from our house to my aunt and uncle, the ones with the two girls, Ann and Rose, first cousins near our age with whom my brother and I had very much liked to play with at grandmas. They built a house there and after they moved in we shared holiday meals, and both kids and adults often swam together in the quarry.
Our quarry house had a guest bedroom. This seemed a little odd since previously we had never ever had an overnight guest (at Mill Street they would have had to sleep on the couch anyway) and I suppose I just put it down to an architectural notion. But one day a year or two after we had moved in, my brother and I were told that we would be having a guest, and for a considerable period of time too. Dorothy was a friend of my parents who as I recall had gone to high school with my father. My brother and I did not know her, but our folks knew her, her family … and so forth. She had severe and crippling arthritis, could neither walk nor feed herself. She had a specially made wheelchair because she could not even bend her knees or hips. Since the disease had become debilitating she had been staying with her brother and his wife. Characteristically, we were not informed by our parents as to the whys or wherefores of the arrangement, but I suspect now that right about then my parents were feeling pretty lucky and felt as though they ought to right the balance somewhat and give a little something back. My mother, the nurse, may also have had thoughts of rehabilitation. I was not thrilled with the idea; we were a pretty close-knit, little family and the thought of having a stranger in our midst 24 hours a day did not appeal to me.
One day a week or so later, Dorothy arrived. The first days were stressful as everyone tried to adjust to something we had never before dealt with. My mother cut up her food and fed her because she could no longer feed herself. She had a specially made silver spoon that she could grasp in her deformed hand for the purpose but she seemed unable to use it. My mother’s first project was to try to help her get that facility back. Little by little, in her new surroundings, and drawing on her inner resources, she began to cope a little bit better. My mother and whoever else was available (it was difficult) got her out of bed every day and into her wheelchair. She was moved around to the living room where she could look over the quarry, into the kitchen to chat while mom was working, out on the screened-in porch on a nice day, and so forth. Some of her friends came over to visit. Occasionally her brother would come over to get her for dinner. At our house she usually came tableside when we had dinner guests, some she knew and some were new to her. She spoke easily with everyone. I think my mother’s theory was that action would be a balm and give her strength for the difficult things she was trying to get her to do.
At the shop I built a little electrical gizmo out of
aluminum and some micro-switches which she could manipulate with her crippled
hand. With it she could turn her bedroom lights on and off herself, ring for my
mother, and a couple other functions that I can’t remember. Later, with the help of Western Electric, we
tied in a newfangled speakerphone to one of the switches—probably one of the
first to have left the lab—so she could call people on her own. Gradually,
unaccountably, her wicked sense of humor began to reveal itself—from where one
wonders—and, with that as a catalyst, she became a part of our family and we
had had as much fun with her as she seemed to with us. I believe she stayed
with us for well over a year, after which she had to go into a home with
medical facilities. Unfortunately the only treatment for rheumatoid arthritis
in those days was aspirin, of which she took about
In the winters we skated on the ice of the quarry, and on the river too. Sometimes when the ice was just right, smooth and relatively free of snow, a few of us would sling rifles over our shoulders and head up river skating for miles up into farm country, shooting at crows or blackbirds, just having a good time.
It was fascinating to watch the ice on the river break up in the spring. It would pile up in great thick sheets jumbled helter-skelter together. Where the river would narrow, which was right by our house, it would get stuck, the effect forming a dam until eventually the swollen water would create a critical mass in the ice jam and the whole pile would break up and float rapidly and dangerously down the fast-moving river. One year when the ice was particularly thick, and the water especially high, it jammed up in front of the then wooden footbridge at Eagle Street and a large crane with a big concrete ball at the end of a cable had to be brought in to break it up in order to save the bridge.
I also vividly recall several transcendently beautiful mornings in the very early spring, waking after an ice storm had hit. The trees and their millions of branches had turned to crystal, and our little family breakfasted in our large-windowed kitchen, almost raptly, in our bathrobes, alone in the middle of this fairyland.