Showing posts with label Nature. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Nature. Show all posts

Saturday, December 22, 2018

Looking North at the Clay Pit from the top of gas tank at Albion and Albany Avenues, Chicago. Circa 1945

Clay Pit looking North from the top of the gas tank from about Albion and Albany Avenues, West Ridge community, West Rogers Park, neighborhood, Chicago.
The Entrance to People's Gas, Light and Coke was on Whipple Street. The property boundaries were Kedzie was on the west, Albion on the south, Whipple on the east and roughly North Shore on the North.

Compiled by Neil Gale, Ph.D. 

Tuesday, December 4, 2018

The Very First Frenchman in Southern Illinois was a Poacher.

The very first Frenchman, so far as known, who passed over the old trails of southern Illinois was a poacher. That Frenchman passed this way in 1673. He was at or near the mouth of [Little] Mary's River (near Chester, Illinois) when La Salle came down the Mississippi on his very first voyage; that explorer stopped long enough to interview René-Robert Cavelier, Sieur de La Salle (Sieur de La Salle being a title only) and got certain valuable information from him.

{{In 1670 La Salle set out on another expedition. He led a group of men west across Lake Erie and then overland ending up at the southern tip of Lake Michigan. Although reports from the expedition do not indicate, it would have been obvious that the Great Lakes represented a vast freshwater sea. From Lake Michigan, the party moved south across Illinois and encountered the Mississippi River. From the first expedition, La Salle would have known that the position on the Mississippi was far north of the Ohio. He likely deduced that both rivers flowed South to the river reported by De Soto. La Salle later followed up the discovery and sailed down the river all the way to the Gulf of Mexico. His trip made him the first European to travel the length of the Mississippi,}}

The name of this lone Frenchman is not mentioned, but as he was a scout, he may, for convenience, be called “Le Espion” (French for: the spy). Much of the life of Le Espion is revealed by the information which he gave La Salle. He told La Salle about the river from that point (Little Mary's River) to the Chicasaw Bluffs, and of the various tribes of Indians along it; he also told of a great tributary entering this river from the east, and of some of its tribes. To possess that knowledge, Le Espion must have been in that territory for several months, probably running into years. In so vast a territory, he was probably not alone—there were other lone scouts. He was there not for pleasure, nor for sight-seeing, but for business.

The business of Le Espion reveals itself. There were at that time many French-Canadians—Itinerant (a traveler, wanderer) merchants, voyageurs, adventurers, etc.—traversing the unexplored west in search of favorable locations for the fur trade. One such voyageur rescued Hennepin at the Falls of St. Anthony. Of course, these adventurers were looking for locations for the illegitimate fur trade, because they did not expect to pay the king a royalty for the privilege of trading under such difficulties. But since the fur companies and such men as La Salle did pay licenses, and since they had police powers and might arrest and punish poachers, and since it was the duty of the Fathers to apprehend all such poachers, these Itinerants followed the inland portages, divides, water-sheds, or old Indian trails. They avoided the missions and the navigable streams; the Ohio, from the mouth of the Wabash River to the mouth of the Tennessee, was taboo because frequented by English-speaking traders, whom the Itinerants feared to encounter.

The Itinerant Merchant was a Canadian who had some means of his own, or a line of credit with a Quebec or Montreal fur-buyer. He had allied with him from five to twenty-five Canadian youths, on a sort of profit-sharing basis, who were designated voyageurs (commercial travelers). Each voyageur, in turn, had with him a servant, and a ‘coureur de bois’ who acted as interpreter. A fully equipped Itinerant might have in his party as many as seventy-five men and boys—a considerable party, with considerable expense. Accordingly, it behooved the Itinerant to select a suitable location for trade. The best location for the purpose was to be found in the midst of Indians, who were in the midst of fur-bearing woods. Le Espion, doubtless, was looking for just such a place; we shall see.

In 1684, Franquelin, a French geographer, made a map of Louisiana, which included the Mississippi and its tributaries to their head-waters. On that map he shows, at the head of the Grand Chain of Rocks, a post named Tacaogane; at the Frankfort Hill, one named Nataogami; at the mouth of the Wabash River, on the left bank, one named Taarsile; one at about the location of East St. Louis, named Maroa; and at Cahokia, one named Kaockia. These are the only posts shown within several hundred miles of this old Reservation on that map, and it is presumed that they were the only ones then existent. These posts were necessarily built before 1684; and posts Tacaogane and Nataogami, the only ones within the Reservation, fairly shout as to the business of Le Espion in 1673. Of these two posts, Nataogami had by far the better location; it was at a great cross-roads—the intersection of the “grand trace,” or Ohio-Mississippi water-shed, and the “salt-trail” from river to river. If the Itinerant who located there had his full complement of seventy-five men, then he needed much shelter; this would require several huts.

