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In June 2004, Marilyn and I took a trip to Chicago and went to Romeoville, in DuPage Township, where my great great grandparents, Patrick and Bridget Biggins, had lived on a farm in the 1800s. We saw an abandoned farm house on the property. I took a photo, but had no idea whether whether my ancestors had ever lived there. We thought nothing more of it until, thirteen years later, I stumbled upon a 2001 historic preservation report that included a photo and short write-up on the Biggins farmstead. It took me a couple weeks to remember that we had seen a farm in 2004 and had taken a photo. I found my photo and compared it with one in the 2001 report. They were the same.

Biggins Farm House
House on farm purchased by Patrick Biggins in 1866. Source: 2001 Rural Historic Structural Survey.
Biggins Farm House
House on farm purchased by Patrick Biggins in 1866. Source: 2004 photo by Peter Biggins.

Patrick and Bridget Biggins were born in Ireland and married sometime between 1825 and 1829. They were married in County Monaghan or Cavan, Ireland, where Patrick was from, or Ontario, Canada, where their second child is known to have been born.

Patrick and Bridget's first child was a girl, born sometime between 1826 to 1830, based on the 1840 census, which included only the name the head of the household. This is all we know of their first child. She has not been found in future censuses. Sometime before 1835, Patrick and Bridget immigrated to Canada. They settled somewhere Ontario. Sometime between 1835 and 1838, they immigrated to the United States. They settled in Lockport, DuPage Township, Will County, Illinois.

In 1816, two years before Illinois became a state, Congress decided to construct a 97-mile canal to facilitate greater non-Indian settlement in Illinois. The canal would connect the Chicago River at what is now called Bridgeport in Chicago with the Illinois River at LaSalle, allowing travel from New York City through the Hudson River, the Erie Canal, and the Great Lakes to the Illinois and Mississippi Rivers and New Orleans. The Federal government negotiated with the Potawatomi and other Indian tribes to sell their land to the Federal government and leave for lands west of Illinois.

Illinois land was surveyed and divided up into square townships, six miles by six miles. The townships in turn were divided into 36 square sections, one mile by one mile, which amounts to 640 acres. The sections could be further divided into 160-acre quadrants or half quadrant (80 acres) or quarter quadrants (40 acres). In 1827, the U.S. Congress gave the Canal Commission alternating sections of land five miles on either side of the Illinois and Michigan Canal to finance construction.

Lockport got its name and its start in 1836, when the Commissioners of the Illinois & Michigan Canal selected it as headquarters for the canal and site of Lock No. 1.

According to the Canal Corridor Association, the Irish began arriving in northern Illinois in large numbers in 1836, to work on the I&M Canal. A history of St. Dennis Church in Lockport (150 Years of Faith by Georgene McCanna Bankroff, 1996) says newspaper ads in Ireland offered good wages for canal workers, $26 a month, food, and lodging. Thousands of men were attracted by this offer during a depression caused by the Panic of 1837. Most Irishmen were uneducated farm workers who were looking to better their station in life.

The Illinois and Michigan Canal was constructed from 1836 to 1848. In 1838, there were 2,000 men employed on the Illinois and Michigan Canal. Patrick could have been employed by the canal as a laborer. The Census shows that he and Bridget could not read or write. Or, he could have been a supervisor or a supplier.

Sometime between 1840 and 1845, Patrick and Bridget moved from Lockport to DuPage Township. An 1845 report from school district No. 4 to DuPage Township shows P. Biggins with three children under age 20. These would be the girl born in Ontario, 15+, Ann, 10, and Frank, 7. This is the first evidence that Patrick and Bridget had moved from Lockport to DuPage Township. It is possible that they were farming the land that they later purchased in 1848 prior to the purchase.

The Canal Commission report to the Illinois State Legislature for the year ended November 30, 1848 indicates that a P. Beggins sold oats to the Commission for $9.97 on January 18, 1848.

The first barge came down the canal on April 19, 1848. Barges were powered by mule. Traffic increased until the mid-1850s when the Chicago, Rock Island, and Pacific Railroad was completed far enough to make shipping and travel by rail more attractive than barge.

