Businesses & Buildings
Earliest Buildings & Businesses
The spire of SS. Peter and Paul Catholic Church pierces the sky, a luminous clock face embedded in the towering edifice. One block east is the distinctive roof of Old Main, the first and oldest building of North Central College. These unique structures are but two of the buildings that populate Naperville and characterize what early Napervillians valued when they first arrived on the shores of the DuPage River - freedom of religion, education and a place to call home.
Since the town's inception in 1831, Naperville has become a thriving place of commerce, industry and learning. From the first enclave of log cabins that clustered near Mill Street and Jefferson Avenue to today's gleaming chrome and glass office buildings arranged like glittering jewels along the East-West Tollway, Naperville continues to thrive and flourish, with a vital downtown that attracts nationally known retailers and restaurants.
After building log houses to shelter their families, the first residents built a sawmill, grist mill and trading post. Within four months of arriving, they erected a one-room schoolhouse. The first frame house was built in 1833 by George Martin, a Scottish immigrant and grain merchant, and the first post office was built by Alexander Howard in the same year.
Much as today, when commercial development moves in after the rooftops appear, so too did the business owners of early Naperville. Some of the first businesses included the Naperville Plow Works, which manufactured steel plows that could cut through the thick prairie grass with ease. As the downtown area expanded to include dry goods stores, a blacksmith shop and other merchants, hotels were built, including the Pre-Emption House in 1834 and the Naperville Hotel in 1838. The first church was built in 1841, followed by many others in rapid succession.
As the downtown flourished, so did local entrepreneurs, including George Martin II, who started a limestone quarry and brick and tile works. Lewis Ellsworth and Ernest Von Oven both started flourishing nurseries with international reputations. In 1870, local officials coaxed North Western College away from Plainfield. The school was dedicated, and eventually the name was changed to North Central College.
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