The “trafiquer post” proper was a log hut fourteen by twenty feet, with a log partition. A door in the south end of the hut gave ingress to and egress from the store-room for merchandise; and there was a hole in the partition for convenience in storing furs and peltries in the rear room.
A Small Log Trading Post.
Today (1932), a voyageur would be called a pack-peddler. The voyageur with his pack, his servant with a similar pack, and his coureur de bois with a gun and some camping equipment, sallied forth in quest of an Indian camp, and of trade. Le Espion, in all probability, was one such voyageur, looking for a favorable trading place. Having found a desirable location, he built a small, one-roomed hut, thus establishing a sort of sub-post, which was called a depot. He hired an Indian woman to chop wood, to build fires, to cook, wash and mend. He was then ready to trade brandy or other wares to the Indians for beavers. These cost him from forty cents to one dollar apiece; when they reached Montreal they were worth four times that much, and at Paris or Bordeaux, ten times as much. Although the coureur de bois was his interpreter, the voyageur soon learned the twenty words necessary for him to be able to trade with the Indians; after that, the interpreter and the servant were kept busy carrying beavers to the post, and other merchandise back to the depot.

This sub-post, or depot, was usually given a French name, for the benefit of such persons as might desire to go there in the future. The stream, or prairie, upon which the depot was located, was also given a descriptive phrase name, for better identification. It was in this manner that our many French names came to be here.

Some of the streams that have French names are: Au Kas (Okaw), Beaucoup, Au Vase, Cache, Saline (Le eau de salle—salt spring), Grand Pierre, Gros Baie (Big Bay), Bobinet, Au Detour, and Le Clair; there were doubtless others whose names are lost to us. Some of the prairies in and near this Reservation are: Le Prairie du Bochier; Le Prairies du Long, du Chien, du Grand Cote, du Paradis, and du Etang (pond—East Six Mile); Le Prairie du ville de mont (Town Mount); du Coline (hill—probably Knob Prairie); du Mauvais (poor); and dn Fredonner (pronounced fredona, and meaning to hum, to buzz—probably Eight Mile).

Our most prominent landmarks were: Cavite-en-rocher (Cave-in-Rock); Le Grand Chaine a la Rocher (the Grand Chain of Rocks); Cavite Deltoid (the delta-like formation at the mouth of the Ohio); Le Cap de St. Croix (Grand Tower) and others not now familiar.

There were numerous little depots with big French names. The best remembered of these were: Macedoin (Macedonia); Francefort (Frankfort - modern day West Frankfort); Egalite (Equality); Eau Mineral (Creal Springs); Vienne (vi en, both vowels short; location of this depot uncertain); Moscou (Moscow, probably becoming a post later); Perou (Peru, location well known); Golconde (near Reevesville); A pas le Mocassin (Mocassin Gap) A pas le Geant (Giant’s Pass, identity not certain); and many others that a former generation of men could name.

This large number of French names did not become attached to all these places by chance, but were given by the French traders, trappers and hunters who roamed about this Reservation before Americans came; enough of these Frenchmen remained until the coming of our forefathers to acquaint them with these names. For just the same reasons that the English-speaking peoples who settled around Kaskaskia adopted the French names of rivers, prairies and places, our forefathers adopted the French names which they found here. A smaller and more scattered French population here probably accounts for the loss to us of many other such French names.

The fact that our French left no history is not at all strange. They were braconniers (poachers), and were violating two strict laws of Canada—they were trading with the Indians without license, and were selling them brandy, which had been prohibited. (One such violator had been hanged at Quebec.) They were violating an economic law, also, by wasting their time in the woods with Indians, learning all their vices and teaching them others, instead of staying at home and producing foodstuffs for the next winter; this was a great economic loss to Canada. And they were violating the moral law by their relations with Indian women; this was quite a scandal in the minds of the Jesuit Fathers, and they wrote many scathing letters about that scandal, to the governor and the intendant.

There were not more than nine thousand people in Canada at the beginning of the eighteenth century, and the territory was so immense that to properly police it was not practicable. A stricter edict was therefore declared, but to this edict D’L’Hut and eight hundred young Canadians answered by withdrawing into the woods to become Indians. As salve for these, who were much needed in the wars which were bound to come with the English, the king issued permits which allowed an Itinerant to have as many as twenty-five voyageurs with two men each as helpers. If the two “ posts’’ known to have been in this Reservation each had its Itinerant with his full complement of helpers, then there were here as many as one hundred and fifty Frenchmen. In all, twenty-five such permits were issued. But their issuance only aggravated the brandy-selling and the dissipation, and caused the priests to write stronger letters than ever. In this way, the permits were withdrawn and re-issued several times. And this was the somewhat muddled condition of affairs in Canada at the beginning of the eighteenth century.

Compiled by Neil Gale, Ph.D. 

Monday, January 29, 2018

The Monk and the Earthquake at Cahokia's Monk's Mound in the Illinois Territory, 1811-1812.

The story of Father Urban Guillet in the Illinois Territory started when his group of Trappists[1] left Kentucky to move further west in 1809. Having been unsuccessful in establishing a self-sufficient community near Bardstown, Kentucky, they received an offer of land and buildings in Florissant, Missouri by John Mullanphy. Mullanphy was an Irish immigrant and a successful St. Louis entrepreneur and philanthropist. In the meantime, the superior of the Trappists received another offer of land, this time from prominent Cahokia citizen Nicholas Jarrot. Jarrot offered 400 acres of land, situated nine miles north of Cahokia, completely free of charge. The Trappists took Jarrot's offer and began to establish their settlement at the foot of the long abandoned pre-Columbian temple mound of the Mississippian culture. It was this settlement that led to the site's current nickname, Monk's Mound.
Illustration of the remains of the most sophisticated prehistoric native civilization
north of Mexico are preserved at Cahokia Mounds.
Although Guillet and his colleagues established farms, built buildings, and opened a school for boys, the monastery of Notre Dame de Bon Secours (as they called it) never flourished. Bad weather, recurrent waves of disease, and crop failures made the Trappist ideal of a self-sufficient community difficult to pursue. Unclear title to the land, furthermore, led to problems with squatters. It seemed clear that the effort to establish a community of self-sustaining religious brothers at the foot of Monk's Mound would not succeed."

