Hazelwood Estates

Lee County IL

In 1929 the late Charles R. Walgreen, the widely known drug merchant purchased an estate along a river....and became a friend to man.

When Mr. and Mrs. Walgreen became the owners of the Hazelwood Estate near Dixon, they accepted a tradition of hospitality when began more than a hundred years before. This tradition they reaffirmed and it has been maintained in later by Mrs. Walgreen.

To many famous travelers over a bygone era to the present the words "Hazelwood" and "Hospitality" have been synonymous. There amid a natural beauty of law, forest and river the peace that surpasses all understanding has been experienced by many weary travelers and those receptive to the charms of nature.

The guestbook at Hazelwood contains many of the most well known names of the past 100 years. There have been writers, poets, artists, leaders in government, industrialists, educators, statesmen and many many more.

The History of Hazelwood goes back more than a century to 1837 - a year when the loftiest fortunes were tumbling and the country was swept by financial ruin. In the midst of this crisis many men turned their faces westward, resolving to get away from the eastern center of financial failures and seeking freedom from the blasts of panic and business troubles. One of these men was Alexander Charters of New York City.

Chartes had read about the West and its inviting freedom, opportunities and possibilities for business in and around the lead mines of Galena where great fortunes were being made. But more attractive to him were the stories of the country's beauty, its wildness and its historic setting. Since 1832 eastern newspapers had been singing the praises of the Rock River valley country.

The great migration westward in 1835 had taken thousands from the east and led them to the Rock river country with Dixon's Ferry as a focal point. Once established each one of those who came here wrote back describing the towering cliffs and fertile valleys and Dixon's Ferry became almost important as the lead mines.

Alexander Charters schooled in business and reared in University life was described as "broad of shoulders, large of intellect, and braver of heart, but he had his sentimental side". Drawn by the lure of nature he resolved to forget his troubles and find refuge int he west.

Charters invited his younger brother Samuel to seek Dixon's Ferry, explore the surrounding countryside and to make a claim to an inviting spot where the older brother might live in retirement, peace and comfort.

When in 1837 Samuel Charters reached Dixon's Ferry he he found the most beautiful spot in all the west - a section of land, 640 acres. The land was not then on the market so he chose it as a claim, to hold until it might be posted later for sale by the government. He constructed a log cabin on the land and reported his actions to his brother.

In 1838, Alexander Charters loaded his belongings in a sailing vessel, took with him, his servants and some friends and sailed for New Orleans. From that point by steamboat, the party followed the Mississippi River and Rock Rivers to Dixon's Ferry. At a distance of about 3 miles from the Ferry, Alexander moved into the Log Cabin.

At once Charters became interested in the new country and its people. He became friends with John Dixon and he decided that fortune had been generous with him and settled wisely and happily the most difficult problem of a lifetime.

The new estate was named Hazelwood and at once it became the center of great hospitality. The added number of guests attracted to Hazelwood made it necessary for Charters to plan the erection of a suitable frame mansion. It is doubtful if at that time, there was a single frame house between Peoria and the lead mine area.

Governor Charters Log cabin at Hazelwood about 1860 (Contributed by Karen Holt)
History of Lee County Illinois by Frank E. Stevens Vol 1 published 1914

Thus early Hazelwood became the center of hospitality and warm welcome. Among the famous people who were among the first to visit Hazelwood were: John D. Whiteside, member of the famous Whiteside family which furnished heros in two wars in Illinois and in innumerable Indian raids; John Shillabar who brought with him in 1851 the news of the Illinois Central Railroads plan to build to Dixon; William Cullen Bryant, who on a visit to his brother living in Princeton Il., made a special trip to see Hazelwood and to meet Charters; Philip Kearney, wealthy native of New York and officer in the United States Army; Margaret Fuller (Ossoli) brilliant young poetress; Bayard Taylor man of letters; Stephen A. Douglas, the little giant of oratory and many many others.

Within three years after the arrival of Charters, Hazelwood had reached a reputation of beauty so outstanding, and he himself had received a reputation for hospitality so commanding that visits were made to him by many people foremost in American life. Nor were there visitors confined to one class. The literary, the military, the professional and the civil leaders were among those who later testified to its attractions.

Charters, born at Belfast on July 7, 1800 came from a distinguished ancestry. His family had moved from Scotland to Ireland many years before his birth. All the advantages of culture and wealth were his. His father readily consented to let him go to New York at the age of 17, where he entered a store to serve apprenticeship. Later he opened his own business as junior member of the firm J. & A. Charters; linen merchants. During the period 1817 - 1830 he made frequent visits to Ireland and on one trip married Miss Ellen Boomer, daughter of a large manufacturer. Charters extended his visit to Belfast until the birth of his only child James Boomer Charters born July 11, 1831. Very soon after the birth the mother died. Charters died at Hazelwood on Sept. 18, 1878.

After the death of Charters the glory of the estate lanquished. George H. Page, a Dixon-Palmyra youth, bought the place with the intention of spending his life there. He spent a fortune on improvements but in a short time he became ill and died. Charles H. Hughes, another Dixon-Palmyra man, who was a banker and state senator, then bought the estate. He added to the log cabin and entertained lavishly, bringing Hazelwood back to its golden days, but presently he too passed away.

In 1929 the property became the Dixon home of Charles R. Walgreen and his family. Since then the glory of Hazelwood has continued - never ending years which have added to the century old tradition of hospitality.

The Dixon Evening Telegraph 01 May 1951

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