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Tuesday, December 30, 2008

"Hale and Hearty" Clark Corser



This charming old-timer is Clark Corser (1817-1909), an early settler of Benton Township.

Clark and his parents, Nathaniel and Martha, and siblings set out from Vermont by covered wagon in 1831. They first settled in Indiana and then came to Benton Township, Lake County between 1838 and 1840. Clark was one of the county's first land purchasers, and spent his life as a farmer.

In 1850, Clark joined the California Gold Rush and spent a year there before returning home. Clark married Louisa Rachel Daniels of Caledonia, Wisconsin on October 30, 1851. Together they built two homes in the area of 33rd Street and Sand Ridge Road (now Sheridan Road), near the Dickertown School, and raised a family. After Louisa died in 1898, Clark lived with his oldest son, Robert, and youngest daughter, Mary, who was divorced.

Clark was to be the editor of the history of Benton Township for John Halsey's "A History of Lake County, Illinois" published in 1912. He passed away in 1909 before completing his work. He is buried next to his wife in Lake Mound Cemetery in Zion.

In 1918, children at the Dickertown School of Zion wrote their community's history, including a remembrance of Clark Corser: "He was hale and hearty, able to walk to Zion or dance a jig. He is well remembered by many of the children now in the upper grades."

Based on the congenial portrait of Clark, I'd bet that was a mighty fine jig.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Deck the Fort with Boughs of Holly


It's no surprise that the U.S. Army Post at Fort Sheridan had a bounty of decorations at the holidays. It was home to military families, and a home away from home for many servicemen and women.

In this circa 1914 photograph, Building 47 is festooned with a Christmas tree and what appear to be gifts. The haphazard way in which the tree is decorated looks like someone threw a roll of toilet paper at it, but the garland may be a string of popcorn. Note the dumb bells and pins on the racks on either side of the stage, an indication of this building's dual use as a gymnasium and theater.

"The stockings were hung by the chimney with care, In hopes that St Nicholas soon would be there." Excerpted from Clement Clarke Moore's poem 'Twas the Night Before Christmas.

Minimal decorations for the Signal Corps in the midst of the war in 1944. Standing with their Christmas stockings in Building 33 are from left to right: William Quada, Harold Foust, and Richard Freeman. This building served as a stockade from 1890 to 1970 when it became the Post Museum.

Decorations at Building 48, circa 1965. This building flanks the Fort's 169-foot Tower, and was constructed in 1890 as barracks, and later was used for Lovell General Hospital and headquarters' offices. The miniature replica of the Tower in the photograph was used on parade floats.

Soldiers putting up the holiday lights on the Tower, December 8, 1965.







The results of the all the hard work. A colorful light display, highlighting the Fort's most prominent architectural feature.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Here Comes Santa Claus


Santa is such an iconic figure in our culture that he is even represented in the Museum's Fort Sheridan photo collection.

Here, members of the Women's Army Corps receive cartons of Old Gold and Pall Mall cigarettes from Santa and his helper, circa 1945.






The side of the Pall Mall carton reads: "So Round so Firm So Fully Packed So Free and Easy on the Draw."

At right, this terrific, eclectic mix of holiday decorations, including Santa, decked out the Smith home on Bolles Loop, circa 1965.

Season's Greetings from the Fifth U.S. Army. The Fifth Army was headquartered at Fort Sheridan from 1965-1971. The toy soldiers flanking Santa are a nice touch for an Army post's Christmas decorations.

For more on the history of Fort Sheridan: Fort Sheridan military lesson plans and photo cards.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Lake Michigan in Winter


This is one of my favorite views of Lake Michigan. It's a colorized postcard of the Waukegan shoreline made by the E.C. Kropp Company of Milwaukee, Wisconsin. I use this circa 1910 image in my lectures on Lake County history, usually when speaking about the last Ice Age that ended around 15,000 years ago. That's the "truth of art." You use what you can to illustrate a point, even if it's not quite accurate. Ken Burns did that expertly in his Civil War series, and kudos to him for bringing that moment in American history to life for us all.


This 1899 photograph shows a fishing tug frozen in Waukegan harbor. Lake Michigan was a vital part of Lake County's development and economic growth, from the 1840s. Winter ice build-up in the harbor could cause mayhem for even the most experienced sailors and fishermen.