It was amidst this backdrop of struggle, on December 16, 1811, that the earth shook and perhaps, for Guillet and his confreres, served as another signal of the fate of their errand into the wilderness.

Fr. Guillet corresponded regularly with Jean-Octave Plessis, the Bishop of Quebec. While not his superior in the Trappist order, Plessis was an important figure in French-speaking North America and Guillet sought his counsel and assistance.

Two of these letters, written on February 18, 1812 and March 14, 1812, discuss the terrifying events surrounding the earthquake that would come to be known as the New Madrid Earthquake of 1811-1812.

In his letter of February 18, 1812, Guillet tells Plessis that, “an almost continual earthquake which lasted from the night of 15-16 December until now, helped much to bring people back to their religion. Earthquakes, long harbingers of evil in the Christian tradition, might have been seen as a sign from the beyond. Guillet also describes the destruction wrought by the quake, which damaged houses and, "opened the earth in many places.”

The earthquake that Guillet was describing did indeed begin on the morning of December 16, 1811. A series of three earthquakes, measuring between 7 and 7.5 on the Richter scale, shook the entire eastern portion of the United States. Centered in northeastern Arkansas and southeastern Missouri, these earthquakes caused damage and fear over half a continent. Another significant earthquake occurred on February 7, 1812, destroying the town of New Madrid, Missouri and toppling buildings in St. Louis.

In his March 14, 1812 letter to Plessis, Guillet again describes the destruction in the wake of the earthquakes. He writes that the damage locally was minor, but that he was nearly crushed by a falling chimney." He mentions the destruction of New Madrid and relates a story about the supposed source of the earthquakes: a volcanic eruption in North Carolina. This story, while likely credible, passed through many hands before it got to Guillet in the Illinois Country and may have been exaggerated.


The struggles to eke out a living from the unforgiving environment of the American Bottom, coupled with the shock of the 1811-1812 earthquakes, may have finally convinced Fr. Guillet that the mission at Notre Dame de Bon Secours was doomed to failure. In 1813, the Trappists gave up their effort, abandoned the monastery, and returned to Europe."

While it would be speculation to suggest that the earthquake drove Fr. Guillet and the other Trappist monks away, it would be fair to conclude that the earthquake was another major factor in the decision to abandon the mission.

Fr. Guillet's account of the earthquake is one of many that exist, and this account cannot be considered without attention being paid to the context. If the many accounts of the earthquake are compared, a picture of the earthquake emerges. If, however, one account of the earthquake is set in its historical context, a deeper rendering of the meaning of the event to the lives of those who lived it arises. In considering historical sources, one must always consider the context along with the source itself if an understanding of the past is to be had.

The memory of the earthquakes of 1811-1812 doubtless lived on in the unrecorded memories of those who lived through it. The recorded accounts, like that of Fr. Guillet, are a small sample of the widespread experience of the event. The past, in its totality, may be unknowable. We can come to understand it, though, through what remains from it.

Compiled by Neil Gale, Ph.D.

[1] Trappists - The order takes its name from La Trappe Abbey or La Grande Trappe, located in the French province of Normandy. A reform movement began there in 1664, in reaction to the relaxation of practices in many Cistercian monasteries. Armand Jean le Bouthillier de Rancé, originally the commendatory abbot of La Trappe, led the reform. As commendatory abbot, de Rancé was a layman who obtained income from the monastery but had no religious obligations. After a conversion of life between 1660 and 1662, de Rancé formally joined the abbey and became its regular abbot in 1663. In 1892 the reformed "Trappists" broke away from the Cistercian order and formed an independent monastic order with the approval of the Pope.

Thursday, January 25, 2018

The White Squirrels of Olney Illinois.

Why are there so many white squirrels in Onley, Illinois? There are two theories that offer some historical perspective.

The William Yates Stroup Theory
While William Yates Stroup was hunting squirrels in the woods near his home in the southeast Olney Township he saw a gray squirrel run into a nest and shot the den killing the mother and knocking out two pure white baby squirrels. He put them into the pockets of his game bag and took them home with him, turning them over to his sons, George and Era Strop who raised them by hand feeding them milk by a spoon. The little squirrels lived, thrived and grew well. That fall farmer Stroup brought the squirrels to Olney and presented them to the Jasper Banks Saloon (JAP's Place) and displayed them in his window. They attracted attention and were a fine drawing card for JAP's Place. 
The albinos were finally released when the Illinois legislature passed a law prohibiting the confinement of wildlife, which included squirrels. The squirrels were taken to Oakwood, the home of Thomas Tippit commonly called Tippit's Woods and released. The Tippit residence was located at 802 N. Silver Street, but has since been torn down.

