Guest Columnist Reflects on Black History Month

undergroundrailroad[1]193616Born and raised in Chicago Heights, I wanted to share a little, since black history
month is here. As a child I was able to visit Canada to see places and trails on the Underground Railroad.
My parents, both being African American, wanted me to see what African Americans had to
experience to achieve freedom. Recently, I have learned that the Underground Railroad was also
here in Chicago Heights.
The “Underground Railroad” became a major force leading to the
elimination of slavery. Runaway slaves called passengers, usually traveled to their
destinations by night either alone or in small groups. Whenever possible black and
white abolitionists provided food and shelter at stopping places known as “stations”
or served as “conductors” providing transportation between stations. The Underground Railroad remained active until the end of the Civil war as black bondsmen continued to use the system to flee the horrors of slavery.
The Bacheldor and McCoy homes in Thorn Grove, later Chicago Heights, were stops on the Underground
Railroad. When I found this information out, I became admirable of Chicago Heights.  How brave my ancestors were to
travel North, knowing that they might have had to travel this way for freedom.  It makes me realize how much America as changed since that time. I agree American still needs more growth change. But what I can say, I am glad to be an American. Land of the free and home of the brave.

Belinda James

Belinda James is a member of the Chicago Heights Historic Preservation Advisory Committee

A few notes: Sauk Trail is one of the early, highly traveled Native American trails used heavily between 1849 and 1853 by those traveling West for gold, to Iowa for land, or to Kansas or Canada to escape slavery. The Bacheldor farm was located at the intersection of what is now Sauk Trail and Western Avenues, the McCoy’s about a mile east near Thorn Creek. These families hid slaves from Missouri between Joliet and Dyer on their way to Canada. – Chicago Heights; At the Crossroads of the Nation by Dominic Candeloro & Barbara Paul800px-Undergroundrailroadsmall2

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2012 in review

Hi All.  Happy 2013!

 As you may know, this blog was a way for us, the Chicago Heights Historic Preservation Advisory Committee (CHHPAC), to reach out a little further and share information and stories about Chicago Heights History. I think I can speak for our group when I say the committee is pleased at the progress we made here in 2012.  We’d like to send a “Thank YOU!!” to those who subscribe to our meager blog, to those who have found their way here one way or another, and those who have commented on our posts.

This blog got about 3100 views last year, the most popular posts being “Al Capone’s Tunnels”, “Bloomvale Cemetary”, and “Chicago Heights; The Crossroads of the Nation”. Visitors came from 45 different countries!

Many of us go about our days without looking around or thinking of our connection in this world. To me, when you stop and think about the stories linked to the places around you, things that happened years -or centuries – ago, it brings new light on your life today. A connection is made.

A couple of weeks ago, I read The Hangman’s Daughter by Oliver Potzsch. Mr. Potzsch’s inspiration to write the novel was because of his family’s genealogy research. He is a descendant of  a 17th century Bavarian hangmen family. The novel uses the real names of a few of those.  In the “Kind of Postscript” at the end of the book, Mr. Potzsch writes something about why genealogy has become “increasingly popular”.   He writes:

“Perhaps one of the reasons for this is that we are trying, in a world of increasing complexity, to create a simpler and more understandable place for ourselves… We feel increasingly estranged, replaceable, and ephemeral. Genealogy gives us a feeling of immortality. The individual dies; the family lives on.”

This made a lasting impression on me, for I think as much as it is true of genealogy, these words apply directly to the importance of history in general and historic preservation. Why it is important to save places. The people die, their places/architecture lives on.

So, therein lies why we come here to tell these stories and share these places with you. Why we enjoy the interaction that a blog affords. A connection is made.

We had a pretty good run in 2012, and I hope that in this new year we continue to bring you and the world (seriously, some of you are quite far from here!) a little taste why the history and architecture of Chicago Heights – and your little corner of the world – is so important.

Thank you.

Not sure where on the internet I found this one, probably Chuckman's Collection. Anyway, thank you to those I have borrowed from on the internet, too!

Not sure where on the internet I found this one, probably Chuckman’s Collection. Anyway, thank you to those I have borrowed from on the internet, too!

Historic Elk’s Building – Union Street Gallery on Otto Blvd.

 

As promised, here is a bit more about our city’s very own:

Historic Elks Building – Union Street Gallery

1527 Otto Blvd.

Designated a local landmark November 2001, this structure was built to serve as the home of Lodge Number 1066 Benevolent and Protective Order of the Elks and occupied in 1927. At the time, the Chicago Heights Star newspaper proclaimed it “the finest and most complete club home in the city. The building has every modern convenience to make it an attractive place for members and their friends. There are two beautiful reception rooms for men and women, a lodge room and a kitchen on the first floor. On the second floor there is a large and beautifully arranged parlor equipped with attractive furniture, including a piano and a victrola. There are card games, billard rooms, another kitchen for smaller parties, and a hard-ball court with shower baths in connection.”

The building is red brick decorated with locally produced white terra cotta.  Inscribed prominently above the terra cotta entranceway is “B.P.O.E.1066”. High on the building, above the center second-story window, is a polychrome terra-cotta medallion depicting an elk head along with a clock.

