History of La Fox

By J. Morgan

Historic La Fox is located in Blackberry township, in Kane County, about three miles east of Elburn and four miles west of Geneva. The La Fox area is usually defined as the area bounded by Route 38, Keslinger Road, Harley and Brundige Roads. Also, additional areas on Bartelt Road, Beith Road, Bunker Road, Campton Hills Road, Garfield Road, Hughes Road and Town Hall Road have also been considered part of the La Fox area.

Native Americans inhabited the area until the 1830’s. In 1833, Chief Waubonsee sold the land to the State of Illinois, and most of the Indians that had previously occupied the area left over the next several years. The first permanent European settler to Kane County was William Lance, who arrived in 1834. The land that eventually became Blackberry and Campton townships was surveyed in 1842 by Silas Reed. By the mid 1840s farmers, predominantly from New York state, had settled on the rich agricultural land in northern Blackberry Township that would become La Fox. In 1854, Otis Jones and Joseph Shepherd sold part of their farmland to the Galena and Chicago Union Railroad for construction of the Dixon Air Line and the first era of development in La Fox began.

With the arrival of the railroad, La Fox grew perpendicular to the tracks and the few houses located in its vicinity became Kane Station. A post office was established at Kane Station in 1860, and L.C.Carlow, a native New Yorker, moved to the station to become its first postmaster. Carlow was also a merchant and businessman. He opened a store near the depot and operated a nursery in the area. The post office was called La Fox, a name originally given to Kane County’s first post office (1836) located in present-day Geneva. From this point on, the community became known as La Fox.

La Fox grew because of its location along the railroad. The railroad provided transportation for agricultural products to markets and jobs for local residents. Railroad structures included a depot, gate keeper’s house, can shanty (a building where empty milk cans were cleaned before being returned to the farmers), and a warehouse/elevator. As La Fox grew, roads began to appear in the area. An early version La Fox road ran east of the existing road and connected to Garfield Farm. The first school house was built in La Fox in 1860 across from the east entrance of Broadview Acadamy. In the late 1860’s, the second La Fox school building was erected. It has survived to the present time and is now an office building in historic La Fox.

A strong influence on the growth of La Fox was the Potter Family. Lemuel Potter, a sea captain from New Bedford, Massachusetts, settled in La Fox in 1863. He bought an interest in Frederick Dean’s store (opened by Carlow in 1860) and later bought the business. It carried the family name and was operated continuously by generations of Potters until it recently closed down. In 1868 the Potter and Barker elevator was constructed south of the railroad tracks under contract by Mr. Dean. In later years the structure became a warehouse. In 1869, Lemuel Potter constructed a cheese factory, which was converted to a creamery in 1877. Eventually, when the building had outlived its industrial purpose, it became a meeting place, the La Fox Hall. Potter commissioned carpenters from Massachusetts to build a larger residence and town barn for his family in 1870. Both buildings were distinctly decorated with portholes reminiscent of Potter’s whaling days and are community landmarks today. Over the last 125 years, the Potter family has constructed or owned twelve buildings in La Fox. The residences owned by the Potters were inhabited by family members, store employees, or were rented. The Potters at one time owned land on three of the corners at the intersection of La Fox Road and the railroad tracks.

In 1890, a second stage of development in La Fox began when the railroad constructed sheepyards in the community. The sheepyards were located south of the railroad tracks and east of La Fox Road and were capable of holding at least twelve thousand sheep. Sheep being shipped by rail from the west to Chicago and points east rested and were fed at the yards. During the period of 1890-1931, sheep sheds, a fertilizer plant and a grain elevator were constructed at the Chicago & Northwestern Railroad Company feed yards. A hotel was constructed to house transient employees of the sheepyards while resident sheepyard employees owned or rented houses in La Fox. The sheepyards were moved to West Chicago in 1931.

During the post-railroad era in La Fox, most of the structures associated with the railroad were destroyed including buildings located in the sheepyards (demolished in 1931), the Depot (dismantled 1952), the can shanty (destroyed 1959), the gate keeper’s house (destroyed after 1930), and the hotel (demolished 1931). In 1979, the cheese factory/creamery/town hall collapsed under heavy snow. Three residences and the blacksmith shop have been destroyed sometime during the twentieth century. Only eight buildings, commercial and residential, were constructed after 1931.

The character of La Fox was shaped by the community’s industry, commerce and the residents. It is a late nineteenth century railroad town whose predominant growth period was between 1860 and 1900. The community’s buildings reflect the architectural styles poplar at this time and include Greek Revival, Carpenter Gothic, Queen Anne and ltalianate. The linear plan of La Fox remains as it was in 1860. La Fox Road is the core of this community, a rural village surrounded by farmlands.

Over the decades that have followed, the main commerce in the La Fox area has continued to be agricultural. Family farms have been passed from parents to their children over many generations. It has only been in the past 20 years, that development has pushed westward into the region. The western edges of the cities along the Fox River have pushed to Randall Road and beyond. With the opening of the Metra Station near the Historic district, La Fox will be in the midst of a dramatic change. It is yet to be seen whether or not the history of La Fox will fade from memory as farms are replaced by development.

“Built For Farming — A Guide to the Historic Architecture of Kane County” published by the Kane County Development Department in 1991.

“History of La Fox, Illinois,” Louis Divine, et al, 1987