The George W. Ridgely Theory
George W. Ridgely moved to a farm about six miles southeast of Sumner, In 1899 George discovered a cream-colored squirrel and a white squirrel playing on his farm near Sumner. He tried to capture them but was unsuccessful. Finally he asked his neighbor John Robinson to help him, but they were unsuccessful. Finally the men constructed a box-like trap and a cage eight feet by six feet. They captured them and were able to raise several litters before bringing a pair to Olney in 1902. Mr. Ridgely sold the pair to Jasper "Jap" C. Banks for $5 each. Mr. Banks made a green box for his albinos and displayed them in his saloon window, hoping they would attract customers and cause them to go inside and get a better look and have a drink.
When the Illinois state legislature passed a law prohibiting the containment of wild animals, Mr. Ridgely released all his squirrels from his cage near Sumner. They wandered in his woods and neighboring lands, and the squirrels were no longer to be found.
Jap Banks also disposed of his squirrels, giving the pair to the sons of Thomas Tippit Sr., a former mayor of Olney. Thomas Tippit had a woods near his home then located at 802 Silver Street His sons placed the open green box in one of the nearby trees, liberating the squirrels.
Thomas Tippit Jr. and his brother watched the male white squirrel leave the cage. Just then a large female fox squirrel attacked the male albino, "tearing him to shreds" and dropping him to the ground. Tom threw something at the fox squirrel and drove her into her den. They he ran to the house and got a shotgun. His father had allowed him to shoot it for the first time the day before. Fourteen-year-old Tom drew aim and shot the fox squirrel as it approached the white female. The albino produced a litter of all white squirrels establishing the Olney albino colony.
About 1941, there were 800 white squirrels. In the mid-1970's, John Stencel, instructor at Olney Central College, received a small grant from the Illinois Academy of Science to study the white squirrels. 
A squirrel count is held each fall. Both white and gray squirrels are counted in addition to cats. The number of squirrels has dropped causing concern. When the white squirrels dip below 100, Stencel said, they are concerned about genetic drifts, a biological force that speeds up the extinction of a small population. 
In 1997, the Olney City Council amended its ordinance which disallowed dogs from running at large to include cats. The 1997 squirrel count realized a decrease in cats. Dr. Stencel is hopeful this will have a positive affect on the white squirrel population. 
In an effort to help the white squirrel population, City Clerk Belinda Henton has obtained a permit to rehabilitate wildlife from the Illinois Department of Natural Resources, Division of Wildlife Resources. Residents are asked to contact Mrs. Henton when they discover white squirrels that have been abandoned or hurt.

White Squirrels and the Law

White squirrels have the right-of-way on all public streets, sidewalks, and thoroughfares in Olney, and there is a $750 fine for accidentally running one over.

The police department badges and squad cars have a picture of a white squirrel on it. 

The white squirrel has proved to be an enduring symbol of Olnean pride, and stands as Olney's most defining feature.

Albino or white squirrels are on the endangered species list since 2014.

Compiled by Neil Gale, Ph.D. 

Thursday, October 26, 2017

The History of Chicago's Air Quality.

Like most large cities, Chicago has a history of poor air quality. As it industrialized, Chicago relied on the dirty soft coal of southern Illinois for power and heat. Burned in boiler rooms, locomotives, steel mills, and domestic furnaces, the ubiquitous coal created an equally ubiquitous smoke. Soot soiled everything in the city, ruining furniture, merchandise, and building facades. Chicago legislated against dense smoke in 1881, but residents and visitors continued to complain about choking clouds and filthy soot. In addition to smoke, the numerous industries surrounding the slaughterhouses produced foul odors and dangerous chemical emissions, further diminishing air quality.
Coal burning steamer on the Chicago River.
Undoubtedly the poor air increased the severity of several pulmonary diseases, including asthma and pneumonia. Perhaps second only to Pittsburgh in smoke pollution at the opening of the twentieth century, Chicago gained a national reputation for its terrible air, but it also became a leader in regulation. In the early 1900s, a movement to force railroad electrification focused on the Illinois Central's waterfront line and kept the smoke issue in the news. Still, air quality did not significantly improve until coal use began to decline after World War II.

In the early 20th century, private, single-family, two and three flat residence were instructed to burn their waste in the small concrete garbage incinerators that the city constructed in the alleys behind each property as a solution to growing landfill issues. Garbage trucks would open the cooled incinerators and shovel out the ashes. Larger incinerators used by schools, hospitals, and apartment buildings.

In 1959 the city created the Department of Air Pollution Control. The new department investigated all types of emissions and suggested regulations for several previously ignored sources of pollution, including burning refuse and leaves. 

Public concern for air quality heightened after a 1962 disaster killed hundreds of London residents, and by 1964 Chicago received more than six thousand citizen air pollution complaints per year. As with the early movement to control smoke, the new activism focused on the potential negative health effects of impure air. Not surprisingly, the Loop, the Calumet Region, and northern Lake County, Indiana, were the most polluted districts in the metropolitan area.

In 1967 the U.S. Public Health Service determined that only New York City's air was more polluted than Chicago's. Impelled by citizen activism and new federal regulations in the 1970s, the city attempted to control the largest polluters, including the massive South Works steel plant. Even as these efforts began to reap benefits, however, the continuing suburbanization and auto dependence of the metropolitan area meant that auto emissions would plague the city for decades to come.

By the 1990s, a decline in heavy industry and effective regulation of auto emissions combined to significantly improve Chicago's air. Chicago no longer ranked among the nation's most heavily polluted cities.

By David Stradling
Edited by Neil Gale, Ph.D.

Sunday, March 5, 2017

Friday, February 17, 2017

The Evolution of the Skokie Lagoons.

