“Once, I was a master of recycling leftovers. Now I cultivate the art of simmering memories” Jean-Dominique Bauby (1952 – 1997) French writer and editor.
The earliest European men to set forth in Illinois were Father Marquette and Louis Joilet (1645 – 1700). Father Marquette (1637 – 1675) was a French Jesuit priest who was interested in expanding both the power of the French Crown, and saving the souls of the heathens in the new world by induction to the Catholic church. The good Father had quite an aptitude for learning the Indian languages and was able to use those talents to expand the interest of his Motherland.
In 1674, Father Marquette was invited to join the Illiniwek Confederation of Indians at the mouth of the Chicago River for a little pow wow. He was the first European to enjoy the lovely winters that are produced in the hospitable place. It can be said that the history of Chicago is also a history of excrement, as a twist of irony and of things to come, the first European explorer to come to this land contracted dysentery somewhere between the Mississippi and starved rock and died on his way back to Michigan at the tinder age of 37 (my age today!).
The area lay under French dominion and relatively unsettled until the French were defeated in the French and Indian war by the British in 1763. The land was officially put under British dominion with the Treaty of Paris (1763). Even the Empire in which the Sun never set could not hold the territory for long, it would soon change hands to the newly formed United States in the American Revolution.
The new settlers to the region were able to obtain statehood in 1818. It was quite obvious from the first explorers that the region could support an empire if Lake Michigan could be connected to the Mississippi River. In 1824, the first Commissioner of the canal, Samuel D. Lockwood (1789-1874) intended to do just that. He hired contractors and completed a survey to connect Lake Michigan to the Illinois River which in turn feeds into the mighty Mississippi River.
At a price of just over $6 Million dollars ($175,000,000 in 2015 dollars) the canal was finished in 1848 and set the stage for Chicago to be the fastest growing city in history from 1850-1900. The canals path led through an area that would become the Village of Lemont. The first settlers came to work on the canal that runs on the North of the town. While digging through the unusually hilly area it was discovered that the stone that came from the earth was a high quality dolomite limestone or “Athens Marble” as it was known locally. The limestone quarried here was used for many buildings – most notably Chicago Water Tower, Holy Name Cathedral, part of Northwestern University, and part of the capitol in Springfield.
Digging the canal attracted hard men who lived hard lives. An area grew up around the diggers known as “sin alley” – filled with the vices of alcohol, gambling, and prostitution. These hard working men needed saving from whisky and loose women. In 1853 a Methodist reverend by the name of Rev. Sinclair intended to just that. The reverend preached in the railroad station house about “Sinners in the hands of an Angry God.” As these wicked men were told to curb their own sinful appetites to reinforce the pleasure of God, a full 13 members had signed on to joint the Methodist by 1860. One important member was Mr. Brown, who owned the quarry. In 1861, Methodist congregation had enough money to build a church in Lemont for about $2000 ($56,000 in 2017) with the help of Mr. Brown. The owner of the quarry donated “tailings” or leftover stone from quarry operations which help supplement the $2000 in funds they had on hand. The church was completed and the first service was held on November 21, 1861. General Ulysses S. Grant used the new building to establish a recruiting depot for the area to supply the Union with much needed troops to “advocate for a means to peace” to end the Civil War.
Today, Lemont has a population of approximately 16,000 residents and it’s skyline is still dominated by sacred architecture. The Hindu Temple of Greater Chicago on the North side of the canal, and the Catholic parish of SS. Cyril and Methodidius Church jutting out of the south side.
The Last Chapter
“A good marriage would be between a blind wife and a deaf husband” Michel de Montainge (1533-1592) – French Philospher
The church had served the Methodist congregation for 109 long years. The Methodist congregation used the church until 1968 when it had outgrown the small structure. It transferred the church to the Lemont Historical Society for a stunning $10 which has operated out of it ever since. Currently, the Church operates as a museum and can be rented out for weddings for a modest fee.
The winds of time have been proven to be difficult to predict for even the most capable prognosticators. As the founders of this small church in the small town would have found it difficult to predict that one day, in the far off future, that their labor of love would sit mostly silent, mostly forgotten by a busy people going about their daily lives, and mostly unused – except by a lonely semi-retired curator keeping busy sifting through old newspaper clippings and arranging the odd wedding or two. I too could not have predicted that my path would cross in a significant way with this plucky little church perched on street climbing a hillside facing the canal.
One year ago I did not know the Village of Lemont existed. But, a lot of things can happen in one year. In the past year I have met a very remarkable individual who possess a keen intelligence that I was immediately attracted towards, and who shares the same ideal for what philosophers have debated over the centuries – what is the “good life”. We have decided with as much thought and preparation that can be afforded to these things that we want to spend whatever years (hopefully) that will be afforded to us to walk hand in hand through the meandering garden of life. I am happy to announce that Jenell Baer and I will be married in this little old church in Lemont on June 23, 2018. We do not want to make any great fanfare or hubbub, but we do hope that our friends and family join us in this celebration of uniting our two families together in this new little undertaking of ours.