HISTORY OF YORKVILLE
The prospects of affordable, open land and a good life along the Fox River drew people to Yorkville 160 years ago, just as today.
As early as 1829, settlers from the east were staking claims in what is now Kendall County. They left during the Black Hawk War, but once that confrontation with the area's very first settlers ended in 1832, they returned. Even with the threat from the Indians diminished, life was still far from easy. Many early settlers were from New York state and New England. Their trip here posed the first difficulties - whether it was on a series of boats through canals and the Great Lakes, by buggy or even on foot. Early settlers faced many hazards of life on the mostly empty prairie where their existence was likely to be challenged by harsh weather as well as wolves, snakes and an occasional bear. Through the early years of settlement, the threat of disease was also present with outbreaks of diphtheria, cholera and malaria reported.
Histories of the area report that Earl Adams built the first log cabin in Yorkville in 1833 on the hill now graced by the former Kendall County Courthouse. Adams sold his cabin a year later to Lyman and Burr Bristol who also owned property on the north side of the river. They laid out the original village of Bristol there, and it included one of that town's earliest business enterprises, John Schneider's sawmill at the mouth of the Blackberry Creek. In 1835, the Bristol brothers sold their claim on the south side of the river to two cousins, Rulief Duryea and James Cornell, who were originally from New York. The next year, Duryea laid out the village of Yorkville. He and Cornell also built another building and opened a small store on the south side.
Lumber from Schneider's mill was used in many of the early businesses and homes. Duryea built other businesses south of the river before his death in 1846, and the north side of the river, called Bristol, thrived well - with a frame school house added in the 1830's.
Business districts flourished on both sides of the river for years - Yorkville's, along what is now Bridge Street (Route 47) and Bristol's, chiefly along what is now East Main Street. While Bristol was incorporated as a village earlier (1861) than Yorkville (1887), two factors marked Yorkville as the future business center - its designation as the county seat and the route of the C.B. and Q. railroad tracks.
When the county of Kendall was formed in 1841, Duryea and a Mr. H. Cranston donated 10 acres of land in Yorkville for the site of a courthouse. This land was later sold by the county, but a building near the corner of South Main and Fox Street was outfitted for county government purposes. The county seat remained here until a special election in September 1845 resulted in its move to Oswego. While a courthouse was built there, public pressure grew to shift the county seat to a more central location in the county. In another election in 1859, voters chose to relocate the county government to a spot near the island in the Fox River between the village of Yorkville and Bristol. Two sites were offered for the county seat - block 19 in the village of Yorkville and the village square in Bristol. Yorkville's site was chosen and a new building was completed in 1864. Fire gutted this building in 1887, and it was rebuilt using the exterior walls of the charred building.
With additions in the 1850's, the courthouse was used continuously until late 1997. More office space was provided with the construction of a three story office building across the street in 1975. The jail, originally in the basement of the courthouse, was located in a brick building at Main and Madison Street from 1893 to 1992 when a new jail was opened at Route 34 and Cannonball Trail. A new courthouse was completed next to the new jail in late 1997.
In 1870, the railroad came to Yorkville and businesses sprang up along the tracks and nearby river. Some of the most prominent business made use of the area's natural resources - Squire Dingee's pickle factory, the Yorkville Ice Company which sold the harvest from the Fox River, and the Renbehn Brothers button factory whose product was made from clam shell found in the river.
The disastrous fire at the Courthouse prompted two civic improvements that furthered the growth of the city. A fire house was built in 1888, and the city of Yorkville began city water service with water carried into town in wooden pipes from a spring south of town. In 1994, the city still draws water form a well very near the site of that spring.
Some of the earliest business buildings in downtown Yorkville are still standing. The oldest is believed to be the two story structures on the west side of Bridge Street just south of the railroad tracks. It was built in 1856, and first housed the dry goods business of James Crooker and Capt. F.M. Hobbs, who also laid out the village square in Bristol. That square is still used today as a city park, complete with gazebo.
In spite of many ties between the areas north and south of the river, the two towns existed side by side with separate governments for more than 100 years. Attempts were made to combine the two over the years, but it wasn't until 1957 that the vote was successful and the United City of the Village of Yorkville was created with Ellsworth Windett as the first mayor. The small settlement a few miles to the north, which had been known as Bristol Station, was then called Bristol.
Young people on both sides of the river had been attending the same schools since 1883. Before that time, there were separate school houses. The first in Yorkville was built near State and Fox Streets in 1837. That was followed in 1843 by another brick building on Ridge Street. On the north side, the first school was on River Road. In 1850, land was purchased for a two story building on the East Spring Street. That building still stands today, used as a private home. Once residents of the two towns agreed to a unified district in 1883, high school classes began in the building downtown at the northeast corner of Van Emmon and Bridge Street. Education took a big step forward with the construction in 1888 of a two story brick building on West Center Street. All students from first grade through high school met in that building (enlarged with a series of additions) until 1952 when Yorkville Grade School followed in 1959 leaving the Center Street buildings as the junior high school. Circle Center School included room for junior high school students when it opened in 1968.
Yorkville School District rented space in the old building to Waubonsee Community College and the Special Education Cooperation for a time. Rising enrollment in the early 1970's led to its re-opening and re-naming as Parkview School for fourth, fifth and sixth graders. Parkview was sold in 1992 and the district rearranged attendance lines so that some elementary students living in the city of Yorkville attend class at Bristol Grade School.
The downtown area remained the only business district in town until the construction in 1972 of Countryside Center. That shopping center and the surrounding subdivision represented the first major annexation for the city in decades. More businesses soon followed at the intersection of Route 34 and Route 47. Several light manufacturing firms were established in the Fox Industrial Park at the south end of town in the 1970's. Business growth continued to stretch city borders south of Route 71 and north of Cannonball Trail to the Amurol Plant in 1994.
In 1994, both the city and school district were poised to grow on the north side on land that was once the site of the Kendall County Fair. From 1858 to 1906, residents could enjoy the annual attraction with its horse racing, as well as business, agricultural and homemaking displays.
The Illinois Department of Conservation later operated a game farm on the former grounds. Thousands of pheasants were raised on the farm which at one time even boasted a small zoo. As operations were condensed, land east of Game Farm Road was deeded to the city in 1979. The Beecher Community Building was built there using funds left to the city in the will of former city clerk Clarence Beecher. Later, the Yorkville Public Library, displaced by the construction of a four lane bridge on Route 47 in 1985, was built there. With the close of game farm operations, the stated deeded the land west of Game Farm Road to the Yorkville School District and the former ranger's house on the east side of the city. The school district now plans to build a new high school on the former game farm, and the city is looking at a new office building in the same area.