The History of Thornton
The Village of Thornton, the oldest settlement in Thornton Township, is built atop a deep deposit of limestone which is over 400 million years old and was once the bottom of a warm water Silurian sea.
Native Americans lived along the east side of Thorn Creek. Artifacts dating to 1400CE have been found at the Hoxie Site. It has been learned that this site was an Indian fortification consisting of outer ditches or trenches and inside the works of the fortification proper. In the 1500’s, this area was a Miami Indian campground. They were followed by the Blackhawk and Illini tribes. By 1674, they were displaced by Potawatomi, Ottawa, and Chippewa. On October 20, 1832, the Chief of the Potawatomi Tribe entered into the Tippecanoe Treaty with the U. S. Government. The tribe was moved to Oklahoma and most of the property was ceded to the white settlers.
William Woodridge came to the area in 1834 and settled on the east bank of Thorn Creek. At that time, Thorn Creek was 40 feet wide and up to 10 feet deep.
Gurdon Hubbard, a fur trader, played an important part in the early history of Thornton. Hubbard’s friend, John Kinzie of Chicago, platted the village in 1835. Both Hubbard and Kinzie thought highly of their good friend, Colonel William Fitzhugh Thornton, Commissioner of the Illinois and Michigan Canal. Therefore, the village was named for Col. Thornton.
The Young brothers opened a trading station in Thornton in 1836. The trading station was located at Hubbard’s Trace, the old Vincennes Trail and Ridge Road (now the corner of William and Margaret Streets). The brothers also built a steam vessel to travel the creek to the trading towns of Blue Island and Chicago.
In 1836, Kinzie, Hubbard and Blackstone built a sawmill on Thorn Creek. Lumber from the mill was used to build Thornton’s first schoolhouse.
The first quarry was dug in 1838 by Gurdon Hubbard. This quarry was short lived due to the poor quality of the stone. Several other quarries were opened south of Ridge Road; some crushed stone and while others burned lime. In 1886, the larger quarries were purchased by R. E. Brownell. The Brownell Company was the name listed in 1895 but went through several mergers over the years. They continued ownership until 1938 when Material Service Corporation purchased the quarry. It remained Material Service Corp. until Hanson Material Service took over the operation.
In 1852, John S. Bielfeldt established a brewery in a log cabin purchased from Gurdon Hubbard and located on the bank of Thorn Creek. Bielfeldt closed the brewery at the onset of prohibition but some brewing continued. Federal agents conducted several raids during this time. After prohibition, brewing continued by a few other owners into the early 1960’s. Canfield’s then used the building as a soda bottling plant for some time. In 2017, part of the brewery land became senior housing and the main part of the building is now the Soltis Family Distillery.
Railroad freight and passenger service came to Thornton in 1869 right down the middle of Julian Street. The depot was torn down in the 1960’s.
Thornton was known as Thornton Township until 1900. The Township hall was in a small building on the site of the current Village Hall and all Township business was conducted here. The Village of Thornton incorporated in 1900 and the hall was given to the Village of Thornton. The Township seat moved to Harvey but is now located in South Holland.
A Civilian Conservation Corps. Camp was built in Sweet Woods South in the 1930’s. The Corps was designed to provide work for young men. Most of their wages were sent home to their families; they received a token amount for themselves. After the CCC camp closed, it housed German prisoners of war captured in North Africa. It was the first home of Illiana High School and then used by the Girl Scouts until 1988. One of the buildings was purchased and moved to the Isaak Walton League preserve in Homewood. The Works Progress Administration (WPA) was another group designed to give people work after the Great Depression. They constructed sidewalks and curbs, put in sewers, and operated the village library. Both the CCC and WPA were formed during the Franklin D. Roosevelt administration.
By 1870, the population of Thornton had grown to 301 residents; in 1950, the village had grown to 1217. Starting in 1957, subdivisions were built on the north and northeast sides of town. By 1978, the population had rocketed to 4000. Presently the population is approximately 2500.
Founded in 1974, the Thornton Historical Society consists of volunteers that are dedicated to the preservation of the history of the village. The Historical Museum is housed in the old St. Paul Lutheran Church building that was built in 1904.
We are proud to have on display many Native American artifacts, unique fossils from the Thornton Quarry, the village's first fire engine, original photographs, documents, vintage fire and police memorabilia and many other Thornton related objects and articles.
114 N Hunter Street
PO Box 34
Thornton IL 60476
Open every Saturday
May - October
First and third Saturdays
January - April
1:00 pm - 3:00 pm
Other times by appointment.
Held at 7:00 pm
the 4th Monday of
Feb., March, April, May, August,
September & October
Thornton Quarry Tours
Tours of the Thornton Quarry take place on the first Saturday of June and October. All guests must be 18 years old. Tickets are $20.00 per person. Proceeds benefit the Thornton Historical Society.
PLEASE NOTE: Quarry Tour Reservations are completely filled through 2022 and will not be accepted until further notice. For more info please e-mail us at:
Join the Historical Society
You can support the Historical Society by becoming a member. Your dues will help pay for new acquisitions and the upkeep of the museum.
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