The Skokie Lagoons are a nature preserve on the Skokie River that extends from Glencoe to Winnetka and is owned and managed by the Forest Preserve District of Cook County (FPDCC). Within the system are seven inter-connected lagoons totaling 190 acres that are surrounded by floodplains and uplands. Water flows from north to south through the Chicago Botanic Garden into the Skokie Lagoons and south to the north branch of the Chicago River. The lagoons have a long evolutionary history going back to Pleistocene age continental glaciation.

The North Shore uplands, lowland marshes, ravines and Lake Michigan are all products of the last ice age. About 14,000 years ago, global warming caused the Laurentide icecap to retreat, leaving Glacial Lake Chicago (more than 60 feet above the present Lake Michigan). The glacier also left a topography of lake border moraines (low hills) separated by valleys and marshes that now include the Des Plaines River and the west fork (through Glenview), middle fork (through Northfield) and east fork or Skokie River of the north branch of the Chicago River. As lake levels fell, extensive wetlands developed in the valleys; the largest (approximately 20 miles long and ¼ to 1 mile wide) was the Skokie Marsh. To the east, the Highland Park Moraine, deposited by the Wisconsinan Glacier, separated the Skokie Marsh from Glacial Lake Chicago, now Lake Michigan.
Flooded Winnetka 1924.
Ridge Avenue in Winnetka lies along the crest of the Highland Park Moraine that slopes gently east and west. Glacial meltwater flowed eastward into Lake Michigan through stream valleys cut into the moraine clay deposits. In the marshes to the west, a diverse wetland plant community developed, including marsh grasses and wild rice that supported a robust community of fish and mammals and was also an important stop-over for migratory water fowl. Woolly mammoths and bison were also known to be residents of this region. It is said that Potawatomi Indians called the marsh the Kitchi-wap choku (CheWab Skokie on early maps) that roughly translates to “great marsh.” Since the area was subject to flooding, the first European settlers took a cue from the Potawatomi and used the land primarily for hunting and fishing.

Frank Windes, Winnetka Village Engineer from 1898 to 1940, reminisced about the marsh of his childhood in a talk to the Masonic Club in 1933:
There were great flocks of wild geese, ducks and wild swans. In the wet woodlands were to be found snipe, plover, woodcock and partridge. In the summer the plover, killdeer, bobolink, meadow lark, marsh wren and many of the waders were found in great numbers. Coon, mink, rabbits, muskrat and weasels were found, and we had great fun hunting with our old muzzle-loading shotguns. It was bare of trees, except for a few straggling willows and a wooded island or two; it was very wet most of the year; and now and then large tracts of “floating bogs” dangerous to walk across in flood times… The wild flowers grew in great profusion. Pond lilies were found in some of the ponds, wild strawberries, grapes, elderberries, cherries and plums grew in the bordering woods and meadows and on the “islands.”
Fishing was easy, according to Windes:
As small boys we would build two small dams across the Skokie stream. We would wade in the stream and beat the water with sticks, scaring the fish between our 2 dams. After we had some 20 to 30 good sized bass, pickerels, catfish and perch enclosed, we would close the dam, and then shovel out the fish, and everyone in town had a fine mess of fresh fish. The skating was wonderful. We could use iceboats, and skate all the way from Winnetka to the Wells St. Bridge in Chicago.
In the late 19th century, floods and mosquitoes were a chronic problem in the Skokie Marsh. Settlers dug drainage channels in sections of the marsh in order to expand “useful land” for grazing and farming. These attempts to improve the land had a negative consequence. Peat deposits from the newly-drained marsh regularly caught fire, blanketing neighbors with dense smoke.

Flooding continued and in 1884, the Skokie Ditch was constructed from the Skokie Marsh, eastward along Willow Road, through Indian Hill and Kenilworth to Lake Michigan. Legal opposition and loss of funding killed the project before it could be dug deep enough to fully drain the marsh.

Two decades later, Frank Windes formulated plans for turning the swampy Skokie Marsh into a lagoon system and presented them to Daniel Burnham and the Chicago Plan Commission for inclusion in the 1909 Plan of Chicago. Burnham said he was “many years ahead of the game; wait, some day this will be taken up; not now young man.” It wasn’t until 1933, after a half century of unsuccessful attempts to “drain the swamp” that President Franklin Roosevelt approved the creation of the Skokie Lagoons as a Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) project along with seven others in Illinois. Winnetkan Harold Ickes, FDR’s Secretary of the Interior, is credited with development of the project.
Plans, Development of the Skokie Lagoons, Forest Preserve of Cook County.
The FPDCC had been buying up land in and around the marsh with the intention of flood control and creation of a waterfowl refuge and recreational area. About 4 million cubic yards of earth was excavated and landscaped by more than a thousand workers. It was the largest CCC project in the United States. The plan—completed in 1942—includes lakes, floodplains, connecting channels, flood control dams and perimeter ditches to divert storm water around the lagoons.

In 1968, the Chicago Botanic Garden was carved out of the north section of the Skokie Lagoons between Dundee Road and Lake Cook Road. Designed by landscape architect John O. Simonds, the Botanic Garden includes nine islands and 60 acres of water. Owned by FPDCC and managed by the Chicago Horticultural Society, it is a world-renowned living plant museum with 25 display gardens surrounded by four natural habitats.

