Posts tagged ‘Chicago Heights History’

It’s a … Landmark!

Last night the Chicago Heights City Council voted to make our Ashland/Smith Park Field House a local Chicago Heights Landmark. We are so proud to add this great building to the city’s esteemed list. What could be better? Glad you asked, because I’ll tell you. It has a group of caring individuals, which include local alderman Sylvia Torres, as well as the blessing of the Park District which will carry it to a positive future for our community.

So, here is a bit on its history.

The Field House, at 1432 Ashland Avenue,  was built in 1926-27, it was dedicated on May 2, 1928.

Historic shot (1930s?) of West facade. Note the little bell in th upper niche.

Historic shot (1930s?) of West façade. Note the little bell in the upper niche.

Originally named the Ashland Avenue Playground, the park was the third public park developed by the Chicago Heights Park Board. In 1926, 4.082 acres of land was purchased from Horace M. Scott by bond issue for $17,000. Mr. Scott was an alderman and business owner in Chicago Heights who lived at 14th and Scott Avenue. Thomas J. Smith, whom the park is now named for, was a resident of Chicago Heights whose athletic achievement began through the Chicago Heights Park district.

The original landscape design and plantings were done by the notable Swain Nelson and Sons Company, a Chicago landscape firm known for designing Chicago’s Lincoln Park. (How cool is that? VERY. )They were also responsible for the plans for our Jirtle and Lincoln Center (King) parks.  The cost of the park is recorded at $23,264.

Ashland Ave Playground Design Plan

The Field House is one of those outstanding buildings that have both architectural and historical merit as a local landmark. Based on our Historic Preservation Ordinance, a landmark must meet one of eight criteria plus have integrity. The Field House meets FIVE of the eight criteria. Most of this structures’ original materials, elements of design, detailing, and craftsmanship remain and it retains the spirit and overall character of style of the original design.

The Ashland (Smith/Scott) Park Field House (referred as Field House) is an exceptional example of the Spanish Colonial Revival style of architecture of which a limited number of examples are found in Chicago Heights.  If you’ve got one, it is special, so don’t junk it up.

The Spanish Colonial Revival style of architecture is a revival of the Spanish Colonial architecture popular between 1600 and 1840. The  Field House shows a vernacular adaptation of the style of Mexican Baroque churches and missions as seen by its similarities to the Mission San Luis Rey, built in 1811 in what is now Oceanside, California (Now a National Historic Landmark).  The Spanish Colonial Revival style was most popular between the years 1915-1940 after being highlighted at the The Panama–California Exposition of 1915 held in San Diego, California.

Mission San Luis Rey Oceanside, CA

Mission San Luis Rey
Oceanside, CA

The Field House exhibits the common style characteristics of the Spanish Colonial Revival style of arched openings, red-tiled roofs, loggias, low-relief carvings highlighting windows, curvilinear and decorated parapets and brick façade. Most of this structures’ original materials, elements of design, detailing, and craftsmanship remain in the Field House. That which does not, can – and should – be replaced. Even if it takes time.

tile roof

The Field House was designed by noted local architect Irving W. Kelley. Kelley designed many notable buildings in Chicago Heights including the Jirtle Park Field House, the Church of Our Savior/First Spanish Baptist Church (162 E.24th),

Church of Our Savior

Church of Our Savior

St. Casimir/My Brother’s Keeper (275 E. 14th), and the original First National Bank building at 1651 Halsted (demolished), as well as buildings in Chicago.

St. Casmir/My Brother's Keeper

St. Casimir/My Brother’s Keeper

One, the Swedish American Telephone Company Building (5235-5257 N. Ravenswood, 1901) is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. You can find a picture of if here  on the Edgewater bike tour.

Set on 14th Street/Lincoln Highway, the field house has become an established and familiar visual feature to the City of Chicago Heights.  Whether you are a new resident, life-long resident, or just pass through along the historic Lincoln Highway, this structure – because of its architecture and setting – is a visual landmark.  The Ashland Park Field house remains just as much of a focal point of the city today for park users, as well as a resource to add interest and uniqueness to all who pass though Chicago Heights.

Ashland/Scott Park Field House

Ashland/Scott Park Field House

As a product of its time, the Ashland Park Field House speaks to Chicago Heights and the then new Park District’s prominence in the 1920s. Several parks were built and planned to serve the growing population of the city. Additionally, since the 1890’s immigrants have come to Chicago Heights to find jobs and build better lives. A large part of Chicago Heights residents are currently of Hispanic heritage and this building can help celebrate that part of the cultural heritage and development of Chicago Heights.


The next steps here are for those caring individuals, groups, residents, neighbors, businesses, the Chicago Heights Preservation and Beautification Committees, and Park District to come together to work on allocating/finding additional funds for maintenance and rehabilitation so this building can really start playing the part of the loved local landmark it is. We will keep you posted on future events.