On September 11, 1848, Patrick Biggins purchased 160 acres of land from the Illinois & Michigan Canal Commission for $640. The land was on the south side of Normantown Road in Romeoville, Illinois. The western 80 acres is now a subdivision called Lakewood Estates. The eastern 80 acres is now the Beverly Skoff Elementary School and the John J. Lukancic Middle School.

On June 23, 1866, Patrick purchased 160 acres on the north side of Normantown Road, kitty-corner from the original 160 acres, for $6,500. The Thos. J. Sprague farm, on which the Sprague school stood, abutted the east side of this plot. The western 80 acres was developed as Misty Ridge, a community of 166 homes, built from 2009 to 2016 by Beechen & Dill Builders, Inc. The eastern 80 acres was developed in 1963 as a residential subdivision, part of Hampton Park 2 West.

DuPage Township, 1873
Six square-mile sections from the 1873 DuPage Township plat map. The Patrick Biggins land is outlined in red: the 1848 plot to the south, the 1866 plot to the north. The road running east-west between the two Patrick Biggins plots is Normantown Road. The road on the east side of the 1866 plot is now called Luther Road. The Sprague school is east of the 1866 plot on Joliet Road. The road running diagonally north of the 1866 Biggins plot is Naperville Road. The James and Owen Biggins land is outlined in blue. The road running diagonally through the James Biggins land is now Interstate 55, which runs between Chicago and St. Louis.

1955 Aerial Photo

John W. Drury (1898-1973) published in 1955 This Is Will County. It was No. 26 in his American Aerial County History Series. The Biggins farm on page 95 is one of 176 in the DuPage Township section. The description under the photo is: "George Mather, Rte. 3, Lockport, 160 acres." George Mather owned the Biggins farm in 1955. Route 3 was Normantown Road. The book divides DuPage Township into five areas based on the nearest city or town: Joliet, Lemont, Lockport, Naperville, and Plainfield. The Lockport area of DuPage Township is the one nearest the city of Lockport and includes Normantown Road.

Aerial Survey of Biggins Farm
American Aerial County History Series, This Is Will County, No. 26, by John Drury, 1955. Aerial Survey of Biggins Farm on page 95: George Mather, Route 3, Lockport, 160 acres.

2001 Rural Historic Structural Survey

The Will County Historic Preservation Commission has undertaken a Rural Historic Structural Survey that includes DuPage Township (completed in 2001 by Wiss, Janney, Elstner Associates, Inc.). In Chapter II, pages 24-26, there is a section on Significant and Contributing Farmsteads in Du Page Township, starting with the photos and a buildings diagram of the "Amsden-Biggins-Mather farmstead" on Normantown Road.

Significant and Contributing Farmsteads in Du Page Township 59
Biggins Farm

Amsden–Biggins–Mather

"Albert Amsden is shown on the 1862 plat map as being the owner of the southeastern quarter section of Section 28 in Du Page Township. The plat map also shows the farmstead fronting on contemporary Naperville Road. The 1860 federal population census lists Albert Amsden, 36; his wife Sarah, 30; and three children: Oscar (born in Michigan), 11; Ella (born in Illinois), 8; and Alice, 9 months. The Agricultural Schedules of the 1860 federal census listed the A. Amsden farm as having 160 improved and 5 unimproved acres. The estimated values of the farm and the farming implements were $4,125 and $200, respectively. The farm had livestock valued at $600, which included 5 horses, 8 dairy cows, 5 cattle, and 12 swine. The output of the farms for the preceding year was 150 bushels of wheat, 700 bushels of corn, 450 bushels of oats, 10 bushels of peas and beans, 60 bushels of potatoes, 65 bushels of barley, 700 pounds of butter, and 40 tons of hay. (Albert Amsden was the census taker in Du Page Township in 1860.)

"The 1860 census also lists Patrick Biggins farm as being 160 acres. As shown on the 1862 plat map, Biggins farm was located in the northwest quadrant of Section 33 in Du Page Township, land he had owned since 1848.60 The 1850 federal population census listed Patrick Biggins (spelled “Begins” on census forms), 40, born in Ireland; Bridget, 45, also born in Ireland; sons Francis, 12; Philip, 9; and James, 4; and daughters Ann, 15; Catherine, 10; and Rosanna, 7. Ten years later, the census does not include Bridget Biggins, indicating that she had died.

