Warrenville Women’s History Wednesday: Philinda Hale Warren Fowler

The Historical Society began 2016 by telling the story of Colonel Warren’s seven sisters. Julius Warren, our town’s founder, was the only son in his family and had the important job of helping his parents, Nancy and Daniel Warren, find seven suitable husbands for his seven sisters. The Warren sisters were successfully married to seven well-established men who helped shape northern Illinois. Please enjoy reading a little bit about one of the seven sisters featured in our January program The Seven Sisters of Colonel Warren. You can also learn more about the sisters in our museum exhibit that will be on display at the Historical Museum & Art Gallery through 2016.

Philinda Hale Warren Fowler

Philinda Hale Warren was the oldest sister, but not the first to be married (Louisa, the second sister, married Frederick Bird in 1824). Born in 1804, as the oldest daughter in a large family of eight children, Philinda became a second mother to her siblings. Since she was a girl, she busied herself helping their mother, planning and making dresses for her sisters, teaching them how to sew, and doing many other kinds of womens’ work of the time. This is no doubt the reason Julius chose Philinda as his live-in housekeeper when he moved from the family’s first DuPage County home in McDowell Grove to his newly built home on Main Street in Warrenville in 1834.

Although she was 30 years old in 1834, Philinda was not married, partly because of a heartbreak she had experienced when the family was still living in New York. At one time in her youth, she was engaged to a Mr. Sage who sadly died while traveling in the south. In preparations for his wedding to Philinda, Mr. Sage had journeyed south with a friend to better his fortune, but the party stayed too late into the spring and Mr. Sage took fever and died. Philinda was left heartbroken, but no doubt found distraction and some solace in her family busywork.

Colonel Warren 1834 home on Main and Batavia still stands as oldest wood frame home in county photo taken for 1939 county centennial

Colonel Warren’s 1834 home on Main and Batavia, the home still stands as the oldest wood frame home in DuPage County, photo taken during the 1939 County Centennial

From her post as Julius’ housekeeper in the wood framed home on Main Street and what was then First Street (now Batavia Road), Philinda not only ran her brother’s household, but also assisted her mother in tending to the men who worked to build the early structures in the growing community.  These men also importantly built and then reassembled the Warrenville dam each time the raging DuPage waters would tear it apart, which in those days was often. After one such flood, Nancy and Philinda fed so many men that Nancy declared that the women had baked enough to rebuild the entire dam out of bread!

Warrenville Mill Dam, about 1890

Warrenville Mill Dam, circa 1890

Despite her early heartbreak, in 1839 Philinda was married to the widower Alvah Fowler. Alvah had come to this area from New York after urging by his friends, the Garys, who were the first settlers into what would become Winfield Township. When he headed west, Alvah brought watercress seeds with him and is credited with introducing the species to this area. In the early days of the settlement, Alvah made expeditions west of the growing town with Ira Herrick to size up the land situation for future development. Alvah’s first wife Betsy died in 1838, one of the many casualties in that year’s epidemic. Alvah was a grand and good man and gave Philinda a quiet, peaceful and comparatively happy life. Like many in the area, Alvah was a proponent of the temperance movement and strong abolitionist.

Like all of the Warren brother-in-law’s, Alvah Fowler was also a businessman. In 1847 he went into business with his son-in-law Warren Smith, another well-respected businessman in the area. The Smith, Fowler and Company store at the corner of Third Street and Big Woods Road (now Batavia and Warrenville Roads) opened and offered residents another option for dry goods and raw materials much needed in the growing community. The newly formed company also established a gristmill to compliment the Colonel’s sawmill in the bend of the DuPage River that would become Warrenville Grove. Milling was a tough business though and just three years after the gristmill opened, the men sold it, just one of the many times the mill would change hands. The mill would find its way back into the Warren family, when in 1897 William Manning, Philinda’s great-nephew, acquired the property. William’s son, Ralph Manning, sold the property to the Forest Preserve in 1923. The Smith, Fowler and Company store was eventually sold to Harry Knell and then John Petit.

Original store at Batavia and Warrenville Roads, would eventually become Petit's Store

Original store at Batavia and Warrenville Roads, would eventually become Petit’s Store

Philinda and Alvah made their home at 28W140 Main Street. In 1879 they built a new home across the river at 3S324 Main Street on land acquired from the Colonel. The childless couple retired there with their Irish housekeeper, Lucinda Talbot, who had been with them for at least ten years by the time they built their retirement home. Alvah died on May 11, 1886, and Philinda on May 4, 1898, both were buried in the Warrenville Cemetery. Leaving no descendants, Ms. Talbot inherited their property.

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