The following interview was conducted by Vic Johnson at the David King Music Store in 1988. The interviewees were Adrien Richard and Roy Arseneau. The audiotape of this speech is available at the Bourbonnais Grove Historical Society, Stratford Drive East, Bourbonnais, IL 60914; phone 815 933-6452.
Interviewer Vic: We're going to put a tag line on this, and I'll read that and then we can go into this. I'm Vic Johnson and this is Legacy, reliving history through the spoken word. Today we're talking with Adrien M. Richard, 81, and Roy Arseneau, who just celebrated his 90th birthday yesterday. Adrien's recognized as the historian of Bourbonnais, and he's the author of the Village, a Story of Bourbonnais, and Tales of Another Day, and several other historical articles. Roy you were a recorder of deeds for Kankakee County, what else should we know about you?
Roy: You mean about the office?
Interviewer Vic: Your background, what did you do before you were a recorder of deeds?
Roy: Oh, well, in the first place, if you want, I'll give you full details from the start. At age five, my father who lived in Kankakee, moved to Bourbonnais, and bought A. Senasac's Bakery and he was used to being in a bakery, because he worked with Stam in Kankakee, Stam's Bakery. And at five, my brother George, my older brother than I, started in school the same year we moved there. Of course I wasn't six, there was another year, and that's when I started school. Now after leaving the school part go, the only thing I could say of any interest would be after I grew up I began working in the bakery with dad, and a age seventeen I went to service, World War I, in fact I enlisted in company L.
Interviewer Vic: Alright. We'll get back to World War I in a little while.
Interviewer Vic: When you came back from the service what did you do? After the service.
Roy: After the service? Oh, well after I came back, then that's the first thing I did I took a good rest. And then I went back to work with my dad, George Arseneau. And I worked there a number of years. After which, I was elected. Wait a minute. I'm getting ahead of myself. I became postmaster in Bourbonnais. Let's see. I think that was in the year 1926, if I remember right. I've got a few notes here. Well, I better check on them because when you get to ninety, you don't remember the things too well. Let's see here. 1917 enlisted. 1926, yeah, appointed postmaster in Bourbonnais. And I served until 1935. After which, Nels Marcotte was appointed postmaster in 1936.
I was employed after that at Florence Stove Company for maybe about nine years—just one year short of getting a pension. Ha, ha. The reason why is because I ran for county recorder, and I was elected in 1944. And I served two terms until 1952. That was the end of my second term. Then my last employment was with the Illinois Veterans Commission and ah, let's see, that was about year 1957—yeah, and that was my last employment. Ah, after that I retried. I got a few little odd jobs—didn't mean anything, just something to do. And ah later on, oh ah, maybe I [should] not get into it—my flying business and all of that stuff.
Interviewer Vic: Well let's talk about that later. Let's get a little background on Adrien now. Adrien, can you . . .
Interviewer Vic: Adrien, you where born in Bourbonnais?
Adrien: Not really, I was born in Bradley. Ah, I was about 50 feet away from Bourbonnais line when I was born. So, they refused to baptize me in Bourbonnais. Ah, I was baptized in Bradley. When I was married in '35, I went for my birth certificate and the priest there could not believe that I was born in Bradley or baptized in Bradley. But a few months later, my folks moved to a house they were, was being built and I lived there ever since then, and . . .
Interviewer Vic: You went to grade school in Bourbonnais?
Adrien: Yeah, went to grade school and Convent, what they called the Boys School, Vitorian Brothers teaching, and back again to the nuns. Which was all this time public school. And then from that point on, I went to St. Viator Academy and St. Viator College and graduated in 1929, just in time for the big depression. I came out of college with a college degree and got a job with First Trust Bank, as a bank messenger. Sixty bucks a month. Well I was lucky, and a lot of people didn't have work. And then of course I stayed there fourteen years. And then I went to Roper, or Florence Stove in those days. And I was there for twenty-eight more years, and at 1970, I retired. I retired to do things I like to do the best—write.
Interviewer Vic: Okay. Did you know Joe when you were working at the Florence Stove? Did you guys ah . . .
Interviewer Vic: You and Joe, knew . . .
Interviewer Vic: Oh, I'm sorry, Roy?
Adrien: Roy was working on the line. I don't think so. What time did you quit there at Florence Stove?
Roy: That's when I ran for recorder in 1944. That's when I quit.
Adrien: See, then I started in 1943. You must have been there just a year when I first came. I might have seen you in the shop. I'm sure.
Roy: Yeah, I remember that Adrien.
Adrien: Yeah you were there in the shop.
Interviewer Vic: I have to ask that question again. You don't have to answer it, so you can cut in. Ok, did you know Roy when you were working at Florence Stove Company?
Adrien: Yes, of course I knew him from Bourbonnais, but he was working on the assembly line. And of course I was working in the office. Only when I meandered out into the shop, and I got to meet him. I usually went over to talk to these people or they stopped and talked to me.
Interviewer Vic: Ok. Ah, what are some of the earliest things you remember about Bourbonnais when you were young?
Roy: Well, like I said, I was five years old when I move there, and ah, I didn't go to school until next year, but as time went by things did happen, but not very serious until there were two incidents that I can tell you about. If you want to talk about it?
Interviewer Vic: Sure.
Roy: I got them listed here. That's about the Capalleno kidnapping. You remember that?
Adrien: Capalleno? Yeah.
Roy: I forget what year that was, but they kidnapped the Ranieri boy and then they held him in the house over on River Street. You know where that's at?
Interviewer Vic: Yes.
Roy: They found out about it because ah, I believe that they released the boy. The boy described the place as by Saint Viator College by looking out of the window, and that how they found it. The found Capalleno. They traced the building that he described, in an airplane, I believe, and they finally found the place where. And they brought the boy over, and he verified it, and that's how they found it.
Interviewer Vic: Do you remember anything about that Adrien? Any details?
Adrien:: Oh I sure do, everybody remembers that. Another incident happened, of course that, when they, it was discovered the boy had been kept there, it got to be a place of curiosity. People just mobbed that street, River Street, to visit the house, and in many places they stripped stuff off the walls, plaster off the walls…and just, you know, because it was, had been the place where the kidnapping had been held. I remember they had a barricade across River Street to keep the people back. And one of the men there that was assigned to keep people from going back, was taking payments of a quarter to let them in. ha ha... well, maybe you remember, I better not mention names. But, I'm sure you remember him. But anyway, yes, we all remember that very well.
Interviewer Vic: And what happened to that boy that was kidnapped?
Adrien: Well, he was released and went back home to Chicago. His father was a well to do building contractor, and apparently they felt they could get some ransom out of him because his folks had had money. But it put Bourbonnais on the map.
Interviewer Vic: It was written up in the Chicago paper?
Adrien: Oh yes, yes, it sure was. It was headlines in Chicago.
Interviewer Vic: You said you had another incident? That was one incident you remember.
Roy: Oh well, I've got several as far as that goes. But you said…the early ones?
Interviewer Vic: Yeah.
Roy: The earlier one than the Ranieri boy kidnapping was…ah the killing of Toots Clark, I don't know if you ever heard about that?
Interviewer Vic: Tell us.
Roy: He killed him there with a fence post, mind ya, right along this…cemetery. And that night, while it was goin' on, I don't know how come, but all that night when I woke up in the morning I dreamt all about hangings out there at the woods, ya know. I didn't live too far from there ya know.
Interviewer Vic: What woods was that…would that be?
Adrien: Bourbonnais woods.
Roy: That's where the water works are in Bourbonnais now, the sewer…stuff there
Adrien: What is now called? …uh…
Roy: What's his name? …uh…
Roy: …uh…I can't remember his name now…Richard…the run…that…uh…black tops business…here…Richard…what is his name?…you know maybe…
Adrien: I can't…
Dave King: Panozzo?
Interviewer Vic: Not Azzarelli?
Roy: Triangle is it?
Adrien: Triangle construction. Richard Loiselle is it?
(All) Loissel, Loiselle.
Roy: Loiselle —that's the man.
Interviewer Vic: It was right along in that . . .
Adrien: Right at the gate at the cemetery, Maternity Cemetery.
Interviewer Vic: Right, and who was this Toots?