"Between 1860 and 1870, Biggins purchased the Amsden farm (this is shown on the 1873 plat map). The 1870 census indicates the Biggins farm contained 320 improved acres. The estimated values of the farm and the farming implements were $16,000 and $1,000 respectively. A total of $600 were paid in wages for hired help including the cost of board. The farm had livestock valued at $1,900, which included 11 horses, 6 dairy cows, 28 cattle, and 10 swine. The output of the farms for the preceding year was 300 bushels of spring wheat, 1200 bushels of corn, 2500 bushels of oats, 110 bushels of potatoes, $3 worth of orchard produce, 300 pounds of butter, and 60 tons of hay.

"Presumably after Patrick Biggin’s death the farm in Section 28 passed to his son James.61 This is the farmstead that is present on Normantown Road today. As shown on the 1893 plat map, the farmstead belonging to the James Biggins family occupied the west half of the southeastern quarter section in Section 28. The eastern half of this quarter section is identified as belonging to Margaret Reardon (her relationship to the Biggins family, if any, is not known).

"The 1909 plat maps show E. Biggins as the holder of the farmstead in Section 28 (Catherine Biggins, discussed below, is listed as owning the land in Section 29). The Will County Farmers’ Directory of 1918 lists E.W. Biggins as a chicken farmer married to Mamie O’Connor with five children: William, James, May, Catherine, and Margaret. His farm was 182 acres and he had lived in the county since 1870. H.R. Phelps is listed as owner of the farmstead on the plat map from circa 1940. By the 1960s, this farmstead had passed to members of the Mather family. George, Millie, and George L. Mather are listed in succession on the plat maps between 1966 and 1998."


59Illinois Public Domain Land Tract Sales Database.
60This portion of the narrative describes the families who occupied significant extant farmstead sites in the threetownship survey area. A few, although by no means all, of the families who had a significant impact on Will County agriculture and whose farmstead sites have not survived are also described. Sources of information have included the plat maps listed in the bibliography to this report as well as a variety of historical writings, including Will County Property Owners (1842); George H. Woodruff, History of Will County Illinois (1878); Souvenir of Settlement and Progress of Will County, Illinois: A Review (1884); Portrait and Biographical Album of Will County, Illinois (1890); Genealogical and Biographical Record of Will County, Illinois (1900), W.W. Stevens, Past and Present of Will County, Illinois (1907); August Maue, History of Will County, Illinois (1927); as well as federal census data and the Agricultural Schedules from the 1850, 1860, 1870, and 1880 censuses.
61The James Biggins discussed here is not to be confused with the James Biggins discussed below. Based on the research materials that were reviewed, it is not clear if the two were related. However, the farms comprising the James Biggins Estate did pass to Catherine Biggins as of the 1909 plat map.
Italianate Gable of Biggins Farm House
Italianate Gable of Biggins Farm House. Source: Rural Historic Structural Survey.

On page 62 of Chapter I, the survey says the "area has numerous examples of Italianate or Italianate-influenced buildings." "Other houses have Italianate detailing, such as shown above at the gable of the Biggins-Phelps-Mather farmhouse on Normantown Road in Section 28 of Du Page Township."

U. S. Agricultural Census

The Agricultural Census for Patrick's farm for 1850, 1860, and 1870 shows livestock (horses, milch cows, working oxen, other cattle, and swine) and farm production (wheat, Indian corn, oats, Irish potatoes, butter, and hay).

 185018601870
Source Image 1     Image 2 Image 1     Image 2 Image 1     Image 2
Name of Owner, Agent, or Manager of the Farm Patrick Biggins (Line 6) Patrick Biggins (Line 31) Patrick Biggins (Line 26)
Improved Acres of Land 140 160 320
Unimproved Acres of Land 20 - -
Cash Value of Farm $1,500 $4,500 $16,000
Value of Farming Implements and Machinery $50 $200 $1,000
Livestock 4 horses, 12 milch cows, 2 working oxen, 11 other cattle, 6 swine 12 horses, 6 milch cows, 1 other cattle, 5 swine 11 horses, 6 milch cows, 20 other cattle, 10 swine
Value of Livestock $440 $850 $1,900
Annual Production (bushels) 500 wheat, 300 Indian corn, 600 oats, 100 Irish potatoes 100 wheat, 200 Indian corn, 800 oats, 20 Irish potatoes 350 wheat, 1,000 Indian corn, 2,500 oats, 110 Irish potatoes
Annual Production (pounds) 1,000 butter 270 butter 500 butter
Annual Production (tons) 50 hay 60 hay 60 hay

History of the Biggins Farm, 1827 to 2007

The table below shows transactions and listings from plat maps and other sources from 1827 to 2007 for the plots of land purchased by Patrick Biggins.

