Looking back on 125 years of Lansing

Reflections from local historians on the end of Lansing’s quasquicentennial

by Carrie Steinweg
This photo from the late 1880s or early 1890s was taken outside the Busack building. In the upstairs, in 1893, the vote for incorporation was taken, and Oak Glen, Bernice, and Lansing united to become the Village of Lansing. (Photo provided by the Lansing Historical Society)

LANSING, Ill. (December 4, 2018) – In March of 1893, the Village of Lansing was incorporated by combining three communities: Oak Glen, Bernice, and Lansing became one. This year as the quasquicentennial came around there have been celebrations and history lessons to give a sense of how the village has grown during those 125 years and what some of the significant events have been.

The Good Neighbor Day parade in May carried a theme to honor the village’s history. That was followed with the Hangin’ at the Hangar event where the community was invited to celebrate this milestone in the village.

Bubble gum and gas rations

Some of the village’s seasoned life-long residents have seen the village change from a small, quiet, rural community to the busy, developed suburb it is today. Paul Schultz said one of his favorite memories from his childhood was visiting the neighborhood stores, like Horn’s Store on Ridge Road, where he liked to buy sugary treats. “During the war you couldn’t buy bubble gum at all,” he said. “I remember when word got out that Horn’s got a box of bubble gum, and the kids were all lined up to buy a piece of gum for a penny. And the adults lined up the same way to buy the cigarettes that were being rationed.”

War time in Lansing also shaped a lot of the memories of life-long resident Herb Krumm. His older brother would pick up prisoners from a nearby German POW camp to bring them to work on his family’s farm. He also recalled how his sister had an unusual ride home from the hospital after giving birth at St. Margaret Mercy Hospital in Hammond in 1943 while her husband was stationed in Italy. “Gas was being rationed,” he said, and his uncle, Charlie Neidow, who was an undertaker in Hammond, had to pick her up from the hospital in a hearse.

Brickyards, onions, fires, and movies

Schultz thought back to some of the significant events in Lansing history during his lifetime. “The brickyards closing in the late 1940s were a big deal. And then there was the big building boom of the late 40s and early 50s,” he said. Much of the housing in the north part of Lansing was constructed during that time for the GIs returning home and starting families. Before construction, much of that land was composed of onion fields, said Schultz. As for the brickyards, Schultz said he remembered the big holes in the ground when he was a child. Three of those brickyards became lakes. Two became landfills.

One of the panels at the History Plaza pays tribute to the brickyards that are part of Lansing’s history. (Photo: Dan Bovino)

Krumm told a story related to the onions that were so prevalent in town. An onion warehouse in what is now the downtown area was filled with onion crates where the onions were placed to dry out. One day some kids decided to roast some onions behind the wood building. When they finished, they went home unaware that the fire was still smoldering. “Their first line of defense was the old Ford fire truck,” said Krumm. “They doused the other nearby buildings and were fighting a valiant battle until a train came by. They had to string hoses across the tracks, and they got cut when the train went by.”

Another big fire in town was one that destroyed the First Reformed Church at the corner of Ridge Road and Burnham Avenue. “I was there, and that was a pretty big fire,” said Schultz. “It was in January and I was about 7 or 8 years old.”

In January 1945 fire consumed the Lansing First Reformed Church. Located on the northwest corner of Burnham Avenue and Ridge Road, the church was rebuilt one year later. (Photo courtesy of the Lansing Historical Society)

Krumm remembers the opening of the Lans Theater in 1946. The building is now the home of Beggars Pizza. “We went there every week. It was a reward for doing chores,” he said. The first movie he saw there was Three Girls in Blue, which he described as “hokey.” Serials and cowboy movies were shown on Saturdays, and they changed movies three times a week. A big draw to the theater was a chance to win china pieces, he said.

Buildings, roads, and airplanes

Construction of buildings and roads contributed to some of the most significant parts of Lansing history according to the two. In 1945, Krumm said, land was being surveyed for what was to be called the Chicago-Detroit Expressway, but due to the war, building materials weren’t available.

Schultz said that the building of the expressway was a pivotal point in shaping Lansing’s future. “We were kind of this sleepy little town, but then we turned into this bedroom community because everyone was going to work jobs in the steel mills. You made more money at the mills than you would at farming. As people went to the steel mills, agriculture went down.”

Although it happened before he was born, Schultz said the construction of the airport was also a big event that has had a lasting impact on Lansing. “We never thought it would be recognized on the National Register. It was just there, but the old-timers could tell you the history and who’s who of aviation in the 1920s and 30s that flew in,” he said. “People in that generation don’t realize sometimes how important something is. It is the next generation that sees it and says, ‘You’ve got a gift there!’”