Adrien: Toots Clark, a cab driver in Kankakee and they found his cab out there and he was dead along side his cab.
Roy: They blame…well they didn't want to…they suspected ah, Shoven and Torpe from Bradley.
Adrien: That's right.
Roy: But they never could prove it.
Adrien: There was a Shoven.
Roy: But they never could prove it.
Interviewer Vic: Was robbery the motive?
Adrien: Nobody knows.
Roy: That's what they claimed at the time. They figured he knew too much I guess. He would know quite a bit as a taxi driver.
Interviewer Vic: What would he have known too much about?
Roy: Well, he was in the know of everything I guess. You know a taxi driver gets to know quite a bit.
Adrien: Well, that's hard to tell.
Interviewer Vic: Were criminal activities going on in the area?
Adrien: Well, there could've been some criminal activities that he might have known about, but didn't divulge it, and they were afraid he might. I don't know. I don't think anything was ever proved.
Roy: No, they could never prove that he—Shoven and ah . . .
Adrien: Those two people they accused, but they couldn't . . .
Roy: Shoven and Torpe, it's a wonder that I can remember the two names.
Interviewer Vic: Yeah. [laughter] What year was that, do you remember Adrien?
Adrien: I would say about 19… after the war, 1920, '21, because it's in my book. I know it would have to be. I got it listed in here as one of the incidents, early incidents, of murder in Bourbonnais which is a rare thing.
Interviewer Vic: Ah, what are some of your earliest remembrances Adrien, about Bourbonnais when you were growing up?
Adrien: Well ah . . .
Roy: Remember them religious parades they used to have?
Adrien: Well yes, yes, sure, sure the Corpus Christi processions.
Roy: The Eucharistic Parade, it used to be every year.
Adrien: The Corpus Christi procession.
Roy: Yeah, that's it.
Adrien: It was a religious service that was performed every year in June. They ah, there was a precession, in other words, it was probably the number one feast of the year for the Maternity parishioners, because everybody came, some even came from out of town to join. And there would be a procession down from the church over to a.. a… some home, private home. They went as far as the Legris home at one time, but then they kept pulling back cause it was too far. They would also stop on the front porch of what is now the Burke Administration Building—it was then Marsile Hall. And there was a benediction service there, then they would, in some years, they also went to the convent front porch with the high colonnades there ya know, made a beautiful setting and panels of things, of drapes that hung from the roof ya know. Now that's one time poor old Vince Peters worked, really worked his head off, because he was up at 3:00 a.m. in the morning cutting branches and everything to decorate the front porch.
Interviewer Vic: Yeah?
Adrien: For the, for the service. Then we…
Interviewer Vic: This was on Corpus Christi Day?
Adrien: Corpus Christi Sunday.
Interviewer Vic: Sunday?
Roy: Of every year. [The feast day of Corpus Christi is celebrated in the Roman Catholic Church about two month after Easter].
Adrien: And it wound up back over at church for a final benediction service, which is, ah, there were four of them all together. And it took, ah, sometimes a couple of hours, to go through it. There was even a band, which of course Bourbonnais didn't have a band, but Bradley had a band. Which in Bourbonnais, people that belonged to it. Your brother, George, I'm sure organized a band, when they, in those days.
Adrien: And people would go down the street, ah, praying, singing hymns, and of course the priest with his entourage and the big cape, ah, not cape, but canopy that he carried over, four or six men carried over him like, ah, walked down the street. Ah, it was a tiring day, but it was very very, ah, people came from everywhere just to watch it.
Interviewer Vic: Do you know when that started and how long it was carried on?
Adrien: Well, it started, must have started, very early in the life of the Maternity Church. It ah, stopped only after they put in the highway, ah, Route 45, what is now 45/52, was something else in those days.
Interviewer Vic: Route 44 was that…
Adrien: I think 44 was the route number. They, ah, ah, ah, went down the street there and, ah, they quit only because, like I said, because traffic got a little too heavy, and the state began complaining they were holding up traffic, and then the final blow probably was, ah, ah, when St. Viator closed its doors there was no place to go, there. They went across the street to where, ah, a minister, Reverend Bowling lives there, two doors from my house. But that only lasted a couple of years. I would say that, lets see in '38, '40. I'd say about '41 or '42 is when it stopped. Ah, actually, it went up to '44 because the last procession, I have slides of the last procession there, and some of the boys in the honor guard wore there service uniforms. So '44, '45 and that was it, that was the end of it.
Interviewer Vic: Did, ah, Corpus Christi Day have some particular significance as far as…
Adrien: Yes, Corpus Christi is Latin for the Body of Christ and, ah, that, ah, was a, ah, ah, a devotion that was started in Europe many many years ago. I researched that, well it's in my book, that, stories in my book of the, ah, Tales of Another Day, and it seems they used to go way out into the country, with these processions, the country in Europe.
Interviewer Vic: This was in Europe?
Adrien: In Europe, yeah, France, Belgium, places like that, way out into Germany, went way out into the country, to various homes, and walked for miles. Ah, then of course it took over in France, and Canada, and the Canadians picked it up and of course all that was brought to Bourbonnais by . . .
Interviewer Vic: As a tradition?
Adrien: Canadian, French-Canadians yes.
Roy: While I was in France I saw one of them processions.
Adrien: Did you?
Roy: Yeah, ya know Corpus Christi.
Adrien: Yeah. During WWI.
Roy: It was probably, it was really observed, ah, ah, in a bigger way here than Christmas was, and anything like that because so many people participated.
Adrien: And, ah, of course, again the coming of Olivet, ah, the whole thing kinda died down because it got to be a curiosity thing, and ah, and people decided they better keep it inside the church.
Interviewer Vic: Yeah, I've read that ah, up until probably the 30's or 40's that in Bourbonnais that French was spoken quite commonly among the families, at least at home.
Roy: It used to be nothing but French was spoken then. When I first, do you mind.
Interviewer Vic: Sure go ahead, no.
Roy: When I first moved, came out there, like I mentioned at five years old, and as I grew up, ah I can remember that, nobody spoke Eng--, oh they spoke English alright.
Adrien: They spoke French at home too….
Roy: Only on occasions--everything was French.
Interviewer Vic: Do you speak French at home?
Roy: Oh yeah, 1 can still speak it too and read and write it, well the only thing is that if I write it now all the spelling will be...ha, ha...you know it's hard to remember that spelling business.
Interviewer Vic: Now, now when you, both of you were young and living in Bourbonnais, which was.. .had essentially this French culture and background, did you feel somewhat isolated or separated from the rest of the community like Kankakee and Bradley?
Adrien: Kankakee was pretty, a lot of French in Kankakee, a lot of French fellows in French club in Kankakee.
Roy: Although I do remember it was always the little remarks made you know, with different nationalities and that's bound to be.
Adrien: Oh yeah, over at school at the college, it was the Irish and the French, but they called us the frogs.
Interviewer Vic: Yeah, did you have much trouble you know, among the children as far as the nationalities went?
Roy: Nothing serious, nothing.
Adrien: There was nothing else but French people at the sermons in church, they didn' t change to English until the late, very late forties, and then for several years after that they had first the sermon in French and then one in English. Then after that, they cut it down to French and English at Christmas only so, ah. . .
Roy: There was about 2 Irish families there.
Adrien: Yeah, ah
Roy: McLaren was it, and Reilly?
Interviewer Vic: Ha, ha. Everyone else was French?
Roy: Yeah, we got along good with the Irish and the French. [Laughter]
Interviewer Vic: Now when you were young ah, on holidays, were there any special customs that you might have observed that were different from…?
Adrien: New Year's.
Interviewer Vic: New Year's… What was that?
Roy: All the holidays, national holidays and such.
Adrien: But that New Year's…
Roy: Outside of that was nothing…
Adrien: But New Year's Day was a special day.
Roy: Oh yes, that is a special day for French, yeah.
Interviewer Vic: Tell us.
Roy: New Year's Day was special.
Adrien: Well ah. . .
Roy: More than now, you know, today that's all forgotten.
Interviewer Vic: What was so special about New Year's as far as you were concerned?
Roy: Well it was more like Christmas than New Year's, you know.
