WHAT’S IN A NAME? MYSTERIOUS ORIGINS OF “BACHELORS GROVE”
The original timber stand called Bachelors Grove is now surrounded by poorly “reforested” Cook County preserve land.
Generations of historians have sought to uncover the origins of Bachelors Grove’s intriguing christening. The cemetery and the settlement have been known by a dizzying array of names: Berzel’s Grove and Petzel’s Grove; Old Smith’s and Old Schmidt’s; Old Bachelors and English Bachel ors; and Bachelder’s, Batchelors, Batchellor’s or Bacheldes Grove. It’s even been called Crestwood Grove in some genealogical resources. The favorite I’ve found is “Everdense”—fitting, I think, for such a genealogically confounding site.
Bachelors Grove, however, is the name that has endured, and oioneer Stephen Rexford would always claim that the land was named for he and the other single men who settled the area in the early 1830s, coming first to Fort Dearborn and then on to the prairies beyond.
In fact, other settlements of single men known as “Bachelors Grove” existed in the United States by the nineteenth century, as well as buildings and organizations known as “Bachelors Hall.” “To keep bachelor’s hall” was an old phrase in common usage by at least the 1790s, when the first known version of the English folk song “Batchelors Hall” (with the “t” in the spelling) was composed. To “keep bachelor’s hall” meant to maintain the life of a single man, and in various parts of the English-speaking world, the naming of settlements or gatherings of bachelors was already seen by colonial American times. Today, a Bachelors Grove still exists in Grand Forks, North Dakota. Footville, Wisconsin, was originally called Bachelor’s Grove (as was its cemetery). An item in the Grand Forks local paper in mid-nineteenth-century North Dakota suggested that the name of their Bachelor’s Grove was given purposely, to try to attract unwed women to meet the lonely single men of the area. The reporter observed that in South Dakota, “marriageable females are as rare as male angels in Washington. There have been several efforts to induce the migration of some of the female surplus in other sections, but the results…have been entirely inadequate.”
In a history of Blue Island commemorating the city’s first century, John H. Volp writes:
Some of the names given to sections of this early settlement were neither as pleasantly descriptive nor, fortunately, as lasting as that of Blue Island. For instance, there were Bachelors’ Grove, the “black” or “Robbers Woods” and, worst of all, Horse Thief Hollow. Much to the disgust of the eligible young ladies, many of the young men coming to the settlement in the early days preferred to take up quarters in a section somewhat removed from the Hill, hence the name “Bachelors’ Grove.”
Stephen Rexford, one of the first “bachelors” at Bachelors Grove
Support of the idea that these bachelors deliberately distanced themselves from women had come upon the death of Stephen Rexford’s daughter, when the author of her obituary claimed that the men of our Bachelors Grove had actually “taken a vow to remain single”—which most of them abandoned. No other mention of such a vow has been found, however.
What we do know is that Bachelors Grove was already known as such when Rexford came, before he even arrived in Chicago in June 1833. That name, though, came at the time with many alternate spellings, suggesting that the place may have been christened with a surname and not named for a gathering of single men. At the Methodist conference held in Jacksonville, Illinois, in 1832, a Reverend Stephen Beggs of Walker’s Grove was put in charge of the Des Plaines Mission—for the area around the Des Plaines River, presumably, which included a place called “Batchelor Grove.” An 1834 Gazetteer of Illinois reported that “Bachelder’s Grove, in Cook County, eighteen miles southwest of Chicago, contains about two sections of timber and a large settlement,” demonstrating yet another variation of the name attached to the Grove—and supporting the idea that the Grove was named for a person and not for a single man or group of them. It must be noted that by the spring of 1833, Stephen Rexford, Thomas McClintock, Alva Crandall and Samuel Everden were recorded by the United States Agricultural Survey as having planted a grove of peach and other fruit trees at “Batchellor’s Grove”; mysterious, since Rexford did not arrive until that summer. Again, this spelling suggests a surname rather than a gathering of bachelors.
Mark Crandall and his brothers walked or canoed to Illinois from Lake Champlain, New York–a distance of some 800 miles.
But if this was the case, who was this mysterious “Batchelor,” “Batchellor” or “Batchelder,” and where did he go? No Batchelders or Bachelors or Batchelors show up on the earliest property or settlement records of the area. Some Batchelors and Batchelders from New England did settle in Illinois, but in LaSalle County, Macon County and Winnebago Country. Batchelders found in Cook County’s Rich Township in the latter half of the century were from another, later migration line. Some Batchelders and Foots who came to the Illinois lands went on to found Batchelors Grove (today called Footville) over the Wisconsin border—which also had a Bachelors Grove Cemetery, now Footville Cemetery. Other Bachelors went famously to the Dakotas, where that Bachelors Grove still exists today in Grand Forks, where those unfortunate men couldn’t catch a break.
I thought I’d hit pay dirt when I found a man named Edward Batchelder, a Vermont teenager who went to Boston to apprentice to a jeweler but ended up going on “to the wilds of Illinois” with his wife and infant daughter. He settled about thirty miles south of Chicago in Thorn Grove, an area about ten miles from Bachelors Grove Cemetery. Working off a timber stand, the family only stayed four years before going to Chicago to live. Batchelder lost everything, including his home, wife and three of his four children, in the Great Fire of 1871. Born in 1811, I figured that, if he left Boston at eighteen and stayed in Thorn Grove for four years, this would have put him in the Bachelors Grove area in 1828 or 1829 and leaving for Chicago by 1832. Batchelder would have moved into Chicago by the time Stephen Rexford arrived at Fort Dearborn. They likely would have met in one of the taverns of the day. Surely this had to be the Batchelder I’d been looking for. Alas, upon further research I discovered that Batchelder hadn’t left New England until after 1835, at least two years after Rexford had already gotten to Bachelors Grove, and more than three years after the famed Reverend Beggs was sent to the Illinois settlement of “Batchelors Grove” as a missionary.
But it is Beggs who takes us down another road to look for our mysterious namesake. Other timber stands, both in Illinois and around the nation, bore the names of preachers of the time, such as Walker’s Grove, present-day Plainfield, a bit farther south of Bachelors Grove. Reverend Jesse Walker, “The Daniel Boone of Methodism,” was a circuit rider who traveled throughout Missouri and Illinois on horseback, spreading the gospel message. As a missionary to the Indians, Reverend Walker followed the Illinois River on horseback. In 1829, his son James Walker and ten settlers formed the first Methodist Class in “Walker’s Grove,” now Plainfield.
Beggs, who was sent to convert the Indians and settlers at Bachelors Grove in 1832 and ended up in a battle of the Black Hawk War, was an associate of one of the more active preachers of the early northwest wilderness, a man named Wesley Batchelor. Batchelor went on to be the first pastor of the church at Ottawa, in LaSalle County. These two men, along with numerous other preachers, would have been well known and well traveled between Chicago and LaSalle Country. But was Batchelor already working in 1830 or 1831, before Beggs was sent to the settlement that bore the Batchelor name? Quite possibly, as he was listed as one of the “superannuated or worn out preachers” in the minutes of the meetings of the Methodist Conference of 1852–1855.
(from Haunted Bachelors Grove by and copyright by Ursula Bielski, History Press, 2016. Available on Amazon and at History Press)
Circuit Rider Rev. Stephen R. Beggs