Illiana tollway impact: Farm’s farewell would mean uprooting a way of life
BY SUSAN DEMAR LAFFERTY email@example.com July 6, 2014 9:31PM
Raising pigs has been a tradition at the Murdie family farm, one that John Murdie now is passing on to his grandchildren. | Susan DeMar Lafferty/Sun-Times Media
The Illiana Tollway Impact
There are many properties and faces that are part of the rural landscape of southern Will County — many folks who have made country life their livelihood, their dream, their retirement.
They have stories to tell about what it means to live out here, to grow up here, surrounded by vast open space during the day and by quiet and dark skies at night.
Now they worry deeply about their future and the future of rural Will County. The proposed Illiana tollway that will plow a 47-mile concrete path through this farmland from Interstate 55 in Wilmington to I-65 in Lowell, Indiana, forever will change the landscape, and uproot their lives in the process, they said.
The project is awaiting federal approval and a funding plan involving both states, and likely a private partnership. Neither likely is to be acted upon until at least the fall, but that only prolongs their anguish.
They came out here to escape city life. It was the last place they ever expected to see such a roadway built.
Their shock has given way to anger, fear, resignation and questions — many more questions than for which there are answers.
The SouthtownStar has met many of these people in the path, sat down at their kitchen tables, walked along their land and listened to their stories.
This is the second in a six-part occasional series presenting what they had to say.
Updated: July 7, 2014 2:07AM
Second in an occasional six-part series.
Adopting pigs as pets has been a longstanding tradition at the Murdie farm in Wilton Center, an unincorporated community in southern Will County.
Every spring, young piglets would arrive at the farm in the 30700 block of South Cedar Road, to be raised for fun and 4H shows by John and Denise Murdie’s four children.
Their children now are adults, but the tradition continues. This spring, three pigs arrived in late April to be raised now by their three grandsons.
“We really wanted to give our grandchildren the farm life experience. They think it’s the greatest thing in the world,” Murdie said as he sat at the kitchen table in the farmhouse once owned by his grandparents.
Pigs were the pet of choice, since his kids had allergies and couldn’t have a dog or a cat. At one time, they had as many as 16, he said.
“It’s so nice to be able to pull into the driveway and see the pigs,” he said.
With one of his sons, Murdie still farms the 120 acres his grandparents bought on Wilton Center Road back in 1917, and he shares ownership of the land with his sister.
The family farm is just a few years shy of being considered a “centennial farm” — one that has been in the same family for at least 100 years.
The Murdies fear they won’t reach that landmark, and wonder if their pig tradition will last beyond this year.
Since the Illiana tollway was first proposed, their house and farm have been right in the middle of it, with a planned intersection on Cedar (Wilton Center) Road, Murdie said.
“My grandparents survived the Great Depression and everything and I’m losing the family farm to a road,” he said, dejectedly.
When he returned home from the initial meeting with landowners a couple of years ago and told his wife they were in the footprint, she said he must have misread the map.
“Of all the acreage, what is the luck that we are sitting right in the middle of the road?” Murdie said. “Who would have thought that our home and farm would be in the middle of an interstate in Will County? I never would have dreamed this. It’s sad. The only time one would consider selling is to make a profit.”
“We always intended to keep it in the family. There’s a lot of memories here,” his wife Denise said, recalling how her four kids attended Wilton Center School down the street, and how they planted four evergreens in their yard — one for each child.
Despite all the growth and changes in Will County in the last 20 years, this area has remained rural, untouched by development, until now.
Many of the farming family names have remained the same, and the people here all grew up together.
“If you are not a farmer you do not understand that this is our life, our retirement. Farming is a big business. This is my income. This is my everything,” Murdie said sadly.
“You want to feel like there is something you can do about it. But we have no choice. It’s hard. This means nothing to anyone else but us.”
The Murdies hope to buy another farm in the area, close enough so that John can continue to farm land in nearby Symerton. They need at least 10 acres to raise pigs.
But they also know that other displaced farmers are looking for land, which may cause prices to spike, he said.
While they have had a hard time adjusting to the reality of being forced to sell the family farm, “we are resigned to it,” Denise said.
“It has taken us a couple of years to get to this point. We cannot do anything about it. It is what it is. I am just glad we do not have to move our kids out of their school.”
Even though they are resigned to the reality of the new tollway, they are distressed about their future and the lack of answers from the state at this time.
“This has totally disrupted our lives,” Murdie said.
The letter from one of the appraisal firms hired by the Illinois Department of Transportation is on the front of their refrigerator, held by a magnet. The state wants to do appraisals now, so it is ready to make an offer as soon as it gets federal approval.
But it begs so many questions from the Murdies, who want answers, just as many others in the path do.
“Will they give us what it’s worth?”
“When do we have to move out?”
“How much time will we have to move once they buy our house?”
“Do we hang on as long as possible, or get out and move on?”
“Do they pay our moving expenses?”
“Will they help us find a place?”
“Why don’t they widen Wilmington-Peotone Road instead?”
“They are telling us nothing. We just don’t know anything,” Murdie said. “I just don’t know. I just don’t know.”
As he sat somberly at the kitchen table, he also pondered the deeper questions.
“What is the future of rural Will County? If the airport comes and the road comes, it will drastically change the appearance of Will County. What will it be like in 20 to 30 years?” he wants to know.
And lastly, “What would my grandparents think?”