Adrien: Well its true, ah, my wife was born and raised in St. George, and she says that they never observed Christmas as such as a family dinner, but gifts were exchanged on New Year's Day. I remember in Bourbonnais, that Ernest Graveline always gave his kids their toys on New Year's Day. But you wondered…some people suggested that maybe that there were bargains after Christmas and he could get them cheaper that way. But anyways that's the way it was. And people went on, exchanging, paying visits to different homes. We wouldn't have thought New Year's without going to visiting the nuns at the convent, and the priest in the rectory and wish them Happy New Year. Because then it was a big custom that's all.
Interviewer Vic: Were gifts exchanged on that day like that when you went to visit someone or was . . .?
Adrien: Not at our house, but others did, our house was Christmas.
Interviewer Vic: Were there any special holidays that you observed maybe that other people didn't?
Adrien: St John the Baptist.
Interviewer Vic: You observed that?
Adrien: The feast of St John the Baptist was observed and big picnics in Courville's Grove. You remember Courville's Grove?
Roy: Yeah I sure do.
Adrien: And ah, those big picnics held there, and that was something that followed after the thing that we observed on the Fourth of July there at the Historical Society. That was a result of that because that was ah, St. John the Baptist was the patron saint of the French Canadians.
Interviewer Vic: Where was Courville Woods exactly?
Adrien: Well, ah, where the house used to be, the ah, the Letourneau House?
Interviewer Vic: Yes.
Adrien: Directly back of that into the woods.
Interviewer Vic: That was Courville Woods?
Adrien: Into the Grove. It was George Courville's place.
Roy: I remember George Courville today.
Interviewer Vic: Do you remember him?
Roy: Yeah, and he had a son, ah…
Roy: Anton Courville, yeah.
Adrien: Went to school with him.
Roy: And then after that, who was it moved in there? Ah…
Adrien: Well, after him was ah, Courville, Gene Courville.
Roy: Gene Courville and his wife, in fact, there was something about them in the paper, not long ago.
Adrien: Well, she was at this doings at the 4th of July. They brought her from the nursing home in Clifton.
Roy: That's it, yeah, but, he's passed, he's gone now.
Interviewer Vic: Then there was an Oliver Fraiser that moved into that house.
Roy: Oliver Fraiser, he lived where the gas station is today, on North Street there, Bourbonnais, on ah, Bourbonnais on one side, Bradley on the other side
Adrien: There was a gas station there, on the, across from the Kankakee Federal, right on the corner, southeast corner.
Interviewer Vic: Yeah, but didn't he live in Letourneau's house at one time? Because ah, in Letourneau's history, he mentions an Oliver Fraiser.
Adrien: I think he did for a short time.
Roy: It's possible, I don't, I can't remember that.
Interviewer Vic: Okay, ah, in 1906, ah, St. Viator College was destroyed by fire. Do you remember?
Roy: Do I remember? Ho ho. I was six years old. I look outta the window from the bakery and I was right across the street, and them windows got so hot, we couldn't hardly hold our hands on them.
Interviewer Vic: The bakery windows?
Roy: And there was that fire right in front of us, and were we scared.
Interviewer Vic: When did it start? When did you first notice it? Was it in the morning or the afternoon?
Roy: This was in the evening.
Interviewer Vic: In the evening.
Roy: Yeah, I can't remember the exact time, the exact hour. But I would just take a guess it was around 7 or 8, somewheres around there.
Adrien: The theory was they thought maybe, see they had kerosene lamps in some of the student's rooms, and it was after supper and they thought maybe...
Roy: That was some fire.
Adrien: There might have been a hassle between a couple of them, monkeying around or horsing around ya know, and they dumped over a kerosene lamp...
Interviewer Vic: What time of year was this?
Adrien: Ah…it was…
Roy: It was summertime wasn't it? Spring? Fall? It wasn't in winter. I'll say that. [The fire occurred on February 21, 1906].
Adrien: No, it wasn't winter, because my parents lived on North Indiana in Kankakee and they ah, my father saw the flames from there and he hitched up his horse and headed for Bourbonnais because his father and mother lived there, and my mother's father and mother were living there and wanted to know what was going on.
Roy: You know where they got the stone to build that building?
Interviewer Vic: No.
Roy: From the quarry in Bourbonnais there by the river. Right down were you go to that ah water works.
Adrien: Yeah, limestone quarry.
Roy: Right close to the river there, there's a quarry there.
Interviewer Vic: Now what building specifically are you talking about?
Roy: Our church right now today was built out of that stone.
Interviewer Vic: Okay.
Roy: And the St.Viator College, the old St.Viator
Interviewer Vic: the old St. Viator was built.
Roy: Not this one.
Interviewer Vic: No.
Adrien: Do you know there was a gym that burnt down in '26 too, burnt down in '26?
Roy: Yeah. [The St. Viator gym burned on January 6, 1926].
Interviewer Vic: Do you recall the progress of the fire when you first saw it, and how…
Roy: Oh yes, it burnt all through the night. The next morning, of course, us kids ya know, were nosey. We went over there sneaking around, that's all I can remember.
Interviewer Vic: Did they have a fire department come and attempt to put it out?
Roy: Well, there was no fire department like today, but yeah, they has some firemen over there.
Adrien: I don't even know, did you have a waterworks in 1906? I don't think so.
Roy: No, you got me there Adrien. I don't remember when they started. I remember when they put that tank up.
Adrien: Yeah, the ah, the sewer went through in about 1916. The waterworks was prior to that I think.
Interviewer Vic: Yeah ah, well, 1915 I got from your book, village sewers were proposed and they appropriated the money, and that ...
Adrien: Ha ha, I wont argue with the book.
Interviewer Vic: [Laughter] And that was the end of the outhouse in Bourbonnais.
Adrian: that's right! No no!
[Laughter…unable to distinguish voices and what is being said, but something about there still being outhouses]
Adrien: Believe me, we had a fancy one in the back of our house.
Interviewer Vic: Did ya?
Adrien: And used it.
Roy: Can I say something that I think is of interest?
Interviewer Vic: Sure, sure go ahead.
Roy: Ah… going back again when I first moved in there as a young kid. There was no automobiles. The first automobile they had in Bourbonnais was A. Senesac. He had an old, not an old one, just a Cadillac, and a one cylinder, I remember seeing it going down the street there… chug, chug, chug. There was no pavement there, it was all dirt and muddy roads. And that curve was cement there that we've got now going around in Bourbonnais. That was not there. It was so much different. That I can remember now. It was something. And in winter, we used to go bobsledding, ya know, a bunch of kids.
Adrien: Well, you talk about winter, that was something else. It was different in those days. Today, they clean highway not sidewalks. In those days, they cleaned sidewalks, not the highway.
Roy: That's right.
Adrien: The only thing that got cleaned off in the middle of the street was what the streetcar cleaned off with their snowplows. So, they can go through a town. So, if you wanted, and cars were very rare in the wintertime. Usually they were up on blocks in the barn or somewhere out of . . . because they just couldn't operate them.
Roy: Yeah, that's what they had, transportation streetcars. If you wanted to go to town, you either had a horse and buggy or else you took the streetcars for a nickel.
Interviewer Vic: What were some of the things you remember about the streetcars? When you first rode them?
Roy: I remember Paul Bench being a motorman or conductor, or something, whatever it was. He was one of them, Paul Bench, Sherman Kuntz...
Adrien: Henry Berry, and Joe Nichols.
Roy: Those were the four. Two shifts, and a lot of times, the kids would play jokes on them. They would get behind them and pull that trolley ball. They couldn't go.
Adrien: Sherman Kuntz was a very, oh, he really got very nervous—jumping all over the place. It didn't take long for the college guys to find that out. And they did everything they could to harass him and tease him to the extent that....Remember when they first came, when they first came out with four wheel street cars, not the great big ones, but the two double trucks, you know, but the single ones. But the roadbed was kind of rocky. They would get a bunch of the students on the back end of the street car and the thing dipped down, you know, weave up and down there, with their legs, bending their legs. Boy that thing just about jumped the tracks.
Interviewer Vic: They would rock the streetcar?
Adrien: They would rock the streetcar. Oh yes.
