DeKALB – The story behind Joseph F. Glidden’s life is one many people don’t know. But it’s a story those at the Joseph F. Glidden Homestead love to tell.
Born Jan. 18, 1813, the “Father of Barbed Wire” moved from New England to DeKalb in 1842 with aspirations of becoming a farmer. He built a log cabin on the property that Burger King now occupies at 913 W. Lincoln Highway in DeKalb. In 1861, Glidden built the historic home that now sits at 921 W. Lincoln Highway.
“The fact that this site has been preserved is just short of a miracle,” said Marcia Wilson, the homestead’s executive director.
The Joseph F. Glidden Homestead will celebrate the life and accomplishments of one of DeKalb’s greatest innovators at its annual meeting at 7 p.m. Monday at the site’s Welcome Center, 921 W. Lincoln Highway in DeKalb. Glidden would be 200 years old if he were alive today.
Glidden and his wife, Lucinda, only lived in the house, which is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, until the 1870s. From that time until 1998, many of Glidden’s relatives occupied and preserved the house. The last Glidden to live there was Joseph’s great-niece, Jessie.
Behind the house sits the barn where Glidden manufactured his invention of barbed wire, which was patented in 1874. Wilson said many farmers had issues keeping their livestock fenced in at that time. The only fencing options were unreliable wooden fences or stone fences that were unique to certain areas.
“We don’t realize how important he was in the farming industry at the time,” Wilson said.
Before his death in 1906, Glidden had a hand in just about everything in town.
He gave the right of way to the railroad system to come through town, he published the Daily Chronicle for eight years, and he donated the first 65 acres to Northern Illinois University’s now 756 acre campus. Wilson said Glidden was definitely one of the earliest developers of the city of DeKalb.“He just touches kind of every corner of the community,” she said.
Glidden’s legacy continues in DeKalb today. Jessie Glidden’s niece, Sarah Glidden DeMink of Downers Grove, and nephew, Richard Glidden of St. Anne, are both members of the homestead’s board of directors.
Wilson said the board plans to expand the homestead and open more of the home’s rooms to the public in the future. Grants from Northern Illinois Antiques Dealers Association and Chicago Suburban Antiques Dealers Association are helping them cover those expenses.
Although it sits along one of DeKalb’s main roads, Wilson said the house often appears to be hidden among the many businesses and residences that have since been developed. She said local blacksmiths are working on an eight-foot sign resembling a scroll to be placed in front of the home, which they will present at Monday’s meeting.
The meeting will highlight the homestead’s accomplishments this past year. The board will also recognize the Highland family, who are descendants of Joseph’s nephew, Chase Glidden. The Highlands donated a family Bible to be displayed at the homestead.
The homestead will reopen for the season May 19 with an open house. May 19 also will be the only day this year the barn will be open to the public.