Mount Prospect, Illinois is a northwest suburb of Chicago. With a diverse population of around 56,000, an extensive school system, and a strong base of both retail and professional businesses, Mount Prospect today is an independent village which can rival the comforts of any small town.
At one time, Mount Prospect was a dramatically different place. The original inhabitants of the area, which today encompasses Mount Prospect, were American Indian tribes. Although few specifics are know about the individuals who lived here during the Archaic, Woodland and Mississippian periods there is a reason to believe that there may have been temporary or semi-nomadic settlements in this area. By the eighteenth century, if not before, the Potawatomi tribe inhabited this region. There was some overlap in the residence of American and European settlers with members of this tribe although there was no period of extensive trade. As significant settlement in the Mount Prospect area did not begin until few years following the conclusion of Black Hawk’s War and the 1833 treaty with the Potawatomi there was limited contact between groups. Although there is not an extensive set of resources on the topic of Mount Prospect’s first residents, they are still an integral part of the historiography of the region.
When considering the establishment of the town of Mount Prospect, the first point to consider is the War of 1812. The U.S. got into this war because of unfair trade. With British restrictions put on U.S. trade and American lives being lost in the British/French war, the U.S. was forced to either take a dramatic step or admit that they were little more than a maverick colony. The U.S., with a Navy of three ships, then declared war on England and the largest Navy in the world. The result was the entire coast of America blockaded, the capital burned, and American business collapsed. In an unusual twist of fate, America actually won the war and received concessions. The real legacy of this war however, was a shift from the ocean to the land. Before this war, there was little American industry, no road system that crossed state lines, and no real transportation plan. After the isolation of 1812-1815 America became more interested in developing internal trade. Within twenty years of the War of 1812, the Cumberland Road was started, the Erie Canal was dug, and the Lowell Mills began shipping across America. In essence, America started looking west, for some this meant looking eventually to Mount Prospect.
At first, going west was a long, hard and filled with uncertainty. This changed in 1825 when the Erie Canal was completed. The 125 miles of this canal connected the Great Lakes to the Hudson River and from there to the Atlantic Ocean. Settlers could now move at much greater speeds, with many more goods and in greater comfort. It also meant that the settlers in the west could now receive shipments of supplies and specialty goods in a fraction of the time. Shortly after the completion of the canal, masses of people from New England and New York began migrating to the upper mid west. With the destruction of Fort Dearborn (1811) and Black Hawk’s War (1832) still present in Yankee minds, Chicago was not the main destination for settlers until 1833. In 1833 a treaty was signed with the Potawatomi Tribe. In this treaty, the Potawatomi ceded all of the land in the area surrounding Chicago and what would later become Mount Prospect became available for American settlers.
When the first American settlers came to what would later become Mount Prospect they found a wide-open space covered in prairie grasses. Yankee’s were the first American settlers to the area and the first to clear the land and establish farms. However, within fifteen years, or by around 1850, most of these first settlers left the area. They left for different reasons; some were adventuresome and went further west, others headed for the coasts, either by being drawn by the gold rush in California or finding the west lonely and moving back to New England. It is possible, although not confirmed, that some of these settlers moved further west for religious reasons.
The second group to come to this area was German immigrants. The largest wave of German immigrants to America was in the 1840’s and loosely coincided with the major Irish immigration. The Germans tended to move further west than the Irish did. When in the west, the German immigrants often established communities that were made up entirely of Germans. This is the story of Mount Prospect. It was primarily settled by a Germans from the southern Germanic states, who were almost entirely Lutheran. What the German settlers did that the Yankees had not, was work to establish a community. Many of them came to the “New World” with the intention of preserving their religious and cultural traditions. Because of this, it was important to the community to establish institutions of which would pass on cultural traditions. In 1848, a short time after the first Germans arrived, Saint John Lutheran Church was founded. The village went on to developed as a German speaking, farming community.
In 1850, the train rolled into town. Although the community preserved its cultural integrity, things began to change. Although there was no station in Mount Prospect, the farmers could travel to nearby towns, such as Arlington Heights and then sell their goods. This led to an increasing specialization in the farming community. There was a significant shift in the type of farming, going from subsistence farming to commercial farming, with a specialization in dairy cows, onions, mushrooms, and sugar beets. This process was started in the 1850’s but it did not become fully realized until Mount Prospect had its own train station.
The person who actually decided to build a train station and a town here was a man named Ezra Eggleston. He bought most of the land that later became downtown Mount Prospect in1874. Eggleston planned to build a train station, lay roads, and then divide the land up into small parcels to sell at a profit. He also gave Mount Prospect its name. “Mount” was because the land sits on some of the highest land in Cook County, and “Prospect” was to proclaim that there were great prospects in this area. Ezra meant to make his fortune from this development, however he had poor timing. Three years before Ezra started building, in 1871, the “Chicago Fire” blazed through downtown. People in Chicago were rebuilding when Ezra was trying to sell them new land. As if this wasn’t bad enough there was also the Panic of 1873, which was called the “Great Depression” until 1930. Because of these financial factors, there were few people interested in Eggleston land speculations.
Although Ezra was not very good at making money, he gave the town its name and built the first train station. He also laid the roads and divided the village into the city blocks that we all know today. A couple of years after Ezra sold his interest in the community, other people began building stores and houses downtown and made the Village of Mount Prospect come to life. In 1880, the first store was built in Mount Prospect; in 1883, a blacksmith put up a shop; and in 1885, the first tavern opened and the first post office was set up. With all of this development, more people started to move to the area, and with a station downtown, the train now stopped in Mount Prospect.
From this point the village developed into what we know today. The town became more diverse as non-Germans began moving in, the village center began to develop, and in 1917 Mount Prospect reached a population of 300 and was incorporated. From there the largest growth came during land speculations in the 1920’s and then the suburban movements that followed W.W.II. The baby boom expanded the population and the Village began expanding the services offered.
In 1990 85% of the Villages residents, who were over the age of 25, had earned a high school diploma while just over 30% had earned a college bachelor’s degree or more. In the 1980’s Mount Prospect began to attract a more diverse population. The Village population by 1990 included 16% that was foreign born and around 20% that speaks a language other than English at home. Mount Prospect today is a solidly middle class suburb of Chicago, IL, with an increasingly diverse population representing many ethnic groups, educational levels, ways of life, and political opinions.