Roy: Population, when I first went in there, I'm not sure what it was. But I don't think it was much over 500.
Adrien: About 560.
Roy: Later on, I remember the sign: 620. What is it today now? 14,000 or 15,000? Something like that.
Interviewer Vic: Now most of the homes at that time were built along what's called Main Street today and out toward Convent.
Roy: That's right.
Interviewer Vic: And what about River Street? Going down that way?
Roy: There were some, but not too many.
Adrien: They never went farther than your house there.
Roy: That's about right. That was the last one for a long time.
Adrien: Joe Fortin . . .Joe Fortin was the last one.
Roy: And at that time, that was just a little square place, remodel you know.
Interviewer Vic: Now someone told me that over where Toni Street is and south of there in that area, that was kind of low and marshy and that they filled that in. Do you remember any thing about that?
Roy:Yeah, but ah they did some farming in the back there too.
Interviewer Vic: Did they?
Roy: Yeah, there was some bad spots. That could have been it there.
Adrien: That was all farm, was a creek going back there too you know. And if that over flowed, that made it bad.
Interviewer Vic: Getting back to the streetcar for a minute—how far into Bourbonnais did that come before it terminated?
Roy: To the convent.
Interviewer Vic: It went all the way to the convent.
Roy: All the way to Convent Street where you turned and go north—you know, where the curve is.
Adrien: Until they put in the highway. Then they pulled it away from the curve and brought it back in front of the Legris place there.
Roy: [First name] Legris?
Adrien: Yeah. And they stopped there. That was the last stop at the end of the streetcar business.
Interviewer Vic: That was called the North Kankakee Electric Light and Railroad Company?
Adrien: Railway Company.
Interviewer Vic: Railway Company. And it ran all the way into Kankakee?
Adrien: All the way to Court Street.
Roy: I don't know when they raised the price from a nickel. Did they raise it, do you remember?
Adrien: Yeah, they raised it to seven cents, and they had a big to do about it because everybody was screaming their heads off.
Roy: That was something.
Adrien: And I think they finally got a dime out of them, the people. But that was in '31, '31 that the streetcars went out of business. They had threatened it many times, and they just couldn't make a go of it.
Interviewer Vic: Did the street cars run all night, or did they…?
Interviewer Vic: No.
Adrien: Ten-thirty at night was the last stop. Last stop in Bourbonnais, and there was a story about that. That a…the adult escorts…the guys were courting girls in Bourbonnais lived in Kankakee…why, they didn't have cars, they had to ride street cars. So a six-thirty streetcar at night was a…loaded with dates, going to the show for seven o'clock. And at nine o'clock, why a…they would get on the streetcar and come home. And maybe they had time to go to get a sundae over somewhere, some drug store, but a many of them wound up…they came home and a… well they didn't necessarily have to leave right away. The last car out was ten-thirty and that's when they had to or they were going to walk to Kankakee. Now at that time, Joe Nichols, who was a night… on the night shift, had four guys…it was Harvey, ah Russell, Roy Rivard, ah Armond Legris, and who was the other one? Fred Brault. Now they all had dates in Bourbonnais. So that a…he would never, you know, if they weren't out there he would wait for them. And if they took too long saying their goodnights…why he'd pound the bell on the floor [laugh] "Come on let's go [laugh] I wanna go home"
Interviewer Vic: When you went into Kankakee, what theaters did you see? Ah, er, what shows where there for you to see?
Adrien: Oh, a lot of them. There were a lot of theaters in Kankakee.
Roy: We made one show up for ourself one time.
Interviewer Vic: Is that right?
Roy: Yeah, I had a dummy. You know on Halloween?
Interviewer Vic: Uh-huh.
Roy: And, uh, I thought it was smart, you know. I laid it across the tracks. Was it Herman, or which…? Picked it up, took it to town, and he, he, he got it. It looked pretty good for a dummy, you know. I had it pretty well made. He took it to town, got on the middle of Court Street, he took it by the neck like that and hit it and bam! There was a big bunch of people. He knocked it around and they thought it was a man.
Interviewer Vic: Knocked it right out of the streetcar.
Roy: People thought it was a human being. We got a kick out of that.
Adrien: Well, Vic, to answer your question, when I was a kid, ah… my Saturday afternoon treat was to take the streetcar—my father worked in town—and, ah, I'd go see my dad and he gave me a quarter. That meant I had enough money for two movies and a bag of popcorn, and after the second movie, I'd come and, ah, meet him at the store which was Juleno's across the street, ride home with him on the streetcar. Well, ah, there was a Liberty Theatre, which is, was located right where, ah, Jaffe's is now, Jaffe's Drugstore. Next to that was Lapate Theater. Next to that was ah a popcorn stand, was this old gent there with a big white mustache used to sell popcorn there. Next was a Court Theater. Then you went down a little further Shotorsire where the Princes—changed name. There was another one on Southeast and Court. Don Bestry used to play the piano there.
Roy: What was that one down the hill there?
Adrien: Ah Lyric Theater on East Avenue.
Adrien: The Lyric. But that was a . . .they didn't even have. . . the other movies had people who played the piano or Lapate was first one to come with an organ. But down at Lyric ah, it was just a machine that played the piano and you might have been in the middle of a love scene and the music was made probably for ah Indians having a fight with the cowboys.
Interviewer Vic: Is that right?
Adrien: It didn't fit at all. As a matter of fact, I was there a couple of time only reason I went is to see a Dempsey fight or some kind that the other shows that didn't show.
Interviewer Vic: Was it a newsreel or a film of the fight?
Adrien: No..no…it was a movie of the whole thing.
Interviewer Vic: A movie of the whole fight?
Adrien: Yeah, yeah, then of course there was the Majestic around the corner…south on ….north on Schuyler Ave, but there was a lot of movies at one time.
Interviewer Vic: The Majestic and the Luna Theatre I've heard had vaudeville shows or stage shows at one time?
Adrien: Yes, yes they sure did, ah, in fact I appeared on at Luna one night for a midnight show.
Interviewer Vic: Did you?
Adrien: It was a benefit affair for ah, for the people in ah, Mississippi or somewhere…had a, there was a flood, flood thing and we had a quartet…. There was Roy Rivard, myself, Omar Tetreault and Omar Rivard... and one of your old war buddies, Jack….you remember him Roy?
Adrien: Yeah, well, anyway we had quartet there and ah, somebody heard about it and they asked us to ah to sing there that night. We were accompanied; we weren't accompanied, but on the stage was also ah, what was this guys name? He was in a band from way back …well I can't think of it right now, but anyway, ah yes, ah another thing at one time, I was in the Liberty Theatre on Saturday afternoon. So you know you realize how early this was and I probably twenty or twenty-one and ah I was at the, in the Liberty Theatre and some kid walked in and he said "Airplane! Airplane!" Everybody rushed out of the theatre like it was it was on fire. We stood out there on Court Street, watched that airplane go by, after he disappeared out of sight, we all went back in [laughter] and finished the movie.
Interviewer Vic: What kind of acts did they have? Were they well known?
Interviewer Vic: Vaudeville. Ah performers that came here?
(Adrianne) Yeah, vaudeville. Luna especially had Vaudeville. Majestic had some too, but not as much as the Luna.
Interviewer Vic: Did you see any name stars at that time that ah you could recall?
Adrien: [chuckled] You wouldn't remember'em…[laughed]
Interviewer Vic: No, probably not. [both laughed]
Adrien: No, no, I can't think of right now. I'm sure there were some, there were some of our ah big name ah comedians.
Roy: Movies were the main go as far as I was concerned. I didn't care too much about the vaudeville [chuckled]
Interviewer Vic: Movies were silent?
Roy: Silent movies.
Adrien: But ah some, I forget who it was, I don't know if it was Jack Benny or it was somebody like that, that ah was there 'cause they said once they had played in Kankakee.
Interviewer Vic: The old story that Fred McMurray was born in Kankakee.
Adrien: Yes that's right.
Interviewer Vic: Because his family was uh… [interrupted]
Adrien: Yeah, on my birthday.
Interviewer Vic: On your birthday?
Adrien: Yeah.. we're exactly the same age.
Interviewer Vic: Is that right?
