by Carrie Steinweg
LANSING, Ill. (June 27, 2019) – There’s a group of about 120 people who will probably never look at Ridge Road the same as they drive or walk down the main street in downtown Lansing. Those individuals were guests on an annual tour hosted by the Lansing Historical Society on June 24. They spent about two hours listening to dates and names, historical facts, and fun stories of Lansing’s past.
After a rainy day, the skies seemed to clear just in time for lifelong resident Paul Schultz to lead his 35th annual History Walk. Retired from 35 years with the postal service, Schultz spent much of his career on a route along Ridge Road, dropping letters and packages at each address and getting to know the residents and business owners he encountered each day.
He has also lived in Lansing all his life. The doctor who delivered him on Christmas Day had an office on Ridge Road. He walked to school and rode his bike on the streets of Lansing, but in a different era. He remembers victory gardens being planted during World War II. He remembers Lansing “before the expressway.” In his head are the faces and events that have shaped the village over the last 80 years. He’s always eager to share his knowledge and memories, and he does so each year as he leads a group on his traditional History Walk.
Changing things up
Two things were a bit different on this year’s walk. For one, the crowd far outnumbered any in the past. The previous largest crowd was about 60 people, and some years only a handful of curious residents show up for the walk, though typically the group is 25–35 members strong, according to members of the Lansing Historical Society.
Schultz also altered the route a little this year. Usually the walk has started from the parking lot behind Gayety’s Ice Cream and Candy and moved to the east, ending around Grant Street. This year, the walk began in the parking lot behind Kilroy’s Pub, moving over to Wentworth Avenue and then crossing Ridge Road and heading west.
Helpful volunteers paused traffic as the large crowd crossed the street:
Two other Lansing residents, Herb Krumm and Dr. Wesley Molenaar, added some commentary. Krumm’s family owned the first documented business in Lansing, the Union Hotel, which stood at the southwest corner of Ridge Road and Wentworth Avenue. Molenaar grew up in a home on the north side of Ridge Road that is still serving as a family business—an eye care practice and legal offices. Krumm pointed out some houses on the east side of Wentworth that his grandfather had built for his daughters and an apartment building that used to house St. John’s Lutheran School. Molenaar talked about how common it was to leave doors unlocked when he was growing up and how he could see all the way to the Little Calumet River from his mother’s kitchen window.
Family and Neighbors
As Schultz welcomed the large crowd he said, “When I was a kid, when you went outside you saw one of two people—either a neighbor or a relative.” He then encouraged people to shake hands and introduce themselves to someone on either side of them. Within the crowd were many people who were familiar with Schultz—either members of his family, neighbors, former schoolmates, or those who knew him as a postal carrier. Some in the crowd held sticks with a large cut-out of Schultz’s face—a lighthearted way to celebrate “Paul Schultz Day,” which had been designated at the previous week’s Village Board meeting as June 24, 2019, when Schultz was also named as the honorary Village Historian (see story on page 2).
Gone, But Not Forgotten
History Walk participants were fascinated to hear about some of the buildings that no longer exist along Ridge Road—a blacksmith shop and later a Nash auto dealership that stood at the site where ALDI is now, and the Union Hotel site, now occupied by an auto service business. The Union Hotel is believed to have been a stop on the Underground Railroad.
There was also discussion of how common it was in Lansing’s early days to move a home or business building from one location to another. For example, the building that is now Jack’s Sports Pub once was located on Wentworth Avenue, where it had previously been a German schoolhouse.
Schultz also reminisced about two former grocery stores on Ridge Road—Wilder’s and Hoekstra’s.
Taverns were social hubs and more
At one time taverns had a much bigger role in community life. Some of them also served as hotels, stores, restaurants, post offices, dance halls, and community meeting places. It was in Busack’s Tavern where the vote to incorporate took place, which resulted in the communities of Bernice, Oak Glen, and Lansing coming together to form the Village of Lansing.
In Lansing’s early days there were five taverns, Busack’s Tavern and the Union Hotel in Lansing, Nueffer’s Tavern in Oak Glen, and the Bloody Bucket and Bohemian Joe’s in Bernice. Busack’s was also the first jail in town and had a dance hall built onto the back of it.
The owner of Bohemian Joe’s, who doled out pay to the area brickyard workers, was killed in a robbery—the first unsolved murder in Lansing, said Schultz. He was jumped while on Ridge Road, transporting the cash in his wagon.
Kilroy’s was also discussed on the tour. It was run by Helen and Pete Kooi in the 1940s and 50s, and their daughter, Carol Jacobson, was on the June 24 History Walk. She told the crowd that back then the establishment was known as “Helen & Pete’s.” Barb Dust, curator of the Lansing Museum, mentioned that during the 1954 centennial a luncheon was held at Helen & Pete’s for the queen candidates.
Also included on the tour was the Lans Theatre, built in 1949. The building is now occupied by Beggar’s Pizza. Schultz and Krumm said they went together to see the very first movie ever shown there—“Three Little Girls in Blue.”
“The kids would go every Saturday, and you’d see 15 or 20 minutes of a serial, and you’d have to go back like 15 weeks in a row to see the whole thing,” explained Schultz. “They’d pass out a punch card, and if you had seen all the episodes, you got to see the last one for free.” Krumm also recalled the first serial shown at the Lans Theatre— “Jack Armstrong: The All-American Boy. “ Schultz said he also worked as a paper boy and a perk was that they’d sometimes get free tickets to a movie.
Someone in the crowd asked about movie prices at the time. “It was 15 cents for kids under 12,” said Krumm.