With its 175th Anniversary being celebrated in 2008, Warrenville can look back proudly at its struggles and triumphs.
Perhaps the biggest struggle facing Warrenville in its history was the movement to incorporate, coupled with the town’s struggle to grow within its limited, land-locked borders. It is a testament to the foresight and tenacity of its residents that the city triumphed in both areas.
The need to incorporate Warrenville was established early, with the first referendum proposed—and defeated—in 1927.
When Northern Illinois Gas built its facility along Ferry Road, the company had to connect with nearby Naperville for city services, despite its Warrenville location, prompting the referendum to incorporate and develop such services. Six more attempts at incorporation dotted the decades.
But it wasn’t only the desire to bring in business that dogged the incorporation issue. The area was growing, Vivian and Dwight Lund, along with Lucy Bernard, were vital cogs in the process, both before and after incorporation.
Vivian suggests that had the landlocked Warrenville not incorporated, it would have been swallowed up by neighboring cities such as Aurora, West Chicago, or Naperville: “What we recognized was that if we didn’t take control of our own destiny, someone else would be taking pieces of us.”
In 1966, the Lunds joined the committee for incorporation and became involved in the battle. A consultant was hired to help get the referendum to pass, and the seventh attempt succeeded in 1967. Finally, Warrenville could move forward, and elections were held, first for a mayor and then for aldermen.
Also up for that first election was Lucy Bernard, Warrenville’s first city clerk. She remembers the excitement and uncertainty of that time.
“I had been an executive secretary in Chicago, but I had no idea even what a city clerk did,” she remembers with a laugh. She visited the village clerk of Winfield, who explained her duties. Even then, she was hesitant, worried about taking time from her four young children. She finally agreed to run on the slate backed by the group that had supported the incorporation. The group won. Bill Stafford became Warrenville’s first mayor, and Lucy the first city clerk.
The first official census showed 2,792 people living in Warrenville — people who would expect services from the newly incorporated city. But although the city was incorporated in May of 1967, no tax money would be coming in until June of 1968. Mayor Stafford put an ad in the paper and sent letters to citizens calling for donations, and the new city started off with private funds contributed by its residents.
Despite the empty city coffers, things got done, often by volunteers. Sonny Mack was appointed the first police chief, but there was no money for patrolmen, so the force was then made up of ten part-time volunteers. “We needed a patrol car,” Lucy remembers. “So the Hammerschmidt family, who were the owners of the gravel pit, donated that.” The city was becoming a reality.
Vivian credits Lucy with keeping things running and considers the difficulties of starting a city from scratch, including having to set up laws and organize such matters as rules for liquor licenses, home inspections, zoning—everything people take for granted in an organized city.
“Lucy really was dedicated,” she says. “Without her working through the various legal challenges we wouldn’t have made it.”
One of the biggest challenges was that of creating a public sewer and water works in the new city. Up until incorporation, Warrenville homes relied on private wells and septic systems. Fortunately, nearby Naperville needed a new sewer treatment plant, but had to incorporate a larger area in order to get a federal grant for it.
Warrenville was able to enter into a “piggyback” arrangement with its neighbor, which allowed Warrenville to help pay for construction in exchange for use of the facility, paying for whatever materials are sent for treatment. It’s been a good partnership, and although there are still a few Warrenville sites that are not hooked up to city sewer and water, the city’s plans are to eventually reach those homes as well.
In 1987, Dwight Lund was approached to run for mayor. As he had already been president of both area school boards, he suggested Vivian run instead. She did, and won, staying in office until her retirement in 2005. It was during her early terms that Warrenville faced its future squarely head-on, clearing the way for what would become Cantera, a business development she considers to be her Warrenville legacy.
The land for Cantera came from what was originally the limestone quarry that took up one-fifth of Warrenville’s five square mile area. It had been started in the 1950s to provide gravel for the construction of the I-88 tollway between Warrenville and Naperville. However, usable gravel disappeared earlier than expected, leaving a square mile scar on the land.
Vivian went to work, appointing members of an economic development commission. That year, the group worked with Amoco and the LaSalle Partners development company to form the Warrenville Development Limited Partnership (WDLP). The city established a TIF district for the development, and, although it took ten years of work to reclaim and prepare the site before the first building could be constructed, Cantera became a reality. Today the development houses multi-national corporations, providing more than 6,000 jobs in the area.
The development adds greatly to the Warrenville tax base, and includes businesses and research facilities, restaurants, movie theaters, and retailers as well as a small amount of housing. Vivian credits the Cantera success to the dedication of the committee members, saying that they all signed on knowing it would be a long, hard haul. “They made the commitment and stuck with it.” She is justifiably proud of her contribution, suggesting that perhaps her best asset was her ability to communicate. She also understood the need for a trained administrator for the city. “It doesn’t matter how much you work,” she says. “If you’re smart, you need to know what you don’t know.”
So what does the future hold for Warrenville? Vivian Lund is optimistic. “We’ve done a good job to make sure our zoning is protecting property values, and with Cantera we have a large enough business base to continue being a viable community in the future.” Being landlocked, Warrenville has no physical way to expand its boundaries; the Northeastern Planning Commission sees a population cap of 15,000 for the city, which now claims nearly 14,000.
Warrenville has come a long way in its 175 years, and its residents can look back at its history with pride. They can also look forward to a strong, positive future, thanks in no small part to the dedication of people like Lucy Bernard and the Lunds, and all the others who came before and will continue to work to make Warrenville a progressive city with a small-town feel.