Adrien: Yeah his parents were vaudeville people.
Interviewer Vic: Um uh.
Adrien: And apparently the mother got set, figured it was his time and when they stopped in Kankakee .. so they took her to what then the emergency hospital, now St. Mary's …and Fred McMurray was born there.
Interviewer Vic: Yeah..How we doing for tape Dave?
Dave King: We still got about 10 minutes.
Interviewer Vic: About 10 minutes..okay.
Roy: In the early days when Bourbonnais(ay) was Bourbonnais(ess) Grove
Interviewer Vic: Bourbonnais(ess) ..Yes.
Roy: Bourbonnais(ess) Grove.
Interviewer Vic: Yeah
Roy: The real Bourbonnai(ay) was Kankakee. That's its real name.
Interviewer Vic: It was already platted as Kankakee.
Roy: Yeah, you see the first platt, you see the town of Bourbonnais.
Interviewer Vic: Now you never, either of you, or Adrien, ever said Bourbonnais(ay) as the village was concerned until 1976 when the name was changed.
Roy: Yeah. Well of course in French, its Bourbonnais(ai).
Interviewer Vic: I've seen some old spellings of Francois Bourbonnais' name.
Roy: Francois—that's where Kankakee got its Bourbonnais at.
Interviewer Vic: Right. And its spelled phonetically as if it might have been pronounced Bourbonn-ya with kind of a twang on the end of it. Because they spell it with aint or something you know as if they were spelling it phonetically.
Adrien: It seems to me that for the pronunciation you would have to have a little, a little marker over the "i" I think it is.
Roy: When Francois Bourbonnais came from France, you know the old people, foreigners used to come over here, they didn't always keep their own name, they always say where they were from. Well, he was from the plateau Bourbonnais.
Interviewer Vic: Right, but the family name was Brunet.
Roy: Its like the Leo Burton family, Kerouac. Her name is Kerouac, but they went as Burton see.
Interviewer Vic: Now you remember that from the translation you made?
Roy: I didn't get that?
Interviewer Vic: You remember the name Bourbonnais being the name of the place that Francois Brunais came from in France from the translation you made?
Interviewer Vic: You remember that?
Interviewer Vic: No. Well, let's get on to World War I when you entered the service. Did you enlist or did you . . .?
Roy: Well, I actually enlisted in Company L.
Adrien: And you lied about your age.
Roy: And I lied about my age, yeah [laughter].
Interviewer Vic: How old were you?
Roy: I was only six-, lets see, I was seventeen and they told me. . .
Adrien: You had to be eighteen.
Roy: . . .[First name] Lebeau said "you better go change your age, I best say something because they are going to put you out, they already kicked one guy out." So, I ran up there and I said that I was born in ah 1890, ah '98 instead of '99, I made a mistake. That fixed it. [Chuckles]
Interviewer Vic: Now where did you go to enlist?
Roy: It was here in Kankakee in the armory.
Interviewer Vic:You went to the armory in Kankakee?
Roy: Yeah. The company "L" was there.
Interviewer Vic: And then what did you do? What happened to you then?
Roy: Well, we were in company "L" and we had our drills every so often and later on the government drafted us into the national army with the war going on.
Adrien: You were more or less in the national guard at the time?
Roy: National guard, yeah. Then we were in the national army, and ah, well now we went training in Texas. When we were in Texas, they found out that I came from a bakery family, so they transferred me to the bakers, Bakery Company 322. And we left from Hoboken, New Jersey, went to France and we served as bakers there at Dijon. It was right out of town, the town of Dijon. In the bakery company for, I don't know, for about six months, and then we went to Michelleset, Luxembourg. And we baked bread there for the boys for I don't know how long. Maybe it's a good thing that they transferred me out because I might have been the one that got killed. Several got killed there.
Adrien: There was only one in that company—Maximillian Legris. Max Legris died at sea. Remember, on his way over?
Roy: Yeah. But he wasn't in Company L.
Adrien: Oh, he was not in Company L? All right, okay. I didn't realize that.
Interviewer Vic: When you got over there into France and Belgium and you could speak French could you make yourself understood over there?
Roy: Oh yeah. I certainly did! [Laughter]
Interviewer Vic: That was a big advantage right!
Roy: I didn't have any trouble either. In fact, I was the only one in the company that knew anything about French, and they were after me to go out with them.
Adrien: World War I, it was a very valuable asset to have, to be able to speak French.
Roy: I brought back a German Lueger with me. I bought it from one of my buddies. And he got it from a man that took it off from a dead officer.
Interviewer Vic: Did you, ah, of course you were never in combat when you were there?
Interviewer Vic: But were you near the lines at any time when the fighting was taking place?
Roy: No, but I would have been if I would stay in Company L.
Adrien: Oh yes, they got the brunt of it over there.
Roy: And you know about Company L. There's only I and Les White that's left in this Company L.
Adrien: Oh, is that so?
Roy: That's all.
Roy: That I know of.
Adrien: We have an Honor Roll there in the grotto in the cemetery next to the church which is of the men who were in service in World War I. His name was very much at the top because of Arseneau. He is also the only one left.
Interviewer Vic: Yeah.
Roy: It was two until Leo Roy died!
Adrien: Leo Roy, yeah.
Interviewer Vic: Did you have any interesting adventures while you were in Europe that you can talk about—experiences?
Roy: Well, not so much except at one time, out of luck, I took that gun of mine along with me to show it to some people in France or in Dijon, and when I came back, the guys told me, he says you know, he says ah "what'd you do (asks) what'd you do with your gun?" "That's my business," I said. I had it on. "Well" he says, "it's a good thing you didn't have it where you had it, because I forget this guy's name now, its so long ago, he says he was after sergeant soldier and he was going to shoot him, and he would have, oh ya know he was a little bastard, pardon the word.
Interviewer Vic: And he was looking for your gun?
Roy: Yeah, and he would have killed him too because I had shells in it and everything, that German Leuger.
Interviewer Vic: So, you stayed until the war was over then? You were in Europe until the end of the war.
Roy: Ah, no. After the war was over, they kept us there on ah, what did they call that? Some kind of extended serviced—occupation army.
Adrien: Yeah, army of the occupation.
Roy: And we stayed six months more than the rest of them I guess. They had to have bread for the remaining soldiers. They couldn't take them all at once. It took a good year, wasn't it?
Adrien: That's because they liked your pastries, Roy.
Roy: [Laughter] Yeah!
Interviewer Vic: Did you remember Armistice Day?
Roy: Oh boy, do I, because you know what, it just happened that day that I used to get this sinus trouble and it bothered me so much, and it used to come, I was so sore, it almost knocked me out. So they sent me to the hospital. Here I was on Armistice Day in the hospital.
Interviewer Vic: In the hospital?
Roy: Do I remember Armistice day.
Adrien: I do too, very well.
Interviewer Vic: What do you remember about Armistice Day?
Roy: Well, ah first at school, we had two Armistice Days. One that was, they rang the, they gave us the armistice about three days ahead of time. And rang the school bell there at that Boys School here, the brothers. But then found out it was a false alarm. So three or four days later, the word came again and then everybody of course just outside, and ran and bells rang. I went home and ah, my mother said we're going down town. So we, took me and we got in the streetcar and went down town and in the middle of Court and Schuyler Avenue, had a huge bonfire, built right in the middle of the street. And ah, everybody was wild. Unfortunately, we had some German, ah, merchants in Kankakee. They painted their places yellow. They shouldn't have done that, but they you know, they had no control over that. They were name like Umback, Volkman, and there were some others too. But I couldn't forget it.
Interviewer Vic: Yeah. There was another thing about the time of World War I was the Spanish Influenza.
Adrien: Oh, yeah.
Roy: Oh boy, we had a lot of soldiers lost. From the influenza.
Adrien: Well, I just got through saying Maximillian Legris. He was the only casualty we had from the parish. Ah, and he died at sea with influenza and they buried him at sea. He was on his way over.
Interviewer Vic: How bad was it around here? Do you remember?
Adrien: Oh just bad enough. I had it. My father had it. We were both in bed for two or three weeks, and my mother was just a frail thing of 90 pounds—took care of both of us, and she didn't get it.
