Naperville 1920 Flashback: Power Farming
1920 was the first year that America’s population tipped toward an urban rather than rural majority. DuPage County and the surrounding area was still mainly farmland and towns like Naperville supplied farmers’ needs.
Motorized tractors for the most up-to-date Power Farming were quite new. Henry Ford and his son Edsel had only started offering their Fordson tractor in 1917. It ran on kerosene and was intended to replace horses and oxen on farms. Because Ford’s automobiles had already created a widespread sales network, Fordson tractors were a favorite purchase.
The Cromer Bros. in Naperville sold the Henry Ford & Son tractors as well as the Mogul 10-20 from International Harvester. According to the Naperville Clarion newspaper ad about a “Power Farming” presentation, they operated out of a building at 22 Water Street. When one looks at the 1921 Sanborn map, however, it’s clear that this earlier Water Street is on the opposite side of the DuPage River from where Water Street is today.
That short stretch of Water Street in the 1920s extended from Chicago Avenue where Washington Street intersects and is now considered part of Chicago Avenue. This Clarion ad invites farmers to 22 Water Street and looking at the Sanborn map, there is a “Farm Machinery” building identified at that location, which seems to place it east of today’s Empire restaurant, where the photography studio is now. All of the buildings on that side of the street have changed hands many times and exactly which building housed Cromer’s I have not been able to confirm.
Motor Co. Inc. is also listed in early 1920s directories across the street at 13-19 Water Street. In 1946, the Preemption House, which was at 25 Water Street, was torn down and Cromer Motors grew into that space as well. Today, that is the home of Sullivan’s restaurant.
Unfortunately, as the decade wore on, agriculture faced a combination of factors that sent farming into a tailspin. After the first World War ended, there was less demand for grain and Prohibition contributed since grain was not needed to make alcohol either. At the same time, mechanical farming was improving yields which caused a drastic surplus and falling prices. The plight of farmers preceded the Great Depression by several years, even while urban dwellers thriving.