In 1963, the News-Sun reported that five fishing tugs were frozen in the ice a mile off shore. Lucky for them, within a day they broke through, unlike Ernest Shackleton's harrowing 1914-1916 Antarctic expedition.

Large chunks of windrow ice are visible in this 1913 photograph of the harbor and lighthouse. This photo is credited to E.W. Plonien. During a normal winter, 17 to 29 inches of ice grows in sheltered harbors and bays on Lake Michigan.

Break water, looking north from lighthouse, Waukegan, January, 1947.

The ice formations along the lakeshore are quite remarkable. It's worth a trip to the Waukegan harbor in mid-winter to see the frozen waves over the docks and piers.

Monday, December 1, 2008

Going to the Chapel


When planning an exhibition, the museum's collections staff consider which archival materials and objects will best tell the story, and often choose an item based on how recently it has been displayed.

For the current exhibition on World War II, "Keep 'Em Flying: How the Homefront Helped the Frontlines," staff wanted to feature at least one wedding dress. The exhibit was a great opportunity to showcase a beautiful dress from the museum's textile collection. In the end, two wedding dresses and a woman's Red Cross uniform jacket were chosen.

The exhibition's focus is to highlight a grant project digitizing tens of thousands of World War II images from the collections. The majority of the images are postcards made by the Curt Teich Company between 1941-1945. A selection of about 200 of these postcards are featured in the exhibition, along with Civilian Defense booklets, and photographs from Fort Sheridan.

Exhibiting textiles takes special preparation, and may require mending or steaming. Shown here is collections assistant, Deanna Tyler, steaming Marcelline Czernik's wedding dress with distilled water. The process took several hours in order to proceed with the utmost care, and to make the dress as presentable as it was on the wedding day. Note that Deanna is wearing a white cotton glove on the hand touching the dress. This prevents the transfer of oil from her hand onto the fabric.

Marcelline Czernik married her high school sweetheart, Chester Vasofsky, on January 22, 1944, as seen in their wedding photo below. The bride purchased an off-the-rack dress at the Globe Department Store in downtown Waukegan. With the war raging, it was the only style available.

After steaming, Marcelline's dress and veil were placed on a museum quality mannequin. Archival tissue was used to fill out the dress's shape. The dress is shown on display in the World War II exhibition (below).












As staff was preparing one dress for exhibition, another war-time bride's story came to light as a museum exhibits intern told of her grandmother's wedding dress made from a parachute. After inquiries, it was confirmed that the dress had a unique Lake County story to tell, and the family was willing to donate it to the museum's permanent collection. The timing was perfect to be included in the exhibition. The unique nylon dress (below) needed some steaming before being dressed on a mannequin and put on display.

Carol Rosalie Kirkpatrick (left) on her wedding day at the First Baptist Church in Waukegan, on September 6, 1947. Her dress was made from a parachute that her fiance, John Smelcer, sent home while stationed in Okinawa, Japan. The white nylon parachute was fashioned into a bridal gown by the bride’s mother. It was fairly common for servicemen to send pieces of parachutes to loved ones back home, but rare to send the whole thing.

Both wedding dresses are on display through January, 2009.

(Since making this post, the exhibit's closing date has been changed to May 3, 2009).

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Happy Thanksgiving Postcards


The Thanksgiving tradition is about 400 years old. Most experts believe that the first Thanksgiving was celebrated in 1621 at Plymouth, Massachusetts, between the Pilgrims and Native Americans as a three-day Thanksgiving harvest celebration.

Others have speculated that the settlers of Jamestown, Virginia, celebrated the first Thanksgiving (circa 1607) as their version of England’s ancient harvest festival.

If it had been up to Benjamin Franklin (1706-1790), the turkey would have been our national symbol and not the Bald Eagle. Of course, that doesn't mean they'd be driving automobiles as portrayed in the circa 1908 holiday postcard below, sent to a friend from Miss Stella Bates.


The Brae Burn Farm in Lake Forest operated as a gentleman's farm for Robert Leatherbee, an executive of the Crane Company of Chicago. This circa 1915 photograph shows turkeys on the farm.

A handwritten poem on the back refers to the origins of the day:

“They built some rude log houses and planted some crops of corn, and then when the harvest was ripened, Thanksgiving Day was born.”