Who The Heck ARE You Guys Anyway?

I guess this should have been our first blog post. But, since I was completely new to this blog-stuff, it just had not materialized. So, here it goes…

The Chicago Heights Historic Preservation Advisory Committee (CHHPAC) is a volunteer appointed city committee. The committee was established in 1996.

Our mission is to protect, serve, foster and perpetuate the distinctive Architectural and Historical qualities of Chicago Heights.  We accomplish our mission through overseeing the city’s landmark ordinance, educational programming, advising city officials as to the importance of Chicago Heights’ historic resources, and by encouraging sensitive treatment of landmark and vintage properties.

Rt. 30 & Schilling, now a local landmark

Rt. 30 & Schilling, now a local landmark

Landmarked properties have to abide by the city’s design guidelines, or guidelines set forth in the individual landmark designation. When there is proposed changes to these properties/sites, there is an added review of work to the exterior of the building/site that looks at materials and style appropriateness. We provide this review. The review safeguards the Landmark’s authenticity, and the owners investment.

The goal is help the city to preserve the historical and architectural integrity of Chicago Heights.

We are not a historical society, but we often fill that role when needed because Chicago Heights does not have one. However, the Chicago Heights Public Library also helps fill that role. They house a great deal of historic documents, photos, and items that a historic society would and have a great deal of information for those studying Chicago Heights History.

Historic preservation principles are not just for Landmark properties. Sensitive treatment and maintenance of your building will safeguard your investment. Not all beautiful “old” structures are Landmarks. They just have been lucky enough to have had stewards throughout its life who were as proud of it when it was 30 years old as when it was 100. (oh, man, I think that is a whole blog post in and of itself!)

For more information on who we are and what we do, please visit our website. There you will find information and links on proper treatment to your vintage – or landmark – property, the how and why your original windows are so important and even better than replacement windows, our list of local landmarks, applications for landmark status or our programs, and much more.

“Therefore, when we build, let us think that we build for ever.  Let it not be for present delight, nor for present use alone; let it be such work as our descendants will thank us for, and let us think, as we lay stone on stone, that a time is to come when those stones will be held sacred because our hands have touched them, and that men will say as they look upon the labor and wrought substance of them,
“See! this our fathers did for us.” For, indeed, the greatest glory of a building is not in its stones, or in its gold. Its glory is in its Age. ”
John Ruskin

Our LAST Brick Street

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One hundred years ago, brick streets lined every neighborhood in Chicago Heights. They were the lifeblood of the city.

Today, though, only ONE brick street remains. After over 110 years in service, it is in disrepair and is under threat of removal, and replacement with asphalt, as the infrastructure below the bricks – not the bricks – is now failing. The street has endured many years of large and heavy truck traffic to, and from, the steel mill.

Many of us in Chicago Heights have fond memories of our most famous brick street, passing by Chicago Heights Steel and then turning to the south, venturing under the tracks and having it open and arriving in the Hill Neighborhood. It has served as a teaching moment and gives us a window to our past. Many communities do not have this rare resource.

As the city’s Historic Preservation Advisory Committee, we have been advising strongly (since 2012) for this important resource. Our idea is that a portion should be saved (perhaps as a thick crosswalk) and then part of the street (that is not currently brick) after the entrance to the steel mill, around a corner through a viaduct, should be reconstructed in brick. That area can be used as an interpretive spot to tell the story of over 100 years of steel production on the site, the many workers traveling along the road to the steel mill from The Hill neighborhood, as well as construction techniques through our history. We found a grant that could be applied to such a project, but no one has moved on this, and the deadline has passed. City officials have offered to “save the bricks for a future project”.

Brick streets are a historic treasure, but they also have many positive qualities:

*Brick streets last longer than asphalt streets, yet they do cost more to repair

*Brick streets naturally slow down traffic (good for safety around sharp bends, or neighborhoods)

*Brick streets are better at slowing down freeze/thaw jacking

*Brick streets offer better drainage than blacktop/concrete

Then and Now

Currently on exhibit at the Union Street Gallery, our local art gallery (- you know, the awesome one in a restored Elk’s Lodge?), is our committee’s show “Chicago Heights Then & Now”.

It is a way for us to look back a celebrate just some of what wonderful buildings remain.

We scoured the library archives for “Thens” and set to the streets for our “Nows”.

Come to see the show!

It will be up through June 15, when the Driving the Dixie cars will be passing through. There was only so much room to display in our gallery space, but here is a taste.

dr longDr. Long nowMackler HighlandsMackler 2013

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

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!

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!

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.