Although peat fires were eliminated and flooding was reduced, by 1979 problems with siltation of the lagoons and untreated sewage spurred FPDCC to new action. The FPDCC and the Northeastern Illinois Planning Commission implemented a plan to divert treated wastewater around the lagoons. In addition, over one million cubic yards of sediment were dredged from the lagoons between 1988 and 1993.

Following the dredging, 40 tons of invasive carp were removed and native and sport fish restored to the deeper (up to 12 feet) and cleaner lagoons. Fishermen are now a common sight at the Willow Road dam and boaters regularly enter the lagoons at Tower Road.

Today, the biggest threats in the more than 540 acres of floodplains and uplands in the Skokie Lagoons are invasive plants: overstory trees and garlic mustard in the floodplains, buckthorn in the uplands, and tall perennial reeds in the diversion ditches. Although peat fires have been eradicated, dead trees in the uplands are becoming a fire hazard. FPDCC and Chicago Audubon Society volunteers have been actively working to rid the area of buckthorn and garlic mustard, clear brush and restore native plant species including grasses, sedges and wildflowers.

The Skokie Lagoons have transformed marshes into ponds and parkland, eliminated peat fires and greatly reduced the mosquito problem. But new homes built on land that was once marsh flood-plain still flood occasionally. In an effort to better control flooding, the Village of Winnetka is considering construction of a storm sewer system consisting of an eight-foot-wide pipe that would extend east to Lake Michigan—an underground version of the Skokie Ditch.

The evolution of the Skokie Lagoons is not complete. The construction of levees and dikes on the Mississippi River for flood control and navigation resulted in new problems that may not have been anticipated by the early planners. As exemplified by the Chicago Botanic Garden, close attention to detail and plenty of funds will assure the vision of sustainability.

Compiled by Neil Gale, Ph.D. 

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

Olson Memorial Park, Waterfall and Rock Garden, Chicago, Illinois. (1935-1978)

Olson Rug Company was established in 1874. The manufacturing mill was located in Chicago at Diversey and Crawford Avenues (now Pulaski Road). During the war era, when raw material was scarce, people would send in their old wool rugs, rags, clothing etc. and Olson Rug would turn them into a beautiful area rug. The family owned business was "the place" to buy rugs for many years.
Alongside the factory was the renowned Olson Memorial Park. Walter E. Olson built the 22 acre park in 1935. The project took nearly six months to complete. About 800 tons of stone and 800 yards of soil were used for it's construction. Approximately 3,500 perennials, along with numerous species of pines, junipers, spruces, arbor-vitaes and annuals served as a stark contrast to the area’s industrial surroundings. Olson Park’s stunning rock garden, duck pond, and 35-foot waterfall which replicated a waterfall on the Ontonagon River in Michigan's Upper Peninsula.
The park was intended for his employees and to bring some nature to the grounds of the factory. Olson's idea for the park came from his summer home in Little St. Germaine, Wisconsin, where nature in the north woods created a peaceful setting and he thought would do the same for employees and for the crowded Avondale community as well.

The opening of the park took place on September 27, 1935, what was then American Indian Day in Illinois (fourth Saturday of September) as well as the 100th anniversary of a treaty resulted in the final expulsion of the Pottawatomies, Chippewas, and Ottawas across the Mississippi, and included a symbolic gesture deeding back the area of the park to the Indians.

During the first Sunday after its dedication Olson Park attracted as many as 600 visitors per hour. This theme was kept up with visiting Native American chiefs performing war dances, in authentic time period clothing, periodically at the park.

As Olson Rug Park became more elaborate, it was opened to the public free of charge. A trailer was set up to serve hot dogs, lemonade and other staples. The word spread. By 1955 over 200,000 people a year were visiting the park.


The parks decor changed with the season. At Christmas there was the obligatory Santa, at Easter the obligatory Easter Bunny. Halloween saw a floodlit moon hung over the waterfall, complete with a witch on a broomstick.

In some years, the great lawn featured a re-creation on McCutcheon's famed cartoon "Injun Summer."[1]

Marshall Field & Company bought the Olson Rug plant and turned it into a Field's warehouse in 1965. Field's kept the park operating until 1978, then bulldozed it in favor of more parking.

Compiled by Neil Gale, Ph.D.

[1] "Injun Summer" was first published in the Chicago Tribune, written by, John T. McCutcheon, and printed in the September 30, 1907 newspaper. McCutcheon won a Pultizer Prize in 1932, the first Tribune staff member to receive journalism's coveted award.

Thoughts About "Injun Summer."
One day in the early fall of 1907, cartoonist John T. McCutcheon found himself groping for inspiration for a drawing to fill his accustomed spot on the front page of the Tribune. He thought back to his boyhood in the 1870s on the lonely cornfields of Indiana. "There was, in fact, little on my young horizon in the middle 1870s beyond corn and Indian traditions,McCutcheon recalled later, "It required only a small effort of the imagination to see spears and tossing feathers in the tasseled stalks, tepees through the smoky haze..."

That "small effort of imagination" became McCutcheon's classic drawing "Injun Summer." It was accompanied by a lengthy discourse with the plain-spoken charm of Mark Twain. The cartoon proved so popular that it made an annual appearance in the Tribune beginning in 1912, and over the years ran in hundreds of other newspapers. 

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Kline Creek Farm, a Living History Farm in West Chicago, Illinois.