Happy Thanksgiving!

Monday, November 24, 2008

George Battershall


The name Battershall may be familiar to folks in central Lake County, since the Battershalls had general stores in Hainesville and Grayslake.

George Battershall was born in Columbia County, New York in 1837. He came to Lake County with his parents in 1854 by rail to Chicago and then "drove out" in a wagon to Justus Bangs’s residence in Wauconda. (The railways did not extend into Lake County until 1855). Battershall worked for the Marble Nursery grafting trees before settling in Hainesville.


George, and his wife Magdelena, lived in this house along Route 120. A portion of this residence was built by Elijah Haines for his mother Charlotte Haines Bowen, probably in the early 1840s. It was Elijah Haines who platted Hainesville and ensured its incorporation in 1847, making it the first village in Lake County to do so.


Battershall worked as a farmer, and also operated a general store in Hainesville (shown at right). In 1900, Fay Hamilton, a fourteen-year old boy from Wisconsin worked as a clerk at Battershall's and boarded with the family.

Battershall was elected the president of Hainesville, and also its postmaster from Nov 2, 1885 - April 26, 1891, and again in 1894 to 1912. The post office was located at the general store.


It is believed that George opened his second general store in Grayslake in the 1890s. The bustling Grayslake with its train depot made it a prime location for business. Unlike tiny Hainesville which by the turn of the 20th century was already stagnating. This photo shows George at about 80 years of age, standing in front of his old store in Hainesville.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Native Trail Trees



Native Americans populated this region into the 1830s. Potawatomi, Chippewa and Ottawa peoples navigated through a vast network of trails by marking those trails with road signs known as trail trees. Also, waterways such as Lake Michigan and the Des Plaines River were used as thoroughfares. Above is a trail tree photographed in the early 1900s by local historian, Bess Bower Dunn, along Waukegan Road west of North Chicago.

Trail trees were used along Native American foot trails to direct travelers to neighboring villages, and hunting and ceremonial grounds. The unusually shaped trees essentially “pointed” the direction the traveler needed to go. Typically trail trees were oak or elm since they lived much longer than other types of trees.

Bess Bower Dunn (1877-1959), researched trail trees at the turn of the 20th century, writing: “[They] marked routes or trails… by taking a small sapling, bending it to the ground, fastening it, taking off the lower branches or twisting them around the trunk… so the forests of Lake County… became penetrated with a network of trails… marked by trees."

In this photo from circa 1935, a curious local has taken a taxi cab ride out to a trail tree site. The location was in Warren Township, the area of today's Park City, west of Route 41 and south of Washington Street.


Dunn also noted that "Some of the early settlers recognized these bent trees as landmarks of importance and made an effort to preserve them; others considered them deformed and cut them down.” Officially, there are only two trail trees that still exist in the county--in Deerfield and Zion, although locals continue to report finding trail trees in their backyards and area woodlands. The photo at right was taken by James Getz on Hazel Avenue in Highland Park in 1957.

The United Nation of Potawatomi, Chippewa and Ottawa sold their last remaining Great Lakes land to the U.S. Government in the Treaty of Chicago on September 26, 1833. Lake County's current road system is based largely on native trails though paved over and in some cases straightened. Milwaukee Avenue, Fairfield Road, Greenbay Road, and Belvidere Road are a few of the former trails still in use today.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Honoring Those Who Serve


From 1943 to 1946, Lloyd Ray of Diamond Lake, produced a homespun newsletter known as The Rays (cover of the September 1943 edition shown here). The large undertaking gave the community and Ray's close-knit, extended family a venue to keep in touch when so many were so far from home. The newsletter re-printed letters from servicemen and women, and featured news of the area, including wedding announcements. Lloyd's cousin, Fern Ray Gover, created most of the illustrations that brought the newsletter to life.

One of the letters printed in The Rays, was written by Private William "Bill" Whitney: "Someone has got to fight this war, and while I get tired of Army life in the rough, I keep telling myself how important I am to the war effort. I am as important as President Roosevelt or any general. When the history of this war is written, it will be the little guys--yes, the doughboys--that will have done the real fighting. This is why I try to do a good job, regardless of how rugged it gets." Private Whitney was killed in action on June 10, 1944 in France.


