Skokie Historical Society
Henry Harms, the "many sided genius", popularly known as "Farmer Harms", often referred to as "the great man of Niles Township", and known all over cook County, was born at Mecklenburg, Schwerine, Germany, on September 29th, 1831.
Immigrating to the United States in 1851, he worked at farming, near Chicago, for three years. During this time he succeeded in getting his family to American, with the exception of his elder brother.
He purchased a farm in Niles Center in 1854, and in 1855 he married Louisa Nickolas of Mecklenburg. They had eleven children, five boys and six girls.
The foundation of the village of Niles Center was virtually laid by henry Harms in 1854 in the building of the first small frame house at the corner of Miller's Mill Road, which runs north and south,, and Harms Avenue (now Oakton Street) which runs east and west through the village.
In 1858 he began the business of merchandising, selling hardware and provisions, until 1862, when he opened a store in the front of his home which he had built in 1860.
Henry Harms seemed to hold all offices, from the humblest to the highest in Cook County. He first served as Constable in 1855, then as Commissioner of Highways. In 1860 he was elected Supervisor, which office he held until the Board of Commissioners was established in 1871. Another office to which he was appointed was Cook County Drainage Commissioner.
In 1861, when the Civil War broke out, Abraham Lincoln appointed Mr. Harms to draft soldiers for the war.
This busy man was also known as "The Magic Road Builder". He was the originator of Lincoln Avenue. The first section that he built was then known as Niles Center Gravel Road. It extended from the bend at Galitz Avenue and Niles Center Road to East Prairie Road. A little later Mr. Harms opened Lincoln Avenue as far as Halsted Street. Practically the entire road was made of planks. The country at that time was one grand primeval forest of fine stately trees, and it is hard for one to realize the difficulties encountered in the making of a road. He operated five toll gates along Lincoln Avenue, and the revenue derived from this method of taxation was used to maintain the road. He owned and controlled this road from 1866 to 1880, at which time it was taken over by the County
Mr. Harms was one of the thirty-five original members of the German Evangelical Lutheran St. Peter's Church in Niles Center, which was organized May 5, 1867.
In the early part of 1867 he was appointed as Delegate to Springfield to procure from the Legislature the enactment of the Bounty Tax for Niles Township. He was successful in his mission, the act having been approved on February 12, 1867, and the tax of 3% being levied on December 18, 1867.
He was nominated for the office of County Treasurer in 1871, and was thought to be elected, but this could note be proven, because the ""Big Chicago Fire" broke out at that time, and the ballots were burned.
In the fall of 1875 he was awarded the contract for building the foundation and sub-basement of the Chicago Court House, which he finished in a highly satisfactory manner in 1876. It might be of interest to know that the wooden piles used in this foundation came from Niles Center.
He was the first Postmaster at Niles Center (being appointed in 1864, and retaining the position for about twelve years) and the founder of three school districts east of the river. He had a store in Niles Center for six years and was a stock-older in the Chicago, Milwaukee, and St. Paul Railroad. The drainage of Niles Township and the construction of nearly all the public works were conducted under his supervision.
He built the first electric road in the country in Cincinnati, and he owned and operated the Galesburg and Great Eastern Railroad, which ran from Victoria to Wataga and Etherly, Illinois, connecting with the Chicago, Burlington, and Quincy Railroad.
At one time he owned over one thousand acres of Cook County real estate.
Mr. Harms died on March first, 1914, at the age of eighty-seven years - - his name going down in history as one of the real pioneers of Niles Center.
Time is rapidly sweeping from the scene of action the pioneers of our country. Even the recollection of their busy life would soon be a thing of the past, were no attempt made to perpetuate the history of this noble and worthy race of men and women.
The pioneers, without murmur, suffered privations and difficulties in the early settlement of this country. By their energy, bravery, and sound practical sense they have paved the way for the present enjoyment of our modern conveniences.
Compiled from data
procured from histories and records of Cook County and Niles Township.
Skokie Historical Society