A brief history of Lombard
The area around the DuPage River that today is known Lombard and Glen Ellyn was one occupied by the Potawatomi Indians.  After the Black Hawk War in 1832 forced the American Indians west of the Mississippi, the area of northern Illinois was inundated with settlers from New England. Among the first to settle along St. Charles Road and the DuPage River were Ralph and Morgan Babcock, and the area came to be known as Babcock’s Grove by 1834.

Within a few short years, several pioneer families, including Deacon Churchill, Elisha Fish, and Sheldon Peck had established homesteads, early roads, and Sabbath schools. Many of the early settlers were from New York, Vermont, or New Hampshire and settled Illinois with the idea of expanding “Yankee” ideals like temperance and anti-slavery. Sheldon Peck was considered a “radical” abolitionist in the 1840s and 1850s and was known to have also aided freedom seekers on their journey north to Canada using the Underground Railroad.

In 1849, the Galena and Chicago Union Railroad established a station in Babcock’s Grove, permanently establishing the downtown location. Soon after, the town had a postmaster, a school building, and a general store. In 1858, a large three-story hotel called the Babcock’s Grove House was built at the corner of Park and St. Charles (the building is still there today). It was used for meetings, dances, social gatherings, as well as an overnight stay for travelers. Throughout Lombard’s history, people settled here and commuted by train to Chicago, preferring the quaint and quiet country life and enjoying the easy access to the city.

After the Civil War, new settlers including Col. William Plum and General Benjamin Sweet (notable war veterans), urged the community to incorporate. In 1869, the Town of Lombard was formed and centered around St. Charles and Park Streets, a small fraction of the space it takes up today. The town was named for Josiah Lombard, a real estate investor from Chicago who did not reside in Lombard but funded the development the land to build the houses. 


A notable event occurred in 1891 in Lombard; resident and Chicago attorney Ellen Martin became the first women to vote in the State of Illinois. On April 6, 1891, Martin, complete with legal briefs in hand, proceeded to the local polling place and demanded “under the majesty of the town charter” the right to cast a vote. The judges were shocked but unable to dissuade Martin, who was able to vote because she fit the two criteria in the charter of Lombard: 1. she was a resident and 2. she was over 21 years of age. Nowhere was it written that the voter needed to be a man! Ellen Martin also encouraged 14 other women to vote in Lombard on that day. By the following June, Illinois had voted to enfranchise women to vote in all local school elections.

Lombard has had many notable residents in its history and has been a community beloved by authors and artists. One such artist and author is Harold Gray, a Chicago Tribune cartoonist from the 1920s-1960s. Gray is most famous for his comic strip “Little Orphan Annie” which began while he was a resident of Lombard in 1924.  Annie was actually “born” at 215 S. Stewart Street in Lombard in a house Harold lived in with his first wife Doris. In 1925, Doris died and Harold moved in to what is now known locally as the “Annie House” on 119 N. Main St.

Around the turn of the century, Lombard philanthropist William R. Plum and his wife Helen purchased two lilac bushes in France and brought them back to their home at Park and Maple. Over the following twenty or so years, the Plums traveled the world and increased their collection to over 200 varieties. Upon his death in 1927, Plum gave his property to the Village to be used as the first public park, and his home to be used as the first public library. This generous act of philanthropy permanently established the Lombard Park District, the Helen M. Plum Memorial Library, and Lombard as “The Lilac Village”.

Read a chronology of Lombard prepared by volunteer Jim Robinson.

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