In this photo from 1943, fathers are reading letters from their sons in the service. The caption reads, "The boys in service are not the only ones who like letters." From left to right: Harry Pfannenstill, Malcolm Clendening, Frank Kelroy and Will Ray.

Will provided the photo to his younger brother, Lloyd, for the "Training Camp Edition" of The Rays. To view the "Training Camp Edition" in its entirety go to Ililnois Digital Archives

The Rays newsletters are part of the Lake County Discovery Museum's permanent collections, and are available online at the Illinois Digital Archives www.idaillinois.org

Friday, October 31, 2008

An Arabian Halloween


Happy Halloween!

Begging, or trick-or-treating, is believed to have begun in the United States in the 1910s. Around the same time, costumes for children and adults became popular for Halloween parties.

In this 1915 photograph, Diamond Lake resident, Gordon Ray, is wearing what appears to be a store bought costume (note the unusual fabric and crease marks). The photo was taken “the morning after” Gordon attended a masquerade dance in Long Grove.

I have often referred to this as Gordon’s “Valentino” costume, but in his autobiography he does not identify the costume, only the dance he attended. Also, Rudolph Valentino—the silent-film star—did not make his debut until 1921, six years after this photo was taken. It is also tempting to call this a “Lawrence of Arabia” costume, but again the association is too late. The British soldier, T.E. Lawrence, became known as “Lawrence of Arabia” for his role in the Arab Revolt of 1916-1918.

The Arabian-themed costume was probably a popular choice due to the West’s long fascination with Eastern cultures. Gordon would have seen any number of Arabian images in films, nickelodeon reels, vaudeville acts, books, and newspapers.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Halloween Postcards


The Lizzie Schlager Collection at the Lake County History Archives consists of 500 postcards from around the world. Elise Walters Schlager Wandel (1878-1928) was a Waukegan resident who collected postcards between 1899 and 1912. This was during the heyday of postcard collecting when you could purchase a postcard for a penny.

“Lizzie,” as she was called, saved postcards that friends and family sent. We know she was actively collecting them, because at least one sender wrote: “This is for your collection.”

Holiday postcards, particularly for Christmas and Easter were common. There are several Halloween postcards in the Archives’ collection. The fact that there are not more may suggest the lack of popularity in that holiday at the turn of the 19th century. In the 1910s, Halloween was an up and coming holiday and not near as popular as it would become by the 1950s, and certainly today.


The two Halloween postcards shown here were produced by the International Art Publishing Company and designed by Ellen Hattie Clapsaddle. Ms. Clapsaddle (1865-1934) was a prolific postcard artist. She began her artistic life in 1885 as a china painter and also did home decorative painting.
Her children-themed postcards are highly sought after. Other subjects she was fond of painting were landscapes, animals and Christmas scenes.

For more information on postcard artists check out Susan Brown Nicholson’s book, “The Encyclopedia of Antique Postcards.”

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Halloween Costumes


With Halloween fast approaching, I thought it'd be fun to share some holiday photos and postcards over the next couple of weeks.

Halloween costumes for adults and children became popular in the early 1900s in North America.
Shown here is an unidentified girl dressed as an "Indian Princess" circa 1905. The photo is credited to Bess Dunn, a county historian and photography enthusiast.

More than likely the girl's dress is homemade. There are three beaded appliques sewn to the front of the skirt. The appliques are reminiscent of detailing seen on women's dresses of this period or slightly before.

The festive costume is embellished with layers of jewelry. The girl's headpiece appears to be a string of pearls, and her bracelets have heart-shaped charms. The many beaded necklaces consist of shells and unknown materials.

Native American costumes seem to have been popular. In this circa 1920 photograph is one of the sons of Robert and Frances (Crane) Leatherbee of Lake Forest. Yes, that's a boy with a pageboy haircut, wearing a Native American inspired shirt and pants, and an embroidered pillbox style cap.

