Israel Porter Blodgett
2017 Founder of the Year
Born in Amherst, Massachusetts on March 4, 1797, the day that John Adams was inaugurated second president of the United States, Israel Porter Blodgett was the 5th generation of Blodgetts to live in America. His ancestors were from England and his grandfather fought in the Revolutionary War. They were blacksmiths for generations and passed the trade down to Israel. Israel was the oldest of the 12 children in his family and as a young man became an apprentice blacksmith at the United States Armory in Springfield and went to work at Harper’s Ferry, Virginia. His co-workers were slaves and after advising them how to escape north to freedom, he lost his position. Returning to Massachusetts he made wagon wheels, gun barrels and anchor chains with swivels for ships. He married Avis Dodge in 1820 when he as 23.
By 1830 he made the decision to move west and organized the Hampshire Colony, a group going to Illinois, leaving his wife and children in Massachusetts until he could find a place to settle. His first stop in Illinois was Naperville where he brought his family to live. It was here in 1832 his family fled to Ft. Dearborn during the Black Hawk War while Israel volunteered under the command Capt. Joseph Naper to defend the homesteads.
By 1836 the Blodgett family moved to Downers Grove. They purchased about 500 acres of land on what is now Maple Avenue to farm and set up a blacksmith shop. In 1846, after ten years living in a log cabin, Israel built a one-and-a half story house with rustic hand-hewn black walnut joists and simple clapboard exterior. This home became a stop on the Underground Railroad as the Blodgett’s helped slaves to escape to freedom. Today, the house is one of the oldest in Downers Grove and is currently the site of the Downers Grove Museum campus.
When Israel Blodgett died in 1861 he left a wife and six sons. He was recognized for being a friend to the pioneers and the local Native Americans. He was an experienced blacksmith, an inventor of a self-scouring plow to cut thru the prairie grass and an abolitionist. One of his last wishes was to be buried in a simple pine coffin as he found it would last better in the wet prairie ground. He told his sons to cover it with black cloth if they wanted to hide the pine box. This burial method would soon be used by many. His grave can be found in the Main Street Cemetery in Downtown Downers Grove.
The Downers Grove Historical Society is happy to honor Israel Porter Blodgett as the Founder of the Year for 2017.
Contributed by Lois Sterba