Illiana’s Local History students tour Ridge Road

Jeff White teaches history in the community

Local History
On most Fridays, Jeff White’s Local History students leave the classroom to learn about history out in the community. This “Field Trip Friday” was a walking tour of Ridge Road.
by Melanie Jongsma

LANSING, Ill. (September 22, 2017) – Jeff White has been teaching history at Illiana Christian High School since 1993. The Local History elective he’s been teaching for the past 12 years was started by Dave Zandstra in 1974, and it’s been modified and enhanced by the series of teachers who have led it—Roger Wiers, White, and Bill Venhuizen.

One of White’s enhancements to the class is affectionately known as Field Trip Fridays. Each Friday, the Local History class leaves the classroom and learns about history out in the community—at Historic Ford Hangar, around the Schrum Cabin, in onion fields and farmlands.

On a recent Friday, 31 Local History students disembarked from their school vans near Henry Street in order to discover some history along Ridge Road.

History all around

“Look above the street line,” White reminded the class, pointing out mansard roofs, bay windows, and residential apartments. Many of these features have been part of Ridge Road for more than 100 years, but today’s passersby rarely notice them. One of White’s objectives is to make these students more aware of the history all around them.

Local History
DeYoung’s Furniture Store was originally a car dealership.
Local History
Cole & Young Jewelers is the third oldest building on Ridge Road.
He could easily fill two hours with information, anecdotes, and historical facts, but on this Field Trip Friday he has only 30 minutes, so he talks fast and keeps the group moving from one site to the next. Some highlights:

  • The now-vacant building that was most recently DeYoung’s Furniture Store, was originally a car dealership—the large glass windows enclosed the showroom.
  • Cole & Young Jewelers is the third oldest building on Ridge Road. (The oldest is on the southeast corner of Ridge and Wentworth—the building that used to be Char’s Bridal Shop.)
  • Jack’s Sports Pub was originally a school. During a remodel, as the paneling was being removed, blackboards were discovered underneath.

“Signature spaces,” rail trails, bay windows, banks, and burritos

The two teachers (White and Venhuizen) shepherded the 31 students up and down a single block of Ridge Road. In the short time they had, they covered the following sites and more:

Local History
White and his class stopped near the Firemen’s Memorial to talk about Fox Pointe. White describes Fox Pointe as a “signature space” for Lansing.
Local History
The Pennsy Greenway runs along the former Pennsylvania Central Railway
Local History Lansing IL
Bay windows were a common way to add square footage, light, and ventilation to residential dwellings above the store fronts.
Local History
The H&R Block building was originally a bank.
Local History
The class patronizes Tacos and Burritos Rancho Grande for lunch this Friday, which gives White a chance to talk about the “ghost sign” advertisement on what used to be an exterior wall during an era when Ridge Road was the main highway through the area.

History and community

Illiana’s Local History class is open to juniors and seniors, and its interactive nature makes it popular among students. “It’s a fun class,” said one senior. And, “It’s good to learn about our community,” said another. “It’s good to know the history of Lansing.”

A similar learning experience is open to the general Lansing community each spring. White leads a five-week Local History series with room for up to 40 people. The cost is $60, and that fee helps support eight students who are selected each year for Illiana’s Close Up program, which is a week-long experience in our nation’s capital.

To register for the 2018 community Local History class, email Jeff White. Registration starts March 1, 2018.

Illiana Christian High School is located at 2261 Indiana Avenue in Lansing, Illinois. Call 708-474-0515 for more information.

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1 thought on “Illiana’s Local History students tour Ridge Road”

  1. My compliments to Mr. White and the Illiana administration for providing those students with a tour of local history sites. I hope the Oak Glen section of Lansing was included. Once a separate community, it too has a rich history.

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