The photo was taken at Brae Burn Farm, Lake Forest, more than likely by Dorothy Gleiser, the daughter of the farm manager. The 400-acre gentleman's farm was owned by Robert Leatherbee, an executive of the Crane Company of Chicago. The family lived in a sprawling one-story stucco home, from about 1914-1922 before selling the property to a developer and moving to Cape Cod, Massachusetts.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Meet Mrs. Redmond


This pleasant photograph of Mrs. Thresa Davin Redmond was taken in 1918 by students of Everett School working on a community history project. She probably put on the blouse and scarf over her day dress to look more presentable for her young visitors. The students wrote: “It is a pleasure to visit Mrs. Redmond. She is so lovable, active, and quick witted, a laugh as ringing as a girl’s, and a keen sympathetic interest in her friends and neighbors."

Mrs. Redmond was born, Thresa Davin, in Meehan’s Settlement, July 15, 1838. The area was named for Michael Meehan who lived in Section 18 of Deerfield Township on Corduroy Road.

The name, Thresa Redmond, does not appear in county census records. However, there is an Anne Redmond living on Telegraph Road, born in 1839. Knowing that errors and variations on names were common in census records, it is possible that Thresa and Anne were the same person.

Friday, October 3, 2008

Nordmeyer Sorghum Farm


Sweetener consumption has been on the rise in the U.S. and around the world for decades. Sugar, corn syrup, and Sucralose are just some of the sweeteners used in food and beverages. In the 19th century, the sweetener of choice was sweet sorghum made from sorghum cane.

This circa 1910 photo of the Charley Nordmeyer farm shows a sorghum mill. The farm was located north of Gilmer Road and east of Erhart Road in Fremont Township. Illinois was a large sorghum producer at this time. Not all farms had sorghum mills, but most produced sorghum for personal use or for profit. There was always at least one mill in the area for farmers to bring their cane to be crushed into juice.

Seen here is George Schneider feeding the mill. The sorghum is stacked at left and fed into the mill by hand. The horses are the power source, walking in a circle to grind the cane. The juice is then collected in the metal "milk" cans shown in the foreground, and taken home to be cooked into sweet sorghum, also known as sorghum molasses.

The sorghum molasses was used as a natural sweetener, sometimes poured as syrup over hot cakes. The various parts of the plant left after crushing the cane could be used for livestock and poultry feed.

For more information on the tradition of sweet sorghum mills check out this interesting website on the preservation of the art of making sweet sorghum.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

JFK in Libertyville

Feeling a little nostalgic for the "good ol' days" of presidential campaigning?

This Associated Press Photo was recently donated to the Museum. It shows Senator John F. Kennedy standing atop a car while campaigning for the presidency in Libertyville on October 25, 1960. Senator Paul Douglas of Illinois is seen at lower right.

Kennedy's route through the Chicago suburbs was printed in the Chicago Tribune the day of his visit. It listed Kennedy's motorcade leaving O'Hare Airport Inn at 9:20 a.m., and traveling by U.S. Highways 45 and 12 to Libertyville. The motorcade passed through Des Plaines and was scheduled to arrive in Libertyville at 10:20 a.m., and then onto Barrington, Carpentersville, Dundee, Elgin, Aurora, Joliet and so on.

The Tribune reported the next day that Kennedy's reception in Libertyville was "almost as chilly as the day," but you'd never know it from the crowd pressing in on him in this photograph. The Tribune went on to say that "as he went south down the Fox river valley the crowds increased in size and warmth."

The senator's day of campaigning through traditionally Republican territory ended with a rally at the York Township High School in Elmhurst in front of a crowd of 6,000.

Friday, September 12, 2008

Swan School


Community histories often include a section on the local school, but schools are rarely researched in and of themselves. One reason may be that school is so much a part of the infrastructure of our lives that it is overlooked in the grander scheme of things.

Many of us are quite sentimental for our school days; going to class reunions or meeting with former classmates over a cup of coffee to regale hilarious and sometimes embarrassing moments from the past.

In light of this curiosity, and to promote more interest in the history of schools, I've decided to regularly feature a school in my posts. One of the more substantial collections at the Lake County Discovery Museum's Archives is the School Collection. It includes histories for 52 one-room schools, photographs, and board of directors' ledger books for a number of schools.

To start, I've chosen the Swan School in Fremont Township for its somewhat central location.

The Swan School, once located at the southeast corner of Route 83 and Peterson Road, was named for Deacon Swan who donated the land for the school. The naming of schools was often handled in this way.

