No one is alive today who can remember when the village of Brookfield was wholly composed of nothing more than hand-tilled farmland and scrub brush prairie.
Two sets of train tracks, belonging to the Chicago, Burlington, and Quincy Railroad were laid here from 1862 to 1864, and that was state-of-the-art travel back then. In 1890, a third track was laid and put into service.
Without these iron ribbons running to Aurora, there would probably be no such a place as Brookfield, unless someone traveling on Ogden Avenue decided to build here.
Back in early 1889, LaGrange and Riverside existed, but only a half dozen farm families lived between them.
Samuel Eberly Gross, Chicago’s most famous real estate promoter, was building subdivisions in the 1880s. He traveled by train to this land and carefully looked it over.
In 1888 the “locusts” (cicadas) spread over this area and damaged it. The asking price on this land would never be lower. He decided it would make a fine “city” and it would bear his name — Grossdale.
Platting out the streets and giving them names began during the winter of 1888-89.
Gross was well aware that his other subdivisions close to Chicago were becoming part of the city, and it can be easily speculated that he built far away from it, so that Grossdale could forever stand out on its own.
He asked the railroad if they would stop at his new “city.” They replied that they would, indeed, if he paid for and built a station there. This was fine with him. Gross himself designed the station, probably with an architect’s help.
Another perk of his sole ownership was that the station would always bear the name Grossdale. The railroad agreed to this condition, which lasted until 1907.
Gross brought out carpenters and masons from Chicago to erect his station, and then the Grossdale Pavilion on the corner of today’s Prairie and Brookfield Avenues.
A side track was added north of the CB&Q’s three track line. This was used to deliver construction materials for the buildings being erected here. No one is certain where the laborers lived, while the work was going on. Maybe they stayed at local farms, paying rent. It is also possible that a few railroad cars were left here to house the workman.
Gross was using easily available, mass-produced building materials in all his subdivisions, and probably preferred using these sources, getting the supplies here quickly by rail.
In the early spring 1889, work commenced on the station on the south side of the tracks near Prairie Avenue. Laborers dug out a small cellar that would be under the eastern part of the station. A stone foundation was set in place. Soon wooden beams and rafters reached up to the country sky, accompanied by the sounds of nails being hammered and wood being sawed.
From time to time, local farmers and their children dropped by to watch the building’s progress. Soon they were joined by curious LaGrange and Riverside residents.
Here is what the first prospective buyers saw on June 15, 1889, as S.E. Gross met his first train coming out from Chicago.
Around the station was created a pine plank walkway and platform (Purington bricks would not be laid until 1918). Back of the station was a small outhouse, with separated sections for “gents” and “ladies.” Possibly a small storage room was between, offering more privacy.
Faced in pressed red Chicago brick, with limestone window sills, “eyebrow” side windows, and a good share of wooden “gingerbread” decoration, the station was declared by Gross to be “a Handsome Suburban Depot” and “the finest suburban station on the CB&Q Railroad.”
Passengers were protected from the elements by a 68-foot-long canopy, with columns surrounded at platform level (and below) with dressed white limestone bases.
Along the eight gable roofs were lines of ornamental fretwork. The roof, itself, was topped by black slate tile. At the highest peak was set a weather vane.
The interior was no less elegant. It was broken up into three main sections: the women’s waiting room (east) and the men’s waiting room (west) with the ticket office in between, with ticket windows opening onto each room. The bars on each window were painted a brilliant gold.
The waiting rooms were of different sizes. The women’s was the smaller, due to the baggage room taking up space directly opposite. The men’s was the largest.
Separate waiting rooms were common for the period. It was thought that the women would not have to be exposed to the smoking and language of the men. The men, on the other hand, would not have to endure the noise of nagging wives and squalling, crying children. Also, there was probably the standard brass cuspidor that the men could spit tobacco juice into.
The floor was of maple; the ceiling was of oak. Walls were paneled in horizontal tongue-in-groove oak strips and painted a light, but not watery, blue. Around every window and door was a frame and bull’s-eye molding, painted golden brown.
