Earlier this year, the Oswegoland Heritage Association Board selected The Village Grind Coffee & Tea Company building as the subject of their annual commemorative crock. The annual commemorative crocks, handmade by the Maple City Pottery in Monmouth, Ill., are the association’s major annual fundraiser.
The Village Grind is housed in a former private residence on Main Street right in the heart of Oswego’s historic downtown business district. It was left up to me to track down some of the old house’s history, which I took on with interest. The Grind is one of my favorite Oswego places. Their coffee is great and the baked goods they sell are unparalleled in town, especially their pie squares. I’m pretty finicky about my pie, but theirs pass muster without a hitch. More on my pie addiction at a later date.
Because right now I want to talk about tracking down The Village Grind building’s history. This morning, I got an e-mail from the owner, Jodi Behrens, thanking me for locating some of the building’s history.
“How in the world do you find all this history?” she wondered with an electronic chuckle.
So I thought I’d relate some of the steps that I took, and which anybody can use to find out some of the history of an old building. It takes time and luck, and builds on the work of a lot of other folks.
My first step was to check out a collection we have at the Little White School Museum compiled by the late Helen Zamata. Helen was a demon researcher who was fascinated with the history of property transfers in Oswego, particularly on her own block, which she nicknamed “The Black Walnut Block,” but also throughout the original village of Oswego.
“Original” Oswego was a 20-block rectangle on the southeast bank of the Fox River, and aligned with the river’s course, bounded on the north by Jefferson Street, the south by Benton Street, the east by Monroe Street, and the West by Harrison. Helen spent many an hour at the Kendall County Recorder of Deeds office pouring through property transfer records on each of those 20 blocks and the eight lots in each block, starting in 1841 and extending up through the late 1870s.
The pages for Lot 5, Block 3 trace the chain of title from Walter Loucks in 1842 up to April 11, 1863 when James A. Durand buys the property from James R. Cutter for a nice, round $100.
Durand was an interesting guy and I’d run into him before. His son, Cassius, married the daughter of Capt. William Bunn, late of the 127th Illinois Volunteer Infantry. Capt. Bunn was an Oswego businessman who lived right across the street from the Durands, so it was apparently a case of marrying the girl next door. But I digress. Again.
So knowing I was now looking for Durand, I next checked my Oswego newspaper transcription files. These are the handiest danged things for finding mentions of now-obscure people. If you’re interested in Oswego history, the files can be downloaded at the Little White School Museum web site, http://www.littlewhiteschoolmuseum.org. Just click on “Historic Oswego” in the left sidebar, and then on “Oswego News” in the lower sidebar on the resulting page.
Anyway, sure enough, in searching for “Durand,” I found a variety of really interesting information, including many mentions through the years by the Kendall County Record’s Oswego correspondent of members of the Durand family.
Durand had been appointed the Chicago & Aurora Railroad’s first station agent at Oswego Station when the line opened in 1854. The rail line passed Oswego two miles to the west due to opposition to railroads in general by the Oswego business community of the 1850s. Oswego Station was located where present-day Light Road crosses the Burlington-Northern-Santa Fe right-of-way. A few years after his appointment, Durand apparently decided he could make more money in business than in working for the railroads and so move his family to Oswego, where, in 1863, he bought the property on which The Village Grind sits.
The Village Grind building may already have been built by then, but in any case, Durand ran his lumber business in Oswego and some other businesses, too. In 1869, the Durands upped stakes and moved to Belle Plaine, Iowa where he became a business owner and a banker.
The house he left behind became known as the Durand House. As the Record’s Oswego correspondent reported on April 20, 1871:
The marriage of Levi N. Hall and Josephine Forbes took place on Thursday at the residence of the bride’s parents where early in the afternoon the relatives and a number of friends of the parties assembled. Mr. Hall and wife returned from their bridal trip Saturday evening, and are now domiciled in what is known as the Durand place.
As Arte Johnson used to say, “Very interesting!” But were we talking about the same block and lot in downtown Oswego as we thought we were? Why, yes we were, and I’m glad you asked. Because a further search turned up the following on Feb. 27, 1873:
John Sanders has bought of Wayne the Durand place where L.N. Hall now lives.
And indeed, a check with the Grantee-Grantor Index microfilm in the museum’s research collection showed that Thomas Wayne had purchased the lot in 1870.
Some research at the county recorder’s office by Tina Beaird, one of my fellow board members and an excellent researcher in her own right, also added to the story.
From the 1870s, the lot went through a bunch of different owners until the Zentmyer family picked it up in 1943. Locally, the house was best-known as the home of Mrs. Grate, who was always good for a cookie begged by kids walking home from school. And the Grind still sells great cookies, including a killer frosted molasses cookie.
The Zentmyers sliced off the southern part of the lot in 1958, to add to Lot 8 to give enough room to build the original Oswego Community Bank building.
Now, the lot has been combined with Lot 8 as the location of the American Male & Company building, which extends from Jackson Street all the way north to the northern boundary of Lot 4. The clothing business, which includes the “Editions” women’s shop and the “Prom Shoppe,” has now taken over the former bank and connects directly with The Grind building.
The Village Grind was established in 1996 by Lee and Bernie Moe, who thought there was a need for a local coffee shop, and they were right. It was an instant hit. But it was an awful lot of work, too, and so the Moes decided to get away from the grind (so to speak) of the business and sell it to Jodi and Dave Behrens in 2004. Jodi and Dave still own the business, which has become, if anything, an even more popular destination for coffee, tea, and hot chocolate drinkers seven days a week in downtown Oswego.
And the building’s got a pretty neat history, too.