As families settled newly opened regions of the country, the first building constructed after a home was a neighborhood school. The first school lessons taught in Lake County were in the home of Laura Sprague in Half Day in 1836. (Laura Sprague School in Vernon Township is named in her memory). The following year, the first proper schoolhouse was built in Libertyville.

The original Swan School was erected in 1856. By 1861, there were 70 one-room schoolhouses throughout the County.

This photograph of Swan School is from around 1900. Shown is the female teacher (top right) and her scholars.

Schools were central to each community. They were often used for church services, since schools were built before churches. Meetings and social gatherings such as dances and spelling bees were also held at the schools.

Pictured in this 1926 class photograph is Miss Josephine Kische (later Ullrich) at the top center, standing with her scholars, as they were called, in front of their new brick schoolhouse.

As listed on the back of the photo from left to right: Top row -- "Orphan" from Chicago who lived with a local farmer, Miss Kische, Ethel Meyer. Second row -- Dorothy Radke, Vernon Willard, Mary Fincutter, Anna Fincutter, Edward Fincutter, Jack Zahnle, Margaret Fincutter, Cecelia Grosser, ?? Willard, ?? Willard, Marge Sorenson (later Obenauf). First row -- Helen Radke, Helen Sorenson, Fiester boy, Fiester boy, Willard boy, Willard boy, Billy Meyer, Virginia ??, Fiester girl, Titus girl, Louis Meyer, Virginia Wirtz, Titus girl, Titus girl.

This 1953 photograph of unidentified Swan School students retains much of the rural, farming atmosphere of earlier class photos, and a touch of mischief in their broad smiles.

In 1995, the Swan School was razed. Intersection improvements made it necessary for the school to be moved, and the County of Lake tried unsuccessfully to find a buyer. The cement nameplate over the school's doorway was donated to the Lake County Discovery Museum.

For a selection of the Museum’s one-room school histories online
click here
.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

North Shore Line


One of the most famous railroads in the Chicago region was the Chicago, North Shore and Milwaukee Railroad—known as the North Shore Line. The railroad operated from 1916-1963, but began its life in 1894 as a street railway line in Waukegan.

After the company reorganized in 1916, industrial tycoon and founder of Commonwealth Edison, Samuel Insull, bought a controlling interest and served as its chairman for many years, transforming it into one of the finest electric interurban railways. The main line's southern terminus was in Evanston, Illinois and northern terminus in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.

In 1941, the North Shore Line added premiere service trains called Electroliners. These trains could attain speeds of over 110 miles per hour, but generally traveled at 85-90 mph, and transported passengers from Chicago to Milwaukee in under two hours.

This beautiful 1920s photograph of North Shore Line tracks is part of a collection of photographs featuring the Chicago, North Shore and Milwaukee Railroad's automatic substations.

The completion of the Edens Expressway and the Northwest (now Kennedy) Expressway in the 1950s and 1960s, caused a sharp drop in passenger ridership, ultimately leading to the line's closure on January 21, 1963.

For over a decade, the right-of-way remained unused, but parts of it have since become the Green Bay Trail, now one of the most popular hiking and biking trails in the Chicago area.

Friday, September 5, 2008

Jack Benny


Perhaps no entertainer is better known than the beloved Jack Benny (1894-1974), who, as he loved to say, was born in Waukegan a “long, long, long time ago.”

Actually, Benny was born Benjamin Kubelsky in a Chicago hospital to Waukegan residents Emma Sachs and Meyer Kubelsky. He first performed as a violinist when he was only eight at the Waukegan Phoenix Opera House. His mother fretted that “without practicing, he’ll be a nothing.” Though Benny loved the violin, he hated to practice. He was a daydreamer and after only one year of high school was thrown out of Waukegan Central High.

In 1911, Benny left home to perform in a vaudeville act with pianist, Cora Salisbury, and eventually gained recognition. After Benny became a star of radio, film, and television, he never forgot his hometown, often mentioning Waukegan in his act, and visited frequently.

In this rare color photo, Benny is pictured celebrating Waukegan's centennial. Here he is on June 25, 1959, at the Lake County Museum of History in Wadsworth (the predessesor of the Lake County Discovery Museum), judging a fiddling contest, and no doubt mocking his own skills as an accomplished violinist.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

E.J. Lehmann


German immigrant, Ernst Johann Lehmann (1840-1900), was instrumental in developing one of the earliest department stores, and also for putting Lake Villa on the map.