Take a step back in time. The Kline Creek Farm, in the Timber Ridge Forest Preserve shows what life was like on a DuPage County Farm in the 1890s.
Stroll through restored farmstead structures and meet the historically-costumed interpreters operating this living-history farm using the tools and techniques of the past. Activities and events at the farm re-create the seasonal rhythms that have governed farm life for centuries.
Kline Creek Farm presents 19th-century farm activities, such as baking, canning, planting, harvesting, sheep shearing and ice cutting among other activities.

The farmhouse was the center of domestic activities and today contains original artifacts and reproductions that enhance its homelike atmosphere. Depending on the time of year, staff and volunteers plant heirloom fruits and vegetables in the kitchen garden, tend to the orchard, work in the wagon shed or cure sausages in the smoke house.
Percheron work horses help plant and harvest crops of corn, oats, and other small grains; and resident livestock, such as the farm’s Southdown sheep, Shorthorn and Angus cattle, and chickens, occupy the farm’s coop, barn, fold, and pastures.
Beekeeping is also a long-standing tradition at Kline Creek Farm. Since 1984 volunteer beekeepers have managed the farmstead’s apiary by caring for the bees, extracting and processing honey, and leading educational programs and tours that focus on the honeybee’s role as primary pollinator for two-thirds of all U.S. crops.

Compiled by Neil Gale, Ph.D. 

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

The Famous Sulphur Springs Resort in the City of Creal Springs, Illinois.

The City of Creal Springs, Illinois is located in southeastern Williamson County, on the north slope of the Shawnee Hills. It currently has a population less than 550 people living within the city limits of one square mile. In the 1920s, the population soared to just over 1,000 residences.
Blue Avenue, Looking East, Creal Springs, Illinois. (circa 1895)
Some say that a Frenchman, named Philippe Renault, was the first white man to visit the area arriving approximately 1720. The Le Grand Trace was a road laid out by the French when Assumption mission and Fort Massac (Metropolis, Illinois) were built in the early 1700s.

Sulphur Springs was a small French trading settlement and later it became a small hamlet or community on the blaze-marked [1] Le Grand Trace trail. The Le Grand Trace ran between Kaskaskia and Fort Massac. When John Reynolds’ (Governor of Illinois 1830-1834) family came to Illinois in 1800, the route was plainly marked with mile posts burnt on trees and painted red. The road crossed the Saline at Ward’s mill, passed Bainbridge, and crossed Big Muddy at Vancil bend.
Passengers in a Wagon on Blue Avenue, Creal Springs, Illinois. (circa 1910)
During those early years, it was known by it's French name, Eau Mineral (Mineral Waters) before getting the name of Sulphur Springs. Other knowledgeable historians give early settlement credit to the Spaniards. It is believed that a party of four traveling east may have camped at the old stone fort in Saline County. Legend goes on to say that a Spanish cannon filled with gold coins is supposed to be buried near the old fort. Visit there and you could find the strange carvings on an old rock which are supposed to indicate the location of the still missing and buried cannon of gold.

An old surveyor, Nimrod Perrine, once documented that the oldest house in Williamson County was a Frenchman 's hut at Eau Mineral or Sulphur Springs. This structure was still in use during the booming resort era of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. 
Creal Springs, Illinois, Grade School. Circa 1906
The first American cabin was built by Gideon Alexander in 1822. The Sulphur Springs post office was built in 1846, followed by a blacksmith, several merchants, and three doctors within a very short period. Two of the doctors operated drug stores where they dosed their patients with sulphur water.

A few years later Edward Creal and Dr. Curtis Brown began to exploit the curative natures of the springs on Creal's property. Within only four years the curative nature of these spring waters had enticed several hundred health seekers to visit his location. As more people came, a new community developed and prospered thereby causing Sulpher Springs to be relocated and renamed.

In the early 19th century, Lusk's Ferry Road was an important road that connected Fort Kaskaskia with Lusk's Ferry on the Ohio River. The original survey maps of Illinois show a short segment of this road south of Creal Springs, in Johnson County. This old road most likely ran from Marion through Creal Springs before ascending to the summit of the Shawnee Hills. The modern road running toward the southeast into Creal Springs may be the old road. The road leading south out of Creal Springs toward Lake of Egypt links into the Wagon Creek Road, which leads to the segment mapped in the original survey. Modern maps also show traces of an older road that ran south out of Creal Springs along a less direct line.
The Rebecca Family Creal Springs, Illinois. Circa 1900s
The route south out of Creal Springs lead to a difficult passage over the Shawnee Summit. There was an easier, though longer, zigzag route east to New Burnside, southwest along modern U.S. Highway 45, and then back east to Reynoldsburg. Creal Springs may at one time have served as the junction of these alternative routes.
The village was incorporated August 10, 1883 shortly after a post office was obtained by transfer of the Sulphur Springs post office and moved by Postmaster Allison Clark with a change of name February 8, 1883. Sulpher Springs became a subdivision of the new town.
The Creal Springs Seminary, later known as the Creal Springs College and Conservatory of Music, was an educational institution in Creal Springs, Illinois, from 1884 to 1916. 

It was headed by Principal Gertrude Brown Murrah, a graduate of the Mount Carroll Seminary in Mount Carroll, Illinois. The school was built as a three-story frame building on a five-acre site on the north edge of town, on land acquired from the Creal family by Mrs. Murrah and her husband Henry Clay Murrah. It opened on September 22, 1884, and was chartered in August 1888 by the State of Illinois as Creal Springs Seminary Company.

