Church Bell 1846
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This bell once hung in the belfry of First Congregational Church. In the 19th century, without television and radio, bells were a means of communicating information quickly. They helped warn of fires, told of death and announced joyful occasions like weddings. This bell was rung to let residents know that the county records were removed under the cover of night from Naperville to Wheaton during the county seat battle in 1868. The bell is now located at Naper Settlement.

When Naperville chose to deny railroad access to their town in the 1850s, the tracks were laid further north in Wheaton. With the advent of this new mode of fast and comfortable transportation, Wheaton quickly exceeded Naperville in growth and as a commercial center. Although state legislation had designated Naperville as the county seat when DuPage was formed, there was a move to relocate county business to the burgeoning northern community town. A vote in 1857 kept DuPage County quartered in Naperville. However, a third vote in 1867 favored Wheaton. Naperville challenged the vote accusing some election judges of leaving their post during lunch when duplicate ballot stuffing occurred.

While the courts were considering the case, a group of Wheatonites carefully executed their plot to remove the county records from Naperville’s courthouse in the dead of the night. Located in Central Park, near the First Congregational Church, the church’s bell was rung by Judge Cody as soon as the theft was detected. Although Wheaton did eventually become the seat of DuPage County government, the county records were temporarily relocated to Cook County while the courts deliberated. And as a result, three years later DuPage County records were lost in the Chicago Fire of 1871... that is, all except one box that fell off the wagon that fateful night.

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Copyright © 2009 First Congregational Church