As a young man, Lehmann opened a small jewelry store on Clark Street in Chicago. His ambition was to market affordable goods to the working class, selling items for less than other stores. In 1875, he was so successful that he moved his business into a larger building at State and Adams Streets and called it, The Fair Store. He named his store "The Fair" so that people knew they would be treated fairly.

"He was," according to the Chicago Tribune, "a shrewd business manager and gained a wide reputation by the cheapness of his goods and by his practical business methods." He sold items for less than other stores, making up for smaller profits by the sheer volume of sales.

In addition to jewelry, The Fair sold men's and women's clothing, hats, shoes, notions, and household goods. One building at a time, The Fair grew and by 1882, occupied every building along the north side of Adams between State and Dearborn Streets. That same year, Lehmann saw another of his ambitions realized. He brought the Wisconsin Central Railroad to the tiny north suburban community of Lake Villa to create a thriving resort town. By the early 1900s, 18 passenger trains a day arrived in Lake Villa.

The Lehmann family was very influential in the Lake Villa area, building large estates and employing area residents. Their legacy lives on in area subdivisions and communities, including the Lehmann Mansion built by son, Edward John in 1912 as a summer home, and purchased by the Village of Lake Villa in 2001; and the Village of Lindenhurst which was created from son, Ernst E.'s, 240-acre dairy farm known as Lindenhurst.

Lehmann advertised extensively, as seen in this circa 1880 ad. The Fair was the first department store to place a full-page advertisement in a Chicago newspaper.

In 1897, Lehmann built a $3 million modern store, said to be more than two times as large as the Bon Marché in Paris.

As his store expanded and fortunes increased, Lehmann's health deteriorated. In 1890, his wife, Augusta Handt, gained legal authority to commit him to the Bloomingdale Asylum for the Insane in White Plains, New York. When he died in January 1900 many theorized that the pressures of his business enterprise and interest in the development of Lake Villa was too much for him.

The family continued to operate The Fair until 1925 when they sold it to chain store magnate S. S. Kresge.

Friday, August 29, 2008

Carousel Horse Update


"Missy Lake," the carousel horse, arrived safely at the Parker Carousel Museum in Leavenworth, KS on Monday.

After examining her, the Parker Museum's staff confirmed she is quite a beauty, and is a pattern they do not have.

The restoration will take about two months. This process includes fixing the joints, stopping the wood rot, and recarving some of the missing parts.

Watch in the coming months for a photo of Missy Lake fully restored.

Monday, August 25, 2008

Waukegan Post Office 1912-1971


I happened across this photo of the cornerstone ceremony for the Waukegan Post Office, March 1, 1912. I was intrigued by the vantage point--showing more crowd than the cornerstone laying, and wondered what became of the building.


This is one of those images--a moment frozen in time--you feel like you could step into or perhaps the gentleman on the right might step out of.


I scanned a close-up of the women at the center of the photograph. They fascinated me with their style of dress, the baby carriage, the child standing close to her mother, and the dog. Maybe they were strolling by, but more likely it was an event they planned to attend.


When completed, the post office was a beautifully ornate building. It was located at Washington and Utica Streets, and opened in 1914. There were about eight different post offices/locations in Waukegan through the years.


In 1933, another post office was dedicated at Julian and Genesee Streets. The former location on Washington and Utica remained a federal building until it was razed in December 1971, as shown here. No crowd of onlookers this day, but at least one person thought the event significant enough to photograph.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Parker Carousel Horse


As Dorothy says in the Wizard of OZ, "There's no place like home." That's how the staff felt when we discovered that the carousel horse in the museum's collection needed to make its way home to Kansas.


The process of deciding to transfer the horse to the C.W. Parker Museum took several months of research, debate, and board approval. Collections disposition is never taken lightly, and always with the utmost care and consideration.

The first step was to explore the horse's provenance. What was it exactly and where was it from?

We knew from our records that the horse was purchased in the 1950s by the museum's founder, Robert Vogel, when he stumbled across a small town carousel in Iowa being dismantled and sold-off. Confirmation that the horse had no real connection to Lake County began the debate of its disposition. If it doesn't have a Lake County story to tell, then where is it from, and what is the best repository?

