Walking tours highlight Wheaton’s history, architectural gems

By Cathy Janek for Chronicle Media

DuPage County Historical Museum Building was built in 1891 by John Quincy Adams—a fourth cousin of President John Quincy Adams.  It also served as home to the Adams Memorial Library as well as the Wheaton Public Library.

Architectural walking tours have celebrated Wheaton’s historical significance since the 1980s—and this year is no different.

As part of the town’s Celebrate Preservation Month in May, the DuPage County Historical Museum and the Wheaton Historic Commission conducted walking tours—offering local history buffs a chance to learn about the many significant buildings and parks in Wheaton.

The walk is a “celebration of preservation,” said Michelle Podkowa, DuPage County Historical Museum manager and educator.  “We are very happy to be a part of the preservation community.”

Throughout  May residents could research the history of their home at the Wheaton Public Library, listen to a lecture over the battle for the county seat between Naperville and Wheaton and participate in a 1 1/2-mile walking tour of the City’s most notable parks and buildings.

Leading a group through downtown Wheaton recently, Podkowa said the downtown DuPage County Historical Museum building is often on architectural tours due to its age and detail of its construction.

Podkowa said the building was designed by Charles Sumner Frost in a style which emphasizes natural colors, a red roof, and copper downspouts.

Michelle Podkowa, DuPage County Historical Museum manager and educator, leads a group through downtown Wheaton as part of the town’s annual architectural walking tour including Wheaton Masonic Lodge No. 269 located at 120 W. Wesley St.

Built in 1891 by John Quincy Adams– a fourth cousin of President John Quincy Adams, she said the building at one time housed the Adams Memorial Library as well as the Wheaton Public Library.

It was the first public library and cultural facility in town.

The DuPage County Historical Society deeded the property to DuPage County in 1965. Starting in 1967,  the DuPage County Historical Museum was a department of the county government.

The Society was the main support group for the Museum until 2004 when the Historical Museum became part of the Wheaton Park District which now operates the facility.

Located across the street is Wheaton’s Adams Park, celebrating its 75th anniversary in 2018.

Designed by a female landscape architect in the 1940s, Podkowa said, “Adams Park was designed with private spaces and outdoor rooms.”

At one time, there was a house on the property and as a result the park contains plants and trees that typically are not common to parks or native to this area.

Podkowa said, all that remains of the home is a fountain that sits at the center of the park.

“The park has gone through ebbs and flows,” she said. “It has gone through periods where it was well taken care of and at other times when it was not.”

The fountain at the center of Adam’s Park is all that remains of a home once was located on the property.

In the past, Podkowa said, “there has been a push to take better care of the park using volunteers. Unfortunately, now that volunteer group is aging.”

A couple of blocks to the west is Memorial Park, 208 W. Union Ave.

Created in 1921, Memorial was the first park to be built in Wheaton, according to Podkowa.  Today, it is home to concerts and plays including Music Mondays, band concerts and Shakespeare in the Park productions.

“There are various projects in the works for this park over the next dozen years including replacing the band shell that has been in existence since the 1950s,” Podkowa said.

The Wheaton Post Office, 122 N. Wheaton Ave., was built in 1933 in the Art Deco style.

“It was considered to be a more modern style for the time period,” Podkowa said.  “The design was linear and angler in appearance with a vertical emphasis and highlighted geometric elements.”

The Post Office is located about 400 feet from the railroad—the  furthest the town’s post office had ever been from the tracks.  Up until that time, Podkowa said the post office was close to the railway, since rails were the major carrier of mail at that time.

Located at the corner of Wesley and West Sts., the chapel of Trinity  Episcopal is the oldest church building in Wheaton still in use.

Today, Podkowa said, the chapel is frequently used for weddings and baptisms.

Built in 1881 at a cost of just over $4,000, the chapel was designed in a “stick” style often referred to as Prairie Gothic—a common style for the time period.

The chapel includes a steeply-pitched gable roof with cross gables, gothic style windows, and exposed framing.

In the family for more than 100 years, Carlson Glass located at 111 E. Front St. is now run by the founders’ grandchildren and great grandchildren, Podkowa said.

The business began as a paint and wallpaper store and has expanded to include fine art supplies and custom framing and now owns almost an entire downtown city block.

“They have been in every Fourth of July parade since 1918. They are very proud of their heritage,” Podkowa said.

In business since 1906, the Holsteins built a new garage and machine shop on Railroad Avenue (Front Street) west of Wheaton Avenue in 1912.

Across the street is Holstein’s Garage.  In business since 1906, the Holsteins built a new garage and machine shop on Railroad Avenue (Front Street) west of Wheaton Avenue in 1912.

“The Holsteins have been active members of the Wheaton Fire Department—four generations of the family have been firefighters,” she said.

Opened in 1925, Podkowa said the Wheaton Grand Theatre at 119 N Hale St. has closed and reopened several times.

Without adequate funds, the building is currently closed, she added. 

The home to Ivy restaurant, located at 120 N. Hale St., was built in 1928 and at one time had been a chapel, Podkowa said. It also boasted the town’s first elevator and was the first building with working air conditioning.

Dedicated in 1912, the Wheaton Masonic Lodge No. 269 located at 120 W. Wesley St., built in Prairie style, currently also serves as a home for the Lions Club.

While guided tours have ended, visitors are welcome to stroll and study downtown buildings and parks on their own.


Walking tours highlight Wheaton’s history, architectural gems–