Year Western 80 Acres of 1848 Plot
Western Half of Northwest Quadrant of Section 33
Eastern 80 Acres of 1848 Plot
Eastern Half of Northwest Quadrant of Section 33
Western 80 Acres of 1866 Plot
Western Half of Southeast Quadrant of Section 28
Eastern 80 Acres of 1866 Plot
Eastern Half of Southeast Quadrant of Section 28
1827 U.S. Congress gives Illinois & Michigan Canal odd-numbered sections of land five miles on either side of proposed Canal U.S. Congress gives Illinois & Michigan Canal odd-numbered sections of land five miles on either side of proposed Canal Owned by Federal Government Owned by Federal Government
1835 Owned by Illinois & Michigan Canal Owned by Illinois & Michigan Canal Samuel Anderson purchases from Federal Government on June 22; source: Initial Land Sales Samuel Anderson purchases from Federal Government on June 22; source: Initial Land Sales
1848 Patrick Biggins purchases from Illinois & Michigan Canal on September 11; source: Initial Land Sales Patrick Biggins purchases from Illinois & Michigan Canal on September 11; source: Initial Land Sales    
1862     Owned by A. Amsden based on Rural Historic Structure Survey. Chapter III, by Will County Land Use Department in 2001, PIN 02-28-400-003 Owned by A. Amsden based on Rural Historic Structure Survey, Chapter III, by Will County Land Use Department in 2001 (original farmstead at east end of quarter-section), PIN 02-28-400-003
1866     Patrick Biggins purchases from Charles E. Boyer on June 23 for $6,500 Patrick Biggins purchases from Charles E. Boyer on June 23, included in sale of western half
1872 Directory: resident Patrick Bagan, farmer Directory: resident Patrick Bagan, farmer Directory: resident Patrick Bagan sr, farmer Directory: resident Patrick Bagan sr, farmer
1873 Plat map: owned by P. Biggins Plat map: owned by P. Biggins Plat map: owned by P. Biggins Plat map: owned by P. Biggins (original farmstead at east end of quarter-section)
1873-1874 Philip Biggins purchases from Patrick Biggins for $2,600 on March 18, 1874