Bloomvale Cemetery Clean-up Event Saturday June 7th 2014 10:00am – click link to sign up-
**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.

Chicago Heights: The Crossroads of the Nation

Welcome to Chicago Heights – and the “Crossroads of the Nation” – the intersection of Lincoln Highway and Dixie Highway (U.S. 30 & U.S. 1).  Here is how Chicago Heights, Illinois, became “The Crossroads of the Nation”.

Long ago, this area was home to Native Americans. Small family groups lived along Thorn Creek attracted by fertile hunting and a reliable source of water. As you may know, Chicago Road/Dixie Highway has long been a thoroughfare – it originated as the Vincennes Trace, and later, called Hubbard’s trail, for Gurdon Saltonstall Hubbard’s 1827 journey to Danville to gather men to defend Fort Dearborn from possible Native American attack. (A journey some said made Paul Revere’s ride seem easy!) It was a pathway used by Native Americans, early explorers, fur trappers and settlers.

Absolem Wells is credited with being the first white settler in the area then known as Thorn Grove. He arrived in the spring of 1833 and built his cabin along the banks of Thorn Creek at 13th street – just about a block north of Rt. 30 (Lincoln Highway). The second family – the Browns – settled at the intersection of Hubbard’s and Saulk Trails ( a couple of miles south). The intersection became known as “Brown’s corners”. Their daughter – Lovinia- was the first child born to settlers here. It is interesting to note that the Browns were very friendly with the Potowatami who camped near them during their travels between their summer and winter homes (Canada / Iowa).
In 1835, the Vincennes Trace was established as the 1st official state Road– the route between Vincennes and Chicago – now known here as Chicago Road.

The boom began. In 1849 the settlement’s name was changed to Bloom. Chicago Heights was incorporated in 1892.
By 1897 the area was served by 38 rail roads, state of the art shipping facilities and about 20 factories.
In 1900 Bloom High School was organized and the City hall /Bloom H.S. building was built (site of parking lot between Rec. Center and library). The first of our four corners.

Population reached 5,100 and in 1901 and we became an official city. By 1910 pop had reached 14,535.
In response to the population increase and the number of industries in the area St. James hospital was opened and dedicated on Thanksgiving Day 1911 with 50 beds. (Several expansions later, it stands at the second corner) The saint at the corner is Our Lady of the Wayside.

About 1912 Carl Fisher began his propaganda of the concept of improved highways and organized the Lincoln Highway Association. (Lincoln Highway Map) In 1915 he did the same for the Dixie Highway.
In 1916  the Arche Fountain (back to corner #1) was built to celebrate the intersection of the 1st two U.S. transcontinental highways – becoming known as “the Crossroads of the Nation”.

Designed by George Ganiere and commissioned by the Arche Women’s Club which at the time was one of the largest Women’s clubs in the Chicago area. The torche is the insignia of the club. My favorite quote of the three on the fountain is “We find ourselves in the peaceful possession of the fairest portion of the earth. A Lincoln.” Today this corner is hardly peaceful, but the quote does give us a sense of the importance of this place.

The Arche Fountain making a splash – Memorial Day 2011

The fountain’s “purist artesian water” (uh, at the time that phrase was written it was well water ) has served to cool and quench many a pedestrian in this busy intersection. My daughters and I drank from it this past Memorial Day, my six-year-old proclaiming it the most refreshing water she has ever drank.

Recent article featuring the fountain

To the north, the third corner, is The Mound. A memorial to those who have lost their lives in world wars, it serves as a place to honor our nation’s military. In the 1920s WWI vets posed for a picture here – at the time only three flags and stone monument were present. The Chicago Heights Builder’s Committee built the plaza around it sometime in the 1980s.

Yearly we as a community celebrate Memorial Day here and in 2010 the city unveiled the vintage polychrome terra-cotta wall – moved from its original location on the VFW hall built on E. Illinois Street. It’s placing here was made possible through a donation from the Veterans of Foreign Wars. In October 2010 the soldier farthest to the left was added to include our female military, military of color and to represent the Coast Guard.

Gathering at The Mound – Memorial Day 2011

The fourth corner is the recent sculpture of Abraham Lincoln receiving flowers from two children entitled “Lincoln on the Road to Greatness”.  The statue was dedicated in 2003, and was funded by private donations- including 200,000 pennies collected by local students. It is noted as one of few depictions of Lincoln smiling.

Southtown article on the statue
In 1992 the Lincoln Highway Association reactivated and remains active in promoting the highway and its history. In 2000 Lincoln Highway became a National Scenic Byway.

Another link to story about Lincoln Highway and “The Crossroads”

Crossroads of the Nation talk, 2010

Dart Files

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So here are some pictures I took of the Dart designed church – with my old phone. I appologize for the not-so-crisp images.