Interviewer Vic: She didn't get it?
Roy: In the army, they said nothing cured it but rum. And I'm not a drinking man. So, I went and bought me a bottle of rum, and I had it see, and I was kinda afraid that because a lot of them kicking off.
Interviewer Vic: Yeah.
Roy: So I drank that, most of that bottle, and man did I pass out. [Laughter] I woke up the next morning. . .
Adrien: Well you know, during that epidemic . . .
Roy: My head had about that big, but I got over it, the flu though.
Interviewer Vic: Did it cure it do you think or . . .?
Roy: I don't know if it was related to that, but I never got sick after that.
Adrien: During that epidemic, ah, they ah, those who died of it in Bourbonnais(ay) or Bourbonnais(ess) ah, they didn't take the bodies in church. They backed the hearse up to the front door of the church. They never took the body out of the hearse. You probably won't know that.
Interviewer Vic: Adrien.
Interviewer Vic: We're out of tape.
Adrien: All right.
The following is a transcription of Adrien Richard's Speech at Bradley-Bourbonnais Community High School on February 14, 1983. The videotape and audiotape of this speech is available at the Bourbonnais Grove Historical Society, Stratford Drive East, Bourbonnais, IL 69914 (phone 815 933-6452) or can be watched now with a high speed internet connection by clicking here (viewers may need to minimize this window to view video when it begins).
Noel LeVasseur was born in a log cabin in St. Michel D'Yamaska, in Quebec province, Canada. I've tried to find that little town on the map, but the map I have doesn't show it. It mustn't be very, very big. But a young man by the name of Noel LeVasseur was born there, and, uh, he was born into a large family, which was very par for the course for French-Canadian families. Eight, ten, no family was complete without eight or ten children, and more. Ah, of course everybody died rather young because there weren't the medicines or medical care. The comforts of home, no microwave ovens, nothing like that. They had to do everything the hard way, and the winters were very, very difficult, so that ah, living off a small tract of land was very difficult for Noel LeVasseur's father. And Noel experienced that long enough, that at the age of 17, he said, "I've had it. I'm going out to make my own life." He took off, left home and took off and joined up with a band of, of voyagers that were headed towards Wisconsin.
Eventually two years later he showed up on the scene with the American Fur Company representatives who covered Bourbonnais Grove. By that time he had been around the south portion of the area--Danville. But Hubbard was ready to leave here and he didn't want, he wanted to go on to new areas. So, Noel saw the opportunity and setting up shop here, you might say and trading posts, and uh, well he couldn't read or write and he was the, the, he was very friendly with the Indians and the Indians were friendly with him. And of the little things they, ah, respected him and trusted him implicitly, which was very important with dealing with the Indians because again they couldn't uh, they didn't know ah how to read or write. Now if he was going to run a business you say, how could this man run a business he couldn't read or write? Well he had a very unique little black book where he kept his accounts. And if Chief Beaver came in, wanted to buy some blankets, he would make an entry in his book.
Now how did he go about making this entry in this book? He couldn't write the word beaver. He drew a picture of a beaver on the top of the page. Then if Mr. Beaver wanted four blankets, he drew four squares in the book and that recorded the transaction. Now when was Mr. Beaver going to pay for this, well maybe in about four moons? So, he drew four circles and he put the date as he knew it at the beginning of the transaction. He had the full transaction recorded in his account book. And that little book, if you'r ever at the Kankakee County Historical Society, is there on exhibit. And its worthwhile seeing that and many of the other artifacts, such as they have his watch there, they have a wedding dress of his second wife Ruth Bull there, a lot of beautiful things, artifacts to see. But that little book is so all important because that was the link between him and his friendship with the Indians.
Well, he ah before this all started, Hubbard said ah look ah, I have an Indian wife, Indian maiden. I don't need her anymore. If you're going to do business with the Indians you had better marry an Indian ah princess or maiden and I don't need mine anymore so why don't you take my wife. Now her name was Watch-e-kee, her father's name was Chief Tamin T-A-M-I-N [according to Gurdon S. Hubbard, Tamin was her uncle]. Watch-e-kee later became the town of Watseka. It was named after her by Noel LeVasseur after her name because ah, he loved this, this girl so much. But he married her ah, as they married then. It was supposed to be a marriage of convenience because it was much easier to do business with the Indians if you had someone on their side which you are to marry one. Besides, the chiefs will offer you, maybe she was only 12 or 14, 12, 13 years old, offer as a bride. Obviously it ah, Noel and others were too interested in a 12 year old child. So, he had to wait about 4 years before he actually married her. But he found out that his connections with the Indian Pottawatomies was so much easier if he had an Indian wife. Well in the course of four years--this is 1832-1836--Noel LeVasseur and Watch-e-kee had three children, two let's see, two boys and a girl. The girl died in 1850 and was still living with her father in Bourbonnais Grove. The boys went on to school, one in Detroit and the other one somewhere else—it escapes me right now where he went, but they both had very fine educations. But at the end of those four years—now I'm getting ahead of myself again—so we're talking, let's go back 1833.
By this time many of the white people were coming in. Many of the settlers were coming in, and the result was that there was trouble brewing between the Indians and the white man because the white man was invading their territory and taking their lands. So the federal government was quick to foresee that, and decided to give them, make a deal with the Indians to appease them. This was called the Treaty of Tippecanoe, and what it amounted to was the fact that the government was giving large tracts of land to the various chiefs and their squaws, to…in the area, in exchange for moving to new reservations in Council Bluffs, Iowa. All sounds great, but how do you pick up 80 acres of land or 160 acres of land to take it with you to Iowa. It just doesn't work.
So, ah Noel, I still say, probably one of the smartest real estate agents this community ever had. He decided that what he should do is to buy up the land from the Indians and sell it to incoming settlers that were pouring in, literally pouring in at that time, at the end quite a bit. Well, he acquired land, paid a $1.25 an acre for the land. Now that sounds like highway robbery doesn't it? When you talk about today's prices, but nothing else is today's prices back in 1830. So the price was the going price at that time and a reasonable price, and the Indians were glad to accept it. So he wound up with strips of land bordering the Kankakee River, that went all the way from what is today's Briarcliff area in Bourbannais, all the way to Aroma Park. [Another account of the land that LeVasseur acquired from Chief Mesheketeno was two sections: an area two miles east to west; one mile north to south]. So you can see he owned a lot of land. It was all a wooded area, a beautiful area, ah, so that, ah, then his problem was that he had an awful lot of land on hand and the settlers weren't coming in fast enough for him to dispose of it. So he did the next best thing. He packed his gear, by this time I should say 1836. Ah Watch-e-kee became very lonesome for her tribe and her parents who had with the rest of the Indians moved to Council Bluffs, Iowa. By 1836, they were nearly all gone.
It was unbelievable; this place over-run with Pottawatomies, and by now there was nothing but those here [who] were white settlers. So ah, he ah, she begged him for her divorce. Of course a divorce was simple. They mutually agreed and that's all there was to it. Ah O.K., O.K. with me, it's O.K. you, it's O.K. with me, that's it. So he escorted her all the way back to the Mississippi River, which was quite a trip in those days—on horseback naturally. And ah there he said a fond fairwell to his beloved Watch-e-kee, because he loved her. He thought a lot of her. So he came home, and very tearful and ah got the idea that maybe a trip back home to Quebec Province would help sooth the sorrow. Besides, he needed another wife and he wanted her to be French. And there was no one that had arrived here that suited him. And by this time he was through with the trading post. He was in the real estate business. And he was out to sell tracts of land. So he packed his gear, headed north.
How long it took him to get all the way up to Quebec—it takes you almost three full days by car today, it might have taken months I suppose? But he got home. Of all things he got home on Christmas Eve, which was his birthday. Since he was born on Christmas Eve in 1799 and of course in the French Canadian areas, all the Roman Catholics, everybody was at midnight mass so he went to midnight mass and there he met his old friends who hadn't seen Noel in many, many years. His own mother didn't recognize him. She wouldn't believe that was the Noel that had left her when he was only 17. He hadn't been home in about like 17 or 20 years, somewhere around there. How was he going to prove to his mother that he was really Noel? Then he had an idea. When he was a boy he had an accident and he lost half of his little finger. So he held up his hand and right away his mother embraced him and said, "You are truly my Noel", and they had a wonderful visit.