The Elks closed the lodge in 1942 and in 1945 local merchant, Charles Pressendo, opened a furniture store at the location, remodeling the first floor to include two storefront display windows. The store remained open until 1978.

Picture of the Elks lodge during the City Hall fire in the 50’s

After twenty-seven years the building was sensitivly rehabilitated to house the Union Street Gallery, a not-for-profit arts incubator open to all artists that was being displaced from another building in the city.  The renovation preserved the original facade as well as the later added display windows. On the interior, the two-story open gallery space features the original steel I-beams above the mezanine level and main gallery. The third floor is filled with artists’ studios.

This blog entry has been co-written with CHHPAC member Pete Petrouski. Pete is also currently the president of Union Street Gallery’s board.

Driving the Dixie 2012

If you didn’t make it out to Chicago Heights for Driving the Dixie, you missed a wonderful event.

Over 300 people enjoyed the Gallery’s amazing art, our own Mike Bonhart’s fascinating display of Chicago Heights memorabilia, and all the cool CARS!

We gave away these great magnets to all that participated. –>

There was even a great display put up and staffed by the Park Forest Historical Society & Museum’s president, Michael Gans.  If you haven’t visited their museum, you really should get over there!  They also have an archive. Check out their website, and donate to keeping history alive.

Additionally, a hearty “Thank You” goes out to the Union Street Gallery for hosting the Driving the Dixie stop in Chicago Heights. It serves as a wonderful spot for people – many not from our area – to see what a wonderful art community we have, and some of our fantastic architecture. If you haven’t been to the Gallery yet, you really need to go, and go often. New shows are opening all the time. I see something new and wonderful each time I am there.

Call me crazy – you won’t be the first – but the  Elks Building/Union Street Gallery looked, well,  happy. If a building could smile, I think it was. Beautiful, used, cared for, and all the people enjoying it.  Well, it made me happy to see such a great building in its most recent incarnation so loved and vibrant.  And the Star building across the street made a nice backdrop for all the sweet rides that parked in front of it.

Check out some of the photos:

Driving the Dixie – The Chicago Heights Car Show!

This year we are again hosting a stop on the Driving the Dixie route.

Not only will we be at an amazing art gallery in a super-duper cool adaptive reuse of a historic building (stay tuned for that post…)  BUT we will also be the Car Show stop for the vintage cars.

SO, stop by between 10AM and Noon and enjoy!

Union Street Gallery, 1527 Otto Blvd., Chicago Heights

Thank you to the Union Street Gallery for hosting this great event!

FREE LECTURE – TUESDAY APRIL 17TH

Prints, slides, tintypes and more; do you feel overwhelmed by stacks of unorganized family photos? This workshop will teach you how to properly identify, store and preserve your family photos for future generations to enjoy. Using lots of hands-on examples, Lindsey Smith will guide you through the history of photography and the latest preservation products, and suggest ways to to make this daunting project less stressful and more manageable.

Lindsey Smith is the archivist at Des Moines University and the collections manager at the Iowa Jewish Historical Society. Prior to moving to Iowa, Lindsey was an archivist and exhibit developer at the Museum of Science and Industry in Chicago. She co-chairs the Iowa Museum Association’s Exhibits and Collections Committee and advises for the State Historical Society of Iowa’s Historical Research Development Program. Lindsey received a BA in History from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and an MA in Historical Administration from Eastern Illinois University.

An archival supply bag can be purchased for $10

TUESDAY, APRIL 17TH 2012 – 7PM   Union Street Gallery, 1527 Otto Blvd., Chicago Heights

Directions can be found on the Gallery’s “Contacts” page: Here

Bloomvale Cemetery – The Visit!

Many of you will remember the story of our long forgotten cemetery encircled by landfill. If not, find it here.

Well, today many of our committee went for a visit along with a couple of city officials. They helped us find our way back through the 12 foot reeds and we were able to uncover some headstones. The area is very over-grown. Very. And soggy.

The photos below are from today’s visit and of an earlier visit (when there was actually snow on the ground). The photo credit for those go to Anne Coffey who was our first scout.

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The good news is that the City is very willing to help reclaim this area. Our shared goal is to make it visitable once again. It is a large endeavor we have before us. Between the landfill, soil erosion, the invasive reeds (did I mention they are 12 feet tall?), rogue trees, and general neglect, it is going to take a village – or an entire city – and time to bring this story a happy ending.

We are planning organized outing(s) this spring and summer to clean and recover any stones that have sunk or are hidden in some way. We will keep you posted and hope you will be involved.

Here is the link to Find A Grave where you can see the list of known burials in the cemetery, that is, those interred after they started issuing permits in 1902. You may also find this list at our library.

**UPDATE**

SAVE THE DATE
Bloomvale Cemetery Clean-up Event Saturday June 7th 2014 10:00am – click link to sign up-
http://midwestcemetery.weebly.com/bloomvale-cemetery.html
**However, if you have mobility issues, this is not the event for you. Once this work day is complete, subsequent work days will be available for you to be involved and see this site.