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Early History

The Village of Thornton, the oldest settlement in Thornton Township, is built atop a deep deposit of limestone which is over 410 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 1400 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 the Shabbona, 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 all 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 Sts.). 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 recently when it was 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. A larger building including a family home was built in 1857. Bielfeldt closed the brewery at the onset of prohibition. Some brewing continued by Bielfeldt’s manager. Federal agents conducted several raids during this time. After prohibition, brewing continued by a few other owners into the early 1960’s. Canfield’s used the building as a soda bottling plant for some time. It is a now a light industrial facility. The Bieldfeldt home, the focal point of the building, has been home to various restaurants.

Railroad freight and passenger service came to Thornton in 1869. 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 about a block south of the current Village Hall. All Township business
was conducted here. The Village of Thornton incorporated in 1900. The Township seat moved to Harvey. It is now located in South Holland.

Thornton State Bank merged with the Blue Island bank in 1934 due to the depression.

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. 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 Isaac 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 built the 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 2800.

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