So, while he was there, Noel went from house to house telling them about the wonderful land, virgin lands that could be tilled with crops. If they came there, the land was still very reasonable, but…ah…because there the average farm was about forty acres and trying to raise a family of 10 to 15 on forty acres, when it was mostly hay for the cow and a few other things like that—vegetables. He managed to induce many of them.
Now, low and behold, one of those he induced was my great-grandfather, and of all names, Placid Richard—real French name, Placid. And believe it or not, when they baptized me, my great aunts gave me the name Placid and I kept that real quiet when I went to school, believe me. I've never told anybody. Course nobody has a string of 3, 4, or 5 names. Well, Placid came out with his. . .and came here in the late 40's or very early 50's and settled on a farm which is still there. It's on the Armour Road just east of I-57. You may have noticed this old farmhouse was painted blue in the past summer and you may or may have not recognized it. The reason I recognized it was because my uncle lived there all his life, and it was my favorite place, my favorite aunt to visit. And seeing the house painted blue is very attractive, but they have restored it completely. And that was so important for us. We don't like to see all these old places torn down. Restore them and they are made to last another hundred years, for sure.
So, Placid came and eventually, he brought his son Noel, who was my grandfather, and we were one of the many—this is why I'm here, because I might have been still in Canada speaking French with all those Cannucks up there. But this is why too we preserve the language; we've talked French in our family. My two children were raised with the French language, just as I was. I was telling Ms. Barnes here that even in third grade we learned French in our classroom. Because our teachers were nuns that came from Canada, and they spoke French much better than they spoke English.
So French was very predominant in our classroom. And as I went on to high school, it was a natural thing to take. And the first thing I know, I was taking it in college, and ah, did she tell you when I graduated? I graduated in 1929. That's 54 years ago, do you realize that? I guess that's right. With all those years . . . that's a long time ago isn't it? I'll have to deal with that one of these days. But if you can enjoy life as much as I have these days, it's worth it. But anyway, I went to college, and I had French all the way through—it was natural to imprint. But I had to make a living too, and I didn't want to teach. Even then, I didn't care much about teaching. So, I took accounting as a minor and I wound up at [Roper].
Let's get back to the village. In 1853, one of the very important events took place around here. It was the coming of the Illinois Central Railroad. Now the Illinois Central in buying its right-of-way—I'm not sure, but I think they were given the right-of-way by the federal government. But then they bought lands for miles and miles around on both sides of the tracks all the way down along that right-of-way with the hopes of being able to sell that land in later years and pay for the railroad. So, this is what happened. There are stories about why the Illinois Central did not come to Bourbonnais which was the first community here. The stepping stone of all other communities around here. We'll tell you a little bit about Bradley a little later because they came into the picture very much later in the story. But places like St. Anne and Momence and Beaverville, L'Erable—those were all people who came here first to Bourbonnais Grove—but there was no land left so they moved on to where land was available and bought it.
Now the railroad had this land to sell. The story goes that ah the railroad wanted to come through Bourbonnais. But my grandfather and great grand didn't want to be bothered with that belching, black smoke belching, giant locomotive that made a lot of noise, scared the horses, caused runaways, and scared the cows to the point that when it came milking time, they wouldn't give anymore milk. So they didn't want any trains going through here, besides it was dangerous for the children, they said.
The real story is the land here was already acquired; Illinois Central had nothing to gain by coming through Bourbonnais. So they bypassed Bourbonnais, went on and opened a station in Kankakee, which was called Kankakee Station, and at one time all that was there was a cabin once occupied by Francois Bourbonnais, which was the first depot of Kankakee Station. Chebanse evolved the same way. Clifton, all these towns that you see along the railroad are towns that were. . .grew up around the railroad because the land belonged to Illinois Central Railroad. Well, ah, the railroad was important because without the railroad you couldn't grow, and for all those years Bourbonnais didn't grow. Kankakee, in 1853, also became a village, an incorporated village, and prior to this time up to 1853, Bradley, Kankakee, Bourbonnais, all these towns around here belonged to Will County, not Kankakee County. Kankakee County did not come into the picture until 1853 at the same time as when the Illinois central railroad came through here. So the result was that everything came out of Will County.
The first school established in this community was in 1844 in Bourbonnais. That house still stands where the first school which is, if you went and took the siding off of it, you would see the log cabin, the log construction of that house. That house stands at about I think 497. Excuse me. That house stands approximately at 497 S. Main. Now to better describe that I bet you guys all know where the Pizza Hut is in Bourbonnais, I bet there isn't a soldier that doesn't know where the Pizza Hut is. Well its right across the street there next to that safe place, where they sell locks and safes. Ah, Ralph Marcotte Jr. lives there and that house has been there for a very long time.
The first teacher, his name was Charles R. Starr. And Charles R. Starr was born in Nova Scotia, see how far they came. Because many of our first settlers came from New York State. But, Charles R. Star came all the way from Nova Scotia and, with his parents, and settled in Wilmington. I saw in a paper the other night where there's a bank in Wilmington that is celebrating its 123rd anniversary. You can see how old the town is—a bank that is 123 years old. Well, Charles R. Starr, ah, was educated in Connecticut, but came back in time to take the job as the first schoolmaster in Bourbonnais. Ah, there was only one problem, Mr. Starr didn't talk French and there were very few children who spoke English. Because their parents were all French, and their parents were French. So, he remained only one year, but I think that he had enough vision to see what was going to happen to this community, and he went back east to finish his college, also to acquire a bride, came back in '53 with a law degree and became the first county judge of Kankakee County, the first mayor of the now city of Kankakee, which was a village at that time, and went on to seek a seat on the Supreme, State Supreme Court bench in Illinois. If you go look at the Kankakee County Historical Society, and look in the archives, you see a newspaper account of his funeral, and they devoted two wide columns on the front page to Charles R. Starr. Now that man was one of the very first arrivals here and one of the very first people to teach in our area in Bourbonnais.
So what happened after that, there was again until 1860, 16 years where apparently the parents went along with other teachers or did their teaching at home, and in 1860, a parish priest at the time, Alexis Mailloux felt that something had to be done. Remember now, the population was 100% Roman Catholic, 100% French speaking, because those who didn't speak French went on to other communities, places like Buckingham, Dwight, just went on to where people spoke their language. They couldn't understand those dumb French, that's what they said anyway. Nevertheless he succeeded in getting three nuns from the Congregation of the Sisters of Notre Dame Montreal to come here and teach the children. Keep in mind too that during all this time, since 1844, this was a public school supported by the tax payers, all the way. And do you know it continued being that way till 1956, over a hundred and twenty years? That the school was supported …was a public school, but taught by religious people, priests, brothers, and nuns. For the simple reason, that again the population was approximately 90 to 95 % Roman Catholic.
Well, that took care of the girls because the sisters would not teach boys. Their Order forbid them to teach boys. I don't know, you might ask, Mrs. Alkansky back there somewhere, she might know because she is a product of Norte Dame Sisters, and I think that is a compliment to them too. But nevertheless, ah there was a question of teaching the boys. So, five years later another pastor went to Montreal and tried to get the Viatorian fathers to come down here and teach the boys. He succeeded. A priest and two brothers came, Father Pierre Beaudoin, Brother Martel, and Brother, ah, Bernard came. Ah, if you recognize some of these names by some of the street names that we have in Bourbonnais today. Beaudoin, he was, came here in 1865; the first Viatorian to come here. He was a pastor of Maternity Church for thirty-five years. Bernard was one of the first teachers here 'Brother Bernard' and we have many other names like that, out there, that, were named, that come from early settlers. Now, ah, there was a question of interest that had been taken care of. So, they, the brothers bought the public school, from the school district for three thousand dollars, to be paid for with teaching, ah, services. They had ideas, to go to secondary school, high school, and later college. They followed that through because in 1868, three years later, the original St. Viator College came to being.
