The town of Weston in Illinois, USA has a strange history. The area has a rich pioneer past but with the move from the cities to new towns in the 1960’s providing development potential, plans were drawn up to turn Weston into a city of 50,000 with all the conveniences required by such a community. That never happened and instead it became the site for the National Accelerator Laboratory, turning it into a ghost town as a result.
The area in which the town of Weston was located was the last parcel of land in Illinois to be settled. Although originally allocated to Native American tribes in 1816, the land was eventually transferred to the government in 1833 following the Black Hawk War. Despite allegations that the land was coerced from the Native Americans, they began to leave.
The French were the first settlers to arrive in the area, coming from areas like Detroit and Quebec. The French fur trapper, DuPage, was an important figure at the time and the county in which Weston was situated was named for him. Soon, other settlers arrived in the area. The Gary family arrived in 1832 and set up a Methodist church. The city of Gary in Indiana was named after Elbert Gary. Over the next hundred or so years, the area remained a sparse farming community. Things quickly changed after World War II.
An exodus of people from the cities to the suburbs prompted the construction of West Field in DuPage County, west of Chicago. 100 homes were constructed but the developer ran out of money and the government took over ownership. Many of those who had moved to West Field decided to stay and buy their homes. The name was changed to Weston.
Soon after, the developer William Riley unveiled plans to transform Weston into a city of 50,000 people. It was to feature the largest mall in North America, with over 2,000 stores, as well as an airport, more than 11,000 homes and a town center. Local DuPage county officials mounted a legal challenge and in April 1964, the plans were thrown out. Weston was ultimately incorporated as a town but that decision was soon overturned and it became a village once again.
Hoping to grow the village, the local council submitted a letter of interest to the United States Atomic Energy Commission who were looking for a location for their national laboratory. Weston was placed on a final shortlist of 6 locations and was eventually selected by the AEC as the site for the National Accelerator Laboratory.
The villagers celebrated what they thought was a major victory however their delight soon turned to despair as it was realised the plan for the laboratory included the village itself. They had voted for Weston to become the site of the National Accelerator Laboratory and in doing so, voted themselves out of existence. With no alternative, the residents were forced to leave and Weston was abandoned in 1966.
The National Accelerator Laboratory was opened in 1969 and some of the homes and farmhouses from Weston were converted into offices to save time and money. The main ring of the accelerator was completed in March 1972. A new high-rise laboratory block was completed soon after and in 1974, it was renamed Fermilab in honour of Italian scientist Enrico Fermi.
Fermilab contain to maintain the small pioneer cemetery on the site. It is the resting place Thompson Mead, a general in the War of 1812. There are 16 identifiable burials in the cemetery, all from the 19th century. There are very few other signs that the village of Weston ever existed.