Warranty Deed

Francis Biggins purchases from Patrick Biggins for $4,000 on January 11, 1873 James A. Biggins purchases from Patrick Biggins for $3,100 on March 18, 1874 Catherine Biggins purchases from Patrick Biggins for $4,000 on March 18, 1874
1875 Philip Biggins marries Sarah McNally in Bridgeport area of Chicago on August 26   James A. Biggins marries Elizabeth Healy in Chicago on April 22  
1876   Catherine Biggins purchases from Francis Biggins for $4,000 on December 18    
1880 Census: Philip Biggins, farmer, living with his own family in DuPage Township Census: Francis Biggins living with Benjamin Barrett family in DuPage Township Census: James A. Biggins, farmer, living with his own family in DuPage Township Census: Catherine Biggins living with her father Patrick in DuPage Township
1885 Philip Biggins family moves to Naperville Francis Biggins moves to Joliet   Catherine Biggins moves to Joliet
1889 Will County Circuit Court orders Sheriff to sell Philip Biggins' 80 acres to Fithian & Cowing to settle debt to estate of Barrett B. Clark Will County Circuit Court orders Sheriff to sell Francis Biggins' 40 acres to Fithian & Cowing to settle debt to estate George J. Munroe    
1890     James A. Biggins dies on March 16, and his wife Elizabeth Healy Biggins continues farming  
1891   Will County Coroner’s Record of September 24 reports that Francis Biggins was run over by a Chicago & Alton railroad train in Lockport while trying to board it under influence of liquor    
1893 Plat map: owned by Michael Kelly Plat map: owned by Harris & Donnell et al. Plat map: owned by Jas. A. Biggins Plat map: owned by Margaret Reardon
1900 Census: Elizabeth Biggins, 49, widow, farmer, living in Du Page Township with her daughter Virginia E., 22
1904     Elizabeth Biggins moves to Joliet  
1909 Plat map: owned by Michael Kelly Estate Plat map: owned by E. Biggins Plat map: owned by E. Biggins Plat map: owned by J. J. Lehy
1910 Census: Edward Biggins, 38, farmer, living in Du Page Township with his wife Mary, 29, and son William J., 8, son James, 6, daughter Mary A., 5, and daughter Catherine E., 4
1920 Census: Edward M. Biggins, 48, farmer, living on Biggins Road with his wife Mamie, 41, son William E., 18, son James J., 16, daughter Mae E., 15, daughter Katherine E., 13, and daughter Margaret L. 3
1925 Plat map: owned by Edward Blum Plat map: owned by E. Biggins Plat map: owned by E. Biggins Plat map: owned by J. J. Lehy
1930 Census: H. R. Phelps, 59, farmer, living on Route 4 Lockport (Normantown Road) with his wife Grace, 46, and mother Harriet, 79
1930 Plat map: owned by Albert Hassert Plat map: owned by H. R. Phelps Plat map: owned by H. R. Phelps Plat map: owned by J. J. Leahy
1933 Plat map: owned by Albert Hassert Plat map: owned by H. R. Phelps Plat map: owned by H. R. Phelps Plat map: owned by J. J. Leahy
1940 Plat map: owned by Albert Hassert Plat map: owned by H. R. Phelps Plat map: owned by H. R. Phelps Plat map: owned by J. J. Leahy
1940 Census: Normantown Road called Biggins Road
1948 Plat map: owned by Albert Hassert Plat map: owned by Geo. Mather Plat map: owned by Geo. Mather Plat map: owned by J. J. Leahy
1955 American Aerial County History Series, This Is Will County, No. 26, includes George Mather, Route 3, Lockport, 160 acres.
1963 Plat map: owned by Albert Hassert Plat map: owned by George Mathers Plat map: owned by George Mathers Plat map: residential-Hampton Park 2 West
1966 Plat map: owned by Albert Hassert Plat map: owned by George Mathers Plat map: owned by George Mathers Plat map: residential-Hampton Park 2 West
1972 Plat map: owned by Roy F. Hassert Plat map: owned by George Mathers Plat map: owned by George Mathers Plat map: residential-Hampton Park 2 West
1982 Plat map: owned by Roy F. Hassert Plat map: owned by George Mathers Plat map: owned by George Mathers Plat map: residential-Hampton Park 2 West
1988 Plat map: owned by Irene T. Schindel Plat map: owned by George Mather Plat map: owned by George Mather Plat map: residential-Hampton Park 2 West
1991 Annexed to Romeoville; Lakewood Estates Partners, developer; Midwest Bank & Trust Company Trust No. 88-09-5599 dated 9-10-88, owner      
1992 Plat map: owned by Midwest Bank & Trust Co. Plat map: owned by George L. Mather Plat map: owned by George L. Mather Plat map: residential-Hampton Park 2 West
1994 Plat map: residential-Lakewood Estates Plat map: owned by George L. Mather Plat map: owned by George L. Mather Plat map: residential-Hampton Park 2 West
2001 Rural Historic Structures Survey includes Amsden-Biggins-Mather farmstead
2002 Plat map: residential-Lakewood Estates Plat map: owned by George L. Mather; George L. Mather dies on February 20 Plat map: owned by George L. Mather; George L. Mather dies on February 20 Plat map: residential-Hampton Park 2 West
2005   Opening of the Beverly Skoff Elementary School and the John J. Lukancic Middle School    
2007     Opening of Misty Ridge, a new community of 166 homes, built by Beechen & Dill Builders, Inc.  

DuPage Township Plat Maps

Plat maps have been collected for DuPage Township, Will County, Illinois, where Patrick and Bridget Biggins had a farm. Sources include Dupage Township Rural Historic Structural Survey (Appendix A), Fountaindale Historical Society, Joliet Public Library, Lewis University, and Lockport Public Library. Twenty-one maps have been collected to date:    1873   1893 (partial)   1909   1925   1930   1933   1940   1948   1963   1966   1972   1978   1980   1982   1988   1992   1994   1996   1998   2000   2002  

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