Sunday, February 07, 2021

Chicago Heights

Harris Decatur (H.D.) Booge was born on a farm near Pittsford, Vermont in 1827. He attended school until he was 12 and at 14 worked at a fishery in Albany, New York. Booge bounced around cities along the Great Lakes and Erie Canal until 1854 when he took a train to St. Louis where he dabbled in a Mississippi River steamboat service. He then, according to him, created the first meat packing plant in Sioux City, Iowa and the first steam flour mill. About the time of the Civil War, Booge owned several large groceries and was an investor in the railroad in the Dakotas. The railroad went bankrupt losing Booge up to $3,000,000.

Booge wound up in Topeka where, as he had done throughout his life, he dipped his toe in numerous ventures, mostly real estate. In early 1888, Booge bought a quarter mile section of land and platted a “suburb” of Topeka—Chicago Heights. Located 11 miles north of Topeka and one mile from the depot at Kilmer, Booge advertised his town to prospects in Chicago, New York, Philadelphia, Toronto, London, and Paris. The advertisement described a beautiful and ready-to-move-in suburb of a fast-growing Kansas city along a railroad line. According to the plat, Monroe, Quincy, Kansas, Jackson, and Van Buren streets were “extended” north with cross-streets of 21st through 25th streets and bordered by Grant, Sherman, Sheridan, and Garfield Boulevards. Booge managed to convince the King of Saxony, governors of several Mexican states, and a large number of Europeans to invest in the land. Topekans, however, knew that Chicago Heights was nothing more than a pasture. Booge then incorporated the Chicago Heights, Potwin Place, & South Topeka Electric Motor Railway Company to better attract attention of more prospective buyers. Like the suburb, the interurban trolley never materialized either.
Plat of Chicago Heights

Seeing how popular—and lucrative—the Louisiana Lottery was, Booge decided to take the $300,000 he made from Chicago Heights and go down to Mexico where he was able to convince Mexican President Porfirio Diaz to start and run a lottery. Booge would give President Diaz a percentage of monies earned and Booge would take the rest. Eventually, President Diaz wanted more money and when Booge refused, Diaz nationalized the lottery and Booge lost everything. He returned to Topeka a poor man.

But H.D. Booge wouldn’t be kept down. Despite Chicago Heights and even his own mansion being repossessed for delinquent taxes, Booge continued being a jack of all trades. The Booge mansion became the Salvation Army Hospital and Booge, and his wife Jane, moved around the corner to another property that he owned. Some of Booge’s careers were pigeon and squab marketing, chattel mortgage lender, matrimony agent (basically a matchmaker finding women for lonely men), and airship inventor. All these jobs tended to get him into trouble either financially or legally. When a woman wanted to divorce her husband and sue for alimony because he was abusive and had essentially been abandoned by him, the man denied knowing her. Booge initially refused to admit that he had them married but then relented costing the husband thousands of dollars in alimony. As for the airship, for more than a year Booge said that his airship, a dirigible capable of sailing through the air up to 100 miles a minute and carry 100 passengers. He kept the plans secret, never showing them to anyone, and talk of the airship ceases after 1912. But that didn’t stop Booge from writing to Czar Nicholas of Russia telling him to expect him in St. Petersburg.

Jane Winnie Booge died after three years of sickness on March 12, 1904 at the age of 74. Harris Decatur died June 20, 1916 at the age of 89. They had one daughter, Nell. Both Jane and H.D. are buried in Bellefontaine Cemetery in St. Louis, Missouri. As for Chicago Heights, most of the land was later sold to M.L. George. George bought about 1,000 lots in Chicago Heights for about $1,000. The land was originally sold for $100 and $200 and even more if they were centered around the never-built cathedral. Today, the land that was Chicago Heights is owned by five different people in Soldier Township at 70th & Kincaid.

Illustration of H.D. Booge from an article
on interesting Topeka citizens.

If you would like to support my writing and research, you can buy me a cup of coffee over on Ko-fi.