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Our History

From Trier to New Trier

trier germanyAs the oldest city in Germany, the recorded history of Trier begins in the middle of the first century BC when Julius Caesar conquered the region and thereby integrated the desirable and fertile lands along the banks of the Moselle River into the Roman Empire. However, an inscription on a 17th century building in Trier states:
Ante Roman Treviris Stit Annis Mille Trecentis: Perstet Et Aeterna Pace fruatar. Amen.
This means "Trier Existed 1,300 years before Rome: May it remain forever and enjoy eternal peace."

The Roman emperor, Constantine, lived in Trier and made it the seat of the empire for eleven years. In order to protect this valuable colony, a fortified gate to the city was built. Originally constructed with light sandstone, it became darkened over time and became known as the 'black gate' or Porta Nigra. History shows that Trier did not see the 'eternal peace' it prayed for as the city was sacked repeatedly for hundreds of years until Trier became part of Prussia in the early 1800's. This continued conflict was a major factor why so many German people immigrated to the United States in the early 19th century.

Besides my Heinzen and Spies ancestors who also left Trier at that time, my great, great, great grandfather, John Schildgen left as well. Orphaned as a young child, he sailed for America in the spring of 1845 at the tender age of sixteen. Moving in with an uncle in Chicago, he hauled wood to earn a few dollars. After overcoming much economic hardship, he and his uncle saved enough money to purchase 30 acres of land near Winnetka for $142. Later, they sold the land to the North-Western Railroad Company for $75 per acre. With that good fortune, John married Katharina Wilhelm, a newcomer with her parents from Oldenburg, Germany at St. Joseph's Church. They built a home together and were blessed with fourteen children. He also became a wealthy landowner; he and a brother-in-law once owned the entire Indian Hills tract. Although he attended public school in his native land, John Schildgen did not have the privilege of attending English schools. He was self-taught and became a well-informed man, but he realized the disadvantages of not learning English in the public schools and insisted that all of his children learn the language of his adopted land. Further, he wanted his neighbors' children to have the same advantage so he took an active part in the organization of public schools. In spite of strong opposition from his neighbors, he worked to have the township divided into school districts. He became Gross Point's school director and won a post on the Gross Point Board of Education which he held for fourteen years. In addition, he held various positions of trust as Township Treasurer, Township Trustee, Collector, Assessor, Supervisor and Commissioner, and Justice of the Peace. Discharging his duties with promptness and fidelity, he was recognized by Chicago Magazine with the following: "No man in the community has done more to advance the cause of education in Wilmette than John Schildgen. >> See more in article "The Good Old Days"

The early settlers of our community must have felt a sense of pride in their new home in New Trier Township. The symbol of their homeland, the Porta Nigra, became the logo for New Trier High School. The original New Trier High School building was built in an architectural style modeled after the town hall of Trier, Germany. New Trier High School students put together a pictorial record of the 1909 school year in a book called 'The Trevian" and the New Trier athletes later became known as 'Trevians' after the Treveri Tribe, which may have once inhabited Trier before the Romans.