Three coal stoves — one for each waiting room and one for the ticket office—heated all of the ground floor. Stove pipes connected to one of two central chimneys.
Two oak wood, varnished benches were in each waiting room; the men’s were two feet longer. On the walls were large train schedules, and probably well-framed advertisements for Grossdale lots and houses. Pull-down style oil lamps hung from the ceiling.
So much for the passenger’s viewpoint.
Upstairs — using the separate, locked door staircase just back of the ticket office — was the stationmaster’s apartment, decorated in a less lavish style, but still bearing the distinctive window molding.
A cooking stove was located in the kitchen, and another stove in the dining room. Stove pipes leading from the dining room stove furnished further heat to the living room/parlor and bedroom at the rear of the building.
Two central windows opened onto a balcony, and it was possible to step out onto this, through the windows, to have a fine view right down Grand Boulevard. The windows offered both fresh air and foul, depending on both the wind direction and whether a steam engine was passing by, blowing clouds of smoke.
In the kitchen ceiling was — and still is — a small, square, attic entry point, probably used for storage. In the attic, two east and west windows, and also a set of two north facing windows presented the highest view of the village in its early years.
Over the next several decades, the waiting room walls were painted and repainted. In January 1928 a fire started in the women’s waiting room against the back wall next to the heating stove. It was put out quickly by the Brookfield Fire Department.
In March, 1941 the “great remodeling” began, and the station was radically altered in appearance. The waiting rooms were expanded into one. In 1926, a men’s washroom had been installed in the men’s waiting room’s supply closet, and now that washroom was moved next to the women’s, so that the Ticket Office could be built in the “closet” space and enlarged.
The interior staircase was removed and replaced by an exterior enclosed one, and painted walls were covered over everywhere by slabs of plywood and painted.
The canopy pillars and bases were removed, and the canopy cut back. The balcony became a memory. The Victorian gingerbread was removed; roof line fretwork tossed; even the weathervane vanished for all time. On the plus side, the station finally had washrooms.
Also, the second floor side, front, and eyebrow windows survived. But not for long. On May 18, 1952 another fire occurred, this one charcoaling the attic beams. The square side windows and eyebrow windows were removed, giving the station an even more boxlike appearance.
The station was growing older, but not so gracefully. In 1977, Brookfield resident Greg Gall read about the railroad’s plans to demolish the old station and put up a new one. He believed there was too much history there to be destroyed, and believed it could be fixed up and still be made useful.
He placed ads in the local papers, hoping to find residents interested in forming a Brookfield Historical Society, to “Save Our Station.” On July 17, five dedicated people gathered in Gall’s living room: Greg, his wife Geri, Julia Cihlar, Esther Cervak, and Mary Ann Serenda.
They created a charter and recruited members. By August 12, there were 15 charter members. One of these, Ann Egger, proved to be a powerhouse of determination, locating information and obtaining donations. Without her, it is certain that the station would not have been saved.
The railroad was adamant in not wanting the station to remain at its site, south of the train tracks. The fledgling historical society was told, plainly, “Move it or lose it.” On March 27, 1981 the society decided to move it.
And they did. Using Egger’s massive coordinating skills, the station made a little trip. On the sunny Thursday morning of April 9, 1981, the station, raised off its foundation, began the slow journey over the railroad tracks, to its new resting place, on the site of the old village hall, on the northeast corner of Brookfield and Forest Avenues. It was settled onto its new foundation, and the initial repair work, which would continue for a decade, commenced.
A “platform phoenix” of Purington bricks, once in front of the station’s former site, now took shape. In 1985 the cut-back canopy was restored to its former length, and the balcony replaced.
In 2000, the village received a nearly $100,000 grant to restore the station to its former glory. But it would take four years for work to begin, and it wasn’t until 2005 that the new slate roof, paint job and copper detailing brought the building back to its Victorian glory. It still serves as the home for the Brookfield Historical Society.
June 15, 2014 was the 125th anniversary of the opening of the Grossdale/Brookfield station. Amazingly, it still exists, but now it is no longer filled with waiting passengers, but filled with the village’s history.