Carousel horse enthusiast, Kay Schlumpf, assisted with the "What is it?" aspect of the research. After close examination, and photo documentation, it was learned that the horse was made by the C.W. Parker Amusement Company of Leavenworth, Kansas between 1914-15.

How do we know the horse was made by C.W. Parker? Well, for starters the front left shoe reads: C.W. Parker, Leavenworth, Kansas. But there are other telltale clues such as the legs in the "running pose," the bulges in the legs, depth of the elbow, the fish hanging from the saddle, the long low saddle, the short 'S' curve tail and the wide breastband.


According to the director of the C.W. Parker Museum, the horse appears to be a 2nd or 3rd row horse on a Parker carousel. It is most likely made of poplar or cottonwood, since those were common woods that the company used. It should be noted that Parker didn't actually carve the horses. He was the company founder and businessman of the operation. And interestingly, Dwight D. Eisenhower sanded horses for Parker in 1906 (too early for our horse), since the factory was across from the family home.

After much debate by collections staff (of which the horse's deteriorated condition was taken into account), it was agreed that the best place for the horse was Kansas--where it was made, and where it would be restored and displayed with other Parker horses. After receiving board approval, the horse is on its way home this weekend.

Of course, in the process of doing all this research and preparing the horse for its journey, staff decided it was only fitting to name her. And so, she was dubbed, Missy Lake. Lucky little horse didn't even have to click her hooves three times and say, "There's no place like home." We did that for her.

Be sure to check back. I'll keep everyone updated on Missy Lake's restoration progress at the C.W. Parker Museum.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Farm Heritage

With the rapid development of the county in the last 20 years or so, the acreage devoted to farming has dwindled dramatically. The 2002 census reported that there are 337 farms in Lake County, totalling about 38,860 acres. However, most of those farms are not owned by the farmer. Instead, farmers lease land from landowners throughout the county to get enough acreage to make a living off it.

There are a few exceptions where families still work their own land, as I discovered on the Liberty Prairie Conservancy's "Secret Gems -- The Farms of Lake County" tour this past weekend.

The Lodesky family has farmed their property for 165 years! In 1843, Franciszek Wlodecki (later the name was changed to Lodesky), settled in Lake County. He had been exiled from Poland following the "November Uprising" of 1830. He arrived in the United States in 1834, married Irish immigrant, Ellen O'Sullivan, and came to Lake County looking for land.

Sixth generation farmer, Joe Lodesky, (pictured at right foreground) led the tour of his family's farm. When asked about the future of farming in Lake County, Joe said that this was the first tour of the farm in 50 years. Decades ago, the local high school had an agriculture program that brought students out for tours. So, from Joe's point of view, hosting the Conservancy's tour was a good sign that people are interested again, and may be getting back to the land.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Grass Lake & Fox Lake Tour



I toured Grass Lake and Fox Lake this week as a member of the Lake-McHenry Historical Alliance. This tour was a treat for the group who meet quarterly to support each other's efforts in preservation and museum work. As historians it was an incredible opportunity to learn more about a significant part of Lake County's past--the resort industry--from the vantage point of the lakes, and with a knowledgeable and very witty local guide.

Clem Haley, our guide, (at center holding picture frame), balanced the resort history with the history of lakes' ecology and present-day conversation efforts.


My view of the lotus was nothing like this spectacular postcard of Grass Lake from the 1910s. At that time, the lotus covered all of Grass Lake. Today, they are limited to an area of 200+ acres. In order to protect the beds, we viewed them from a distance, but the beautiful pale yellow blossoms were clearly in bloom.

One of the stories I like to tell people about the lotus is the "Legend of the Lotus." The lotus caused quite a tourism sensation from the 1880s to 1940s. Vacationers were drawn by word of their beauty and by the legend. The legend, created out of a combination of naiveté and marketing, stated that the lotus actually originated in Egypt and were brought to Lake County by bird or by an early settler. This myth made for great advertisements and was generally accepted as fact by area residents, but simply wasn’t true.

The lotus, known as Nelumbo lutea, or American lotus, grow not only in the Chain O’ Lakes, but also in Illinois’ major rivers and lakes and ponds, and shallow water areas throughout the eastern United States.