Medina residents battle developer land for farm and neighborhood
Susie vander Nat could see past the crumbling chimney, the uneven ground, the overgrown weeds, the years of neglect.
Both fond of old houses, Vander Nat and her husband, Arnold, fell in love with a house almost as old as the town itself. Built around 1840, the house in Medinah was originally owned by members of the Meacham family, some of the first pioneers to settle in northeast DuPage County.
The couple moved from Chicago and spent nearly four years restoring the historic farmhouse to its former glory. Repainted in a shade of “smoky purple”, the prominent house adorns a gravel driveway, a slice of rural life along the Medinah dual carriageway.
“It felt like we were keeping the story alive,” Vander Nat said.
Untouched by the ravages of time, this piece of history now faces another threat: developers want to demolish the house and nearly 150 others to make way for an industrial park.
Transwestern Development sent letters to some, but not all, residents of the unincorporated neighborhood last month offering to pay each of them $22.50 per square foot for their properties. Vander Nat’s one-acre home would fetch $980,100 at that rate, but they insist they would never sell.
“Nothing would stop us from taking this house, acquiring it and making it ours,” said vander Nat. “And quite honestly, there will be nothing that will take us away, period.”
Transwestern bulldozed residential lots in nearby Wood Dale to build huge warehouses. Medinah, however, is a whole different animal, says vander Nat. The small community has no municipal leaders and espouses individualism. As custodians of the city’s history, Vander Nat and his neighbors embody that spirit as they take on a multi-billion dollar goliath.
“There just aren’t many areas that are like that, and it’s lush, it’s isolated. We’re self-sufficient,” said vander Nat, 54. People take care of it.”
The 1840s farmhouse is now owned by Susie vander Nat and her husband. “Our house is important. We are proud of it. It is historically significant,” she said.
-Paul Valade | Personal photographer
In 1833, the Meachams, a New England family, moved to what would become Medinah. Lyman Meacham was soon followed by three brothers: Harvey, Daniel and Dr. Silas Meacham, who later moved to the Des Plaines area. The family claimed about 1,200 acres, much of which was forested, according to the county historical society.
The Vander Nats are unsure when their Greek Revival home was built. But at some point Cyrus H. Meacham sold it to Colonel Benjamin Franklin Meacham, who joined his uncle, Harvey, at Meacham’s Grove in 1855.
An image from an 1874 atlas – the only one Vander Nats can find – shows the working farm, with its gabled roof, a herd of grazing cows and a purring locomotive in the background.
“We feel like we belong here. And then the idea that it was old, of course, appealed to both of us,” said vander Nat, from Elk Grove Village. “My husband really enjoys history and research, and we were very happy to have this part of DuPage and Meachams North History. west.”
But for all its historical significance, the house had been abandoned by its present-day owners and had fallen into disrepair. A real estate agent wouldn’t even show the interior for Vander Nat and her husband. It remained unoccupied for nearly five years.
“The plumbing was destroyed. The electricity was a nightmare because everything was out of code,” she said. “And then the previous owner had added all kinds of crazy cables all over the yard, the garage, everywhere.”
The couple paid $190,000 to buy the home in 2015, county records show. They replaced all the windows and the roof, installed new wood floors and brought back a craft tradition. A custom molding frames the front door.
“It sounds very cliché when you say you put your heart and soul into a home,” vander Nat said. “It’s not a home. It’s our home, and we love it. There’s just no other way to put it.”
Transwestern is trying to buy homes in a 138-acre area bounded by Thorndale Avenue to the north, Hilltop Drive to the east, Medinah Road to the west, and the Metra Milwaukee-West rail lines to the south. Transwestern would seek to annex the area to the village of Itasca.
So when a friend sent her the letter from Transwestern, Vander Nat was so upset she made copies and went door to door, spreading the word about the industrial developer’s plans.
“I felt completely drained because we haven’t been here that long,” vander Nat said. “We invested hundreds of thousands of dollars in the house to make it look like it should, to make it proud.”
Susie vander Nat’s sign outside her house on Medinah Road indicates that she does not intend to sell to industrial developers.
-Paul Valade | Personal photographer
Transwestern withdrew its request to present the proposal to the Itasca Community Development Committee last month. The developer has not yet requested a postponement, said Itasca village administrator Carie Anne Ergo.
“Transwestern has indicated to the village that it is determining the feasibility of the project,” she said.
Transwestern executives did not respond to inquiries about the status of the project.
But the people of Medina are still on high alert. The Village of Itasca has identified the unincorporated area “for future annexation and commercial development,” Mayor Jeff Pruyn wrote in a June letter.
“The sale of properties is entirely voluntary and constitutes a private transaction between the owner and Transwestern,” he wrote. “The village of Itasca is not party to or aware of the terms of the private sales transactions.”
Medina residents are fighting a “divide and conquer” strategy commonly employed by developers, vander Nat said. She has yet to receive a formal offer from Transwestern, but her home sits within the footprint of the potential second phase of development.
“If phase one drops, they don’t have to do a lot of arm twisting in phase two,” she said.
Even though everyone around her is selling — and her house is the last one standing — Vander Nat fears her property will be forcibly annexed to Itasca and rezoned for industrial use. Then she will end up “paying industrial taxes while living in our house”.
“It’s unthinkable, and they don’t care because all they want is to expand their tax base,” she said.
“Very limited space”
In an April memo, Itasca Village Planner Mo Khan said officials began internal discussions in June 2021 about expanding the Itasca Industrial Park for various reasons, “including, but not limited to, increasing and consolidating the tax base of the village”.
“However, given that Itasca is a built-up community, there is very little space for this to happen without demolishing existing buildings, which would most likely also require moving other businesses from Itasca and renovating them. lose to other communities,” he wrote.
Medina residents determined to maintain their community’s independence call it “money grabbing”.
“I find it amazing that Itasca would even consider trampling on a beautiful neighborhood,” said Charlie Harth, who has lived in Medina for 30 years.
Other residents accused Itasca officials of hypocrisy.
“They are proud of their historic village and their historic homes, and our home is older than any of the homes they have in their historic village,” Vander Nat said.
His house lacks historical protections. A place on the National Register of Historic Places would only offer an honorary title. She says she controls her destiny. So she enlisted neighbors to put up protest signs and voice their opposition to the development.
“All it takes,” she said, “is for enough people to say ‘no’.”