Now that college you say, "What was that? I never heard of that." No, I'm sure you didn't, but it was on the site of today's Olivet Nazarene College. Several of the buildings are original buildings. I won't say originals because, the college, the original college, burnt down in 1906, and new buildings were built in 1906. Those buildings are the ones on campus there today. One of them is Burke Administration. The other one I think, is William's Dormitory. In '26, they had another fire. The gymnasium burnt down, so a new gymnasium was built. And unfortunately that proved their undoing. Because they got themselves so deeply in debt. Remember, 1926 was only three years before 1929. Incidentally that was a great year for me to come out of college. 1929—the year of the big Stock crash.
The year of the big Depression started. You kids never lived through the Great Depression, but I am sure you might have heard your grandfathers and grandmothers talk about the Great Depression, comparing it to today's recession, and I'm not so sure it wasn't too different, except today you have far more federal programs that keep us going like social security, like aid, you know. And all those other things, unemployment compensation to take care of people who were out of work, we didn't have that. If you were out of a job, you were out of a job, and you got in the bread line. Well, when I came out of college. I have to mention this, because I don't want you to get discouraged if you come out of college and you can't get a job right away. I came out of college with a degree ready to whip the world. And if my father hadn't known somebody, I got a job as a bank messenger. With a college degree at a bank in Kankakee. Sixty dollars a month. It was all the money in the world as far as I was concerned. And I worked there in that bank for 14 years before I finally went to [Roper]. Okay, so much for that.
So, Bourbonnais had been known as an education center as you can see. The academy persisted til the ah…Mitch, what year? [Mitch] "they closed in 46." '46, alright, then St. Viator College closed a few years before that in '38. One of the saddest moments in my life. . . I was living right directly across from the college, have been living in the same house for 45 years, so I have seen a lot of history go by. And I saw that my college was gone my Alma Mater, as well as my high school. So ah, then Olivet came in, and continued the tradition. Today they're certainly one of the finest education centers in the state of Illinois, and I will say this much for Olivet, they've got a group of students there that are really super. I mean behavior-wise, they're all ladies and gentlemen plus, and you don't see that everywhere in the world, but you do there, that's for sure. So ah, we never had any factories though, everything has been you might say a place to live at.
Now let's devote a couple of minutes to Bradley. About this time is where Bradley would come into the picture anyway. Because in 1892, this area here had once been settled by Thomas Durham and a man by the name of Kinsey—streets of Bradley, Route 50 is Kinsey Avenue. I think there's a Durham, sure there's a Durham Street too. Durham Avenue. And along came a man by the name of Mr. John [Herman] Hardebeck and he could see the future. Kankakee was already blooming. This was forty years after Kankakee began. Bourbonnais was still 600 people. In fact, back in the '50s, there were probably as many as 2000 people in the Village of Bourbonnais. And it dwindled and dwindled to the point that it got to be 600 for years and years and years until 1940. Then things began to pick up. And the post-war years, and today--13,000 plus. Well, Mr.Hardebeck thought this land was available, and it was midway between Kankakee and Bourbonnais, and it would be a good place to set up shop, to set up a place to live.
So, they planted a village, and immediately were out looking for industry. There was a very large furniture factory which built what is today's Roper Bradley Division. That was a furniture factory that built furniture. And then there were two, there was a chair factory, a couple of bed factories one of which was Turk Factory. Six or seven industries. Which probably accounts for the fact that the population in Bradley is kind of a mixture of many different nationalities. There are people there that worked in factories as opposed to the French who liked to till the soil. Now in 1893, along came another depression, one of the first depressions, but a very serious one—banks folded everywhere and again, there was no relief of any kind. Businesses were closing right and left. Do you know that in 1894, Broadway in Bradley had only one business establishment on Broadway. Everybody else went out of business. You see many today of course, but even at that, just one business establishment. There might have been two, might have been a drugstore and a grocery store. That's how bad things were here. Here was this beautiful building and everybody was out of work.
So, Mr. Hardebeck went to work again. And he went to Chicago shopping for somebody to take over that business. Because everybody was in the same boat. It was a national depression. So, what he did, he was fortunate enough to run into a man by the name of David Bradley. David Bradley was in the plow business. He was making plowshares, plows to be drawn behind horses—single plows as they were then. His chief customer was Sears Roebuck Company. Therefore, his business was good because you could buy a plow out of the Sears catalog in those days, not the horses, but the harnesses and the buggies, and everything you needed on the farm. Ah Mr. Hardebeck asked Mr. Bradley to come take a look. Mr. Bradley said this is just what I need, I have got to expand, land is expensive in Chicago to expand, so if you give me a good deal, I'll move to Bradley, and I will move some of my production to Bradley. He did, and the David Bradley Manufacturing Company was born, and for many years that was a farming plant. And in front of the plant was located where there is now a parking lot. There was a huge water tower that serviced the factory alone. Besides that Mr. Bradley insisted on keeping the grounds looking like a park, just with all kinds of flowers: geraniums, and cannas, and things like that, and I can still see as a boy going by on the street car, seeing the workers eating their lunch sitting on the grass. And that looked like a beautiful park.
By 1894, there was another big news item that came up, and that was the fact that Kankakee, Bradley—they used to call Bradley incidentally North Kankakee and when David Bradley came, they changed the name to Bradley. In 1894, a big announcement came in the local papers. It was the fact that these towns would be serviced by streetcars! Of all things, an electric streetcar! Now that was great, because a fellow that worked in a factory couldn't drive horse and buggy. What would you do with a horse and buggy all day while you're working in a factory? So we had to ride a bicycle or walk and a lot of the men walked. A streetcar would be great, so what did they do? They started the streetcar line on Schuyler Avenue, right at the corner of Court and Schuyler, by Schuyler Avenue that ran from Schuyler Avenue all the way down to the David Bradley manufacturing plant. Which, as I said, is today's Roper Plant Factory.
Turn west across the Illinois Central tracks there, and the reason they did that because so many of their customers were men who worked at the plant, at the factory, and at six in the morning till seven, they ran extra street cars, to take care of the business. And did the same thing in the afternoon, three o clock in the afternoon, three-thirty quitting time, they ran extra street cars to take the men back home. So business was booming. Then the street car would cross every half hour you'd have a street car. There were two street cars operating. It took about a half an hour to ride from Bourbonnais to Kankakee. A half hour from Kankakee to Bourbonnais. Now that line crossed the railroad tracks and came back south to Broadway.
I'll remind you that this was before the Bradley subway was there. The Bradley subway was not always there. It did not come until 1925 when the highway came through. So the result was, by that time, streetcars cut their routes short and ran only special routes for the factory people and went under the subway on Broadway, turned north, on what is now Kennedy Drive, Main Street, Bourbonnais, all the way to the Convent corner in Bourbonnais. It was great. That was more fun riding those street cars. And what was more fun, in the summer time, they operated open cars. I begged my mother to let me sit on the end so that I could feel the breeze, that fast street car going down the road at 15 miles per hour, it really took your breath away.
Well, the street car, like every good thing, had to come to an end. By '33, there were quite a few Model A's on the road and a few other kind of cars, and business went down and down, to the point where one night in 1933, the last street car went out and there was never another street car that showed up again. Now the car barns were on Schuyler Avenue in Bradley north of Broadway. Today, there is a Chinese restaurant there, an interior decorator, and I think, a moving firm. In that building, which used to house the street cars, they stopped at 11:00 at night and they started at 6:00 in the morning to get everybody to work on time at 7:00 for the factories. Now on Sundays, they didn't start up until about 9:00. But, ah, you got to know everybody.
So, it wasn't like today. The conductors knew all the boys and there were a lot of Kankakee boys dating Bourbonnais girls in those days, and the last street car out was at 10:30 at night. Oh boy! 10:30—so it was either say an early good night or else walk! And there were a lot of early good nights. A lot of times, the street car would stop opposite, the guy wouldn't come out you know. They would bang the bells and put their foot on the floor, "Come on, let's go." And they would finally break loose, and get into the car, and go home. You don't see that happening anymore today. Nobody would do that for you today. That was life in those days. Now its already 10:00, and I promised I would answer a few questions. I've had to cover this very rapidly, and I know I missed a lot of things, but maybe you might have some questions that you would like to ask. Now I can't see your hands out there if anybody has questions. [This is the end of Adrien's speech].