The school was originally planned to be for girls only, but due to high demand from boy students it opened as coeducational. At the end of the first 12-week term, there were a total of 59 students enrolled. The faculty had six members including Mr and Mrs Murrah. The program was divided into primary, preparatory, college-level and music departments.

In January 1894, the name of the school was changed by charter from Creal Springs Seminary to Creal Springs College and Conservatory of Music. Both bachelor's and master's degrees were provided. The faculty at this point numbered 15, with approximately 100 students enrolled. In 1902, the library had 400 volumes. The faculty and students jointly published a quarterly magazine called the Erina Star.

The school closed on December 24, 1916. Mrs Murrah continually struggled to reopen the school until her death in 1929. The building was demolished in 1943.
The Creal Springs Illinois College.

The Creal Springs Illinois College.
Between 1890 and 1903, Creal Springs was one of the most popular spots in the Midwest. Four daily trains served the town. Special trains were announced to start on the first of May. Round trip tickets were good for the entire season.
Postcard of the Creal Springs, Illinois, Train Depot. (circa 1900)

Over Head Bridge, Creal Springs, Illinois. 1913
Creal Springs developed into one of the leading health spa and recreational centers in the mid-west. People traveled for hundreds of miles to experience the changes in their health that was advertised with such vigor and promises. These promises can not be totally vouched for even today.

Many selected Creal Springs because of the comparable low cost when looking at the competing cities like Hot Springs, Arkansas. Room and meals were available at the going rate of only $2.00 per day in the hotels, including the very popular Ozark Hotel operated by Pete Stanley in the heart of the wells area.

Ozark Hotel, Creal Springs, Illinois. Circa 1900

The Ozark Hotel on Fire in 1917. It was rebuild (see photo below), but then closed permanently in 1928.

Bath House and Spring Number 3.

Mineral Well at Ozark Hotel, Creal Springs, Illinois. Circa 1910s

Stanley, a shrewd business man from Paducah, Kentucky, felt that if you offered great rates on the basics, people would spend more on the extras including his concessions, game room and bar. Of course, when Stanley prospered, so did the towns-people.

The local stores thrived on their sales to those visiting for the treatments, and the livery stable was busy supplying hacks and horses for the patients to take long leisurely rides in the lush countryside.
John Morray's General Store Exterior ↑ and Interior, ↓ Creal Springs, Illinois. Circa 1910s

Although the community prospered, and the town folk raked in the benefits, in 1903 the Baptists and Methodists teamed up to get the community voted dry. Ironically, once the liquor was gone, so were the health spa seekers. For several years following the Dry Vote, many patrons purchased their water by mail, until the business finally died.
Assembly of God Church, Creal Springs, Illinois. 1913
Today, their is little evidence of the wells except for the sign in the park and a few hand operated hand pumps labeled with the cures they are believed to have along with a warning that the water may not be safe for consumption.
Fred West Motor Company, Dodge-Plymouth, Creal Springs, Illinois.

There is still talk around town of those old stories about who was cured for what with the water from the wells. In the hay day of those twenty years in prosperity, advertisements were usually testimonials from patients about how they had been cured from their suffering. 

The sign in the park still identifies each well and its curative nature:

Spring No. 1: Diseases of the stomach and digestive organs

Spring No. 2: Liver and Kidney

Spring No. 3: Beauty Spring; Blood and Skin, Nerves, and Brain Tonic

Spring No. 4: Diarrhea: Astringent, Cures for all Children Problems

Spring No. 5: Tranquilizer and Laxative

Spring No. 6: Cure of Catarrh (Google it), Inflammation of Tonsils, swelling or running sores. Its like cannot be found in this country, if in the world.

Other wells were present but today these are the only ones which can be identified as having a specific location.
Surviving WWII Veterans Coming Home to Creal Springs, Illinois.
During early 1996, a joint effort by the Creal Springs Park Board, Creal Springs City board, Illinois State Health Department, and Frank McDannel, of the Williamson County Economic Development Board resulted in a matching grant being secured from the State Tourism Department to open three wells in our local "Wonder Water Park." The matching funds were quickly raised from interested people of the area.

A master long range plan has been funded by the city for the historic Mineral Springs Water Park. Gazebos are being built to cover each of the three usable wells. A flowing fountain is planned for well #3, which is famous for its beauty enhancement qualities, and is known as the "Beauty Spring." Each well, except #8, has been tested for its medicinal and curative values. These claims range from helping cure diseases of the stomach and digestive organs, to blood, skin and brain disorders.

The Creal Springs City Park is host to a number of activities including the annual "Wonder Water Reunion," held the second week of September. They have the Little Miss & Mister Contest, the Junior Miss & Mister, Miss Creal Springs, and the Baby Boom PageantThe reunion also includes a carnival, food, a cake walk and arts and crafts.

Compiled by Neil Gale, Ph.D.

[1] Blaze-marking, Trail blazing, trailblazing or way marking is the practice of marking paths in outdoor areas with blazes for others to follow or to find your way back. In frontier times, trails were blazed by cuts made into the bark of a tree by ax or knife, usually the former, burned in marks and/or paint (usually red in color) were also used. In general, blaze marks follow each other at certain, but not necessarily exact distances between the blazes, and mark the direction of the trail.