Lansing acquired the airport property—including the Ford Hangar—in 1976. (Photo: Darlene M. Kadar, 1979)

From family farm to Fox Pointe

There’s been recent construction on the land that was once Krumm’s family farm. His family has a photo taken 100 years ago in 1918 of his mother and his older brother, at age 8, standing in a pasture. A century later, that pasture has been developed into the new Fox Pointe site.

From left: Arthur C. Krumm, Mrs. Marie Krumm, and daughter Margie Krumm stand on the family farm in the summer of 1918. The site later became known as Fox Pointe because Fox Lumber was located there. In 2017, Lansing began developing Fox Pointe as a performance and entertainment venue, which officially opened in 2018. The house in the background of this photo is the red brick home still on Henry Street today. (Photo courtesy of Herb Krumm and the Lansing Historical Society)

Education

Construction of schools has also been a game changer in the village. At the time that Krumm’s older brother finished eighth grade, the nearest high school that Lansing kids could attend was Thornton Township High School in Harvey. Because of the need to travel such a far distance, it wasn’t unusual for kids to not attend high school.

Thornton Fractional High School in Calumet City opened in 1926 and both Krumm and Schultz attended the school. Krumm graduated in 1954. Schultz graduated in 1957, the last class of Lansing kids to attend Thornton Fractional High School. In 1958, Lansing built its own high school, designated as Thornton Fractional South High School and the Calumet City high school added “north” to its name.

However, Thornton Fractional wasn’t Lansing’s first high school. Illiana Christian High School opened its doors in 1945. Schultz, who attended Coolidge School and later St. Ann School recalled that in his school days there were more parochial schools than public schools. Prior to World War II, there were just two public schools—Coolidge School and Indiana Avenue School—both of which went up to grade 8. Parochial Schools included St. John, Trinity Lutheran, St. Ann, Lansing Christian, and Illiana. Although Trinity Lutheran School has now closed and Illiana Christian High School has moved to Indiana, Lansing has gained a college. Visible Music College opened in 2014 in Lansing’s original Village Hall building.

Class of 1934 at Lansing’s Indiana Avenue School. (Photo courtesy of Lansing Historical Society)

Lansing History Timeline

1893 – Lansing is incorporated by combining three communities
1894 – The first village hall is built
1900 – Ridge Road is completed
1905 – Lansing gets its first baseball team
1912 – Electricity is installed in Lansing
1915 – Lansing hires first full-time police officer
1921 – Indoor plumbing comes to Lansing
1922 – Lansing forms volunteer fire department
1926 – Henry Ford builds airport
1929 – The first speed limit signs are posted in Lansing
1934 – Lansing Bugle Corp takes first place at the World’s Fair in Chicago

This photo was taken in June of 1955. Carole and Joan McDonald are playing in front of the Lansing Public Library. The library was then located in the pump house under the original Lansing water tower, 182nd and Chicago Avenue. Later, a new library was constructed on the southeast corner of Chicago Avenue and Ridge Road. (Photo provided to the Lansing Historical Society by Joan Cox. Used with permission.)
1936 – Lansing opens its first library
1942 – Blackout measures are taken during World War II
1944 – Land is acquired from Lansing for new expressway
1945 – Illiana Christian High School opens
1951 – Parking meters installed on Ridge Road
1952 – Lansing Knights of Columbus established
1958 – Thornton Fractional South High School opens
1961 – Lan-Oak Pool is dedicated
1967 – First Good Neighbor Day Parade
1970 – New post office is built
1976 – Lansing purchases and incorporates Lansing Airport
1980 – Eisenhower Recreation Center opens in former school
1985 – Ford Hangar is placed on National Register of Historic Places
1991 – Landings shopping center opens
1992 – Lansing loses its first officer (Kenneth Novak, Jr.) in the line of duty
1993 – Lansing K9 discovers over $5 million of drug money
1995 – Lansing Veterans Memorial dedicated
1997 – Lansing Youth Center opens
2001 – Lansing firefighters raise $45,000 for 9/11 first responder families
2002 – Second runway opens at airport
2005 – Pennsy Greenway opens
2009 – Lansing village offices move to new location
2012 – Lansing holds its first Autumn Fest
2014 – Visible Music College opens
2017 – History Plaza and Fox Pointe construction begins; new Santa House opens
2018 – Fox Pointe opens

Lansing gathered on a rainy Friday evening to celebrate the opening of the new Fox Pointe venue. (Photo: Melanie Jongsma)

 

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