This article originally appeared in the July 20, 1958 issue of the Northtown News, a Chicago neighborhood newspaper. It was told to the reporter by Sophie Wiltgen, Christian's second daughter.
|At 90, Still
Lives on Land that Used to be her Farm
A teen-aged girl who rode her dad's horse and wagon to market at Randolph and Des Plaines for six years because her dad was crippled with arthritis back in 1882, is marking her 90th birthday!
Mrs. Sophia Wiltgen, 7434 N. Rockwell, will celebrate her birthday Monday at Luxembourg Gardens in Morton Grove. She will be surrounded by three generations, of which she is the matriarch.
Born July 21 1868, in Fond du Lac, WI, she first moved to Mayville, WI, and at the age of 4 came to Chicago, where she has been ever since.
Her father Christian Heckenbach settled on Larrabee near North Ave. and plied his trade as a glazier in a paint shop on Clark St. near Chicago Ave. He soon went into business for himself, opening a grocery store at Halsted and North Ave.
At 13 Sophia took a job in a factory on Wells and Goethe. Her employer put her to work making tassels for furniture and paid her one dollar a week.
Sophia was 14 when the family moved further north, to Broadway and Thorndale, and rented 10 acres of land for truck farming.
Her father soon became so badly crippled with arthritis that he could no longer take the produce to market by horse and wagon. For the next six years, Sophia regularly took the produce to market alone, leaving home at 1 a.m. to get a good place on Market Street at Randolph and Des Plaines.
At St. Henry's Church, Ridge and Devon, where she sang in the choir, Sophia met Martin Wiltgen who began parking his wagon of produce alongside hers on Market St. In 1889 they were married in St. Henry's and for the next three years rented a 20-acre farm at East Prairie Road and Howard.
Three years later they acquired five of the 24 acres owned by Martin's father, whose farm reached south and east from Howard and California. In 1892 they built a house for themselves on this property, and the house still stands today on the southeast corner of California and Fargo. Later they bought 6 1/2 more acres.
Their marriage was blessed with eight children born in the years 1891-1903: [list]...
Sophia's husband fought a losing battle with asthma and died on Oct 23 1915. All her children married and today she has 21 grandchildren and 30 great grandchildren.
One son and five grandsons served in the United States Armed Forces. Two granddaughters became nuns as Sisters of Charity of the Blessed Virgin Mary (B.V.M.s), and a grandson became a Divine Word Missionary priest.
When St. Margaret Mary's Parish was founded in Rogers Park by Rev. George T. McCarthy in 1921 one of her grandchildren, Margaret Mary Cunningham, nee Welter, 7522 N. Oakley, was the first one baptized and was named after the parish patron according to the pastor's wish.
Sophia Wiltgen's present home is on the eastern
end of her former farm which stretched north and south of
Fargo from Rockwell to California.
"A view of the Wiltgen farm near Fargo and
Rockwell, circa 1916. In the background stands the Chicago Fresh
Air Sanitarium. If you were standing on this spot today, the
Howard-Western Shopping Center would be in view. "---From
the former Rogers Park-West Ridge Historical Society webpage
A picture of the Wiltgen Farm in 1910, from the
book Neighborhoods Within Neighborhoods
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updated July 8, 2012