IT TAKES TIME
Innovations aren't quickly adopted in Elgin. Changes in social attitudes are slow to arrive everywhere, but even new ways of behaving that do not threaten deep levels of the community psyche often take time before they are accepted here.
Daylight savings was introduced nationally during the First World War as a measure to save coal used to produce electricity by setting clocks ahead one hour in the spring. Chicago retained the practice, but Elgin, only 38 miles away, preferred to let the time alone. This caused some confusion for a growing number of commuters, and voters were given an opportunity to express an opinion on the subject at the township Republican caucus in 1921. DST was rejected, 2,003 to 1,319. Assuming that farmers had cast many of the negative votes, the proposal was voted upon at a city referendum. Again the electorate said, "No," 2,506 to 1,902.
After proponents tried again at the city election in 1923 and again were disappointed, 6,309 to 5,115, a concerted effort was made to adopt DST in 1928. G. Radcliffe Stevens outlined the advantages. Sunlight was healthy, and there would be more time in the evening to work around the yard or take short trips. Commuters should not be discouraged from living in Elgin. Stevens accused the electric utility of favoring the status quo because DST would reduce consumption and implied that theater interests feared the competition of outdoor recreation.
The opposition insisted that standard time was God's time. Elgin should remain independent of the big city. "Chicago merchants and the Chicago Stock Exchange seek to force daylight savings down Elgin's throat," warned the Standard Time League. DST would move the bedtime hour for children into the heat of the day, making it difficult for them to fall asleep. Elgin stores would lose the farmers' patronage.
The campaign was heated, and more than 8,500 went to the polls, an unusually heavy turn out for a referendum not associated with an election. The proposal was defeated, 4,858 to 3,655.
In 1933, with the Century of Progress world's fair scheduled to open in Chicago and with widespread unemployment in Elgin, the Elgin Association of Commerce and other leaders in the movement for change were encouraged to try once more. Neighboring cities-St. Charles, Geneva, and Batavia-had previously adopted DST.
Grace Topping, writing for the board of directors of the YWCA, pointed out that Elgin was not a suburb but that it was situated in the metropolitan area and should conform to the time used by other communities. The patronage of the world's fair tourists should not be discouraged by a confusion over time. The Kiwanis Club estimated between $50,000 and $75,000 would be spent in Elgin by visitors.
In the event the voters again turned down the proposal, stores, factories and otherbusiness establishments were considering plans to adjust their hours to Chicago's. Finally, on April 15, 1933, daylight savings was adopted by a vote of 4,854 to 3,789. It was generally conceded that economic interest was the deciding factor. The lure of money had made converts.
The East Side North Western
Talking about the removal of the east side railroad track from Elgin's central business district has rivaled discussion of the weather. It's been going on so long it has become a venerable community tradition:
"At the last council meeting a committee was appointed to interview the officers of the Northwestern road regarding the removal of the track from the present east side right-ofway ... The... present right-of-way is a decided nuisance to business as teams are constantly passing and street blockades are frequent." -Daily Courier, August 15, 1899
"It would be a comparatively easy matter for the North Western road to take their tracks along the west side tracks as far north as Dundee." -Advocate, March 28, 1914
The east side North Western depot at Douglas and Dexter Avenues was erected in 1886 after fire had destroyed an earlier building. Passenger traffic to Chicago declined when the third rail interurban began operating. The station was razed in 1950.
"The Fox River Valley branch of the Northwestern, instead of branching
at a point near the city limits at the south and cutting through the business
section, would continue on the west side to a point near the north city
-Plan of Elgin, January 1917, page 18
"The recent proposal of a group of Elgin businessmen relative to the removal of the east side tracks of the Chicago & North Western Railway Company from Bent Street to Dexter Avenue, is not to be shelved, according to Mayor Myron M. Lehman... " -Daily Courier-News, July 6, 1934
"The possibility of reducing the traffic snarls in downtown Elgin by having the Chicago and North Western Railroad remove its east side tracks from National Street to Douglas Avenue is being explored by the City Council." -Daily Courier-News, May 20,1949
"The Comprehensive Plan recommends improvements in the railroad system
... 3. Abandonment of the Chicago and North Western Railway rights-of-way through Elgin..." -Comprehensive City Plan, 1959, pages 87-88
"Current negotiations between the city and the Chicago and North Western Railway concerning the abandonment of the single, local service track on the east side of the river should be continued. For a number of safety and traffic reasons, this line should be abandoned at least south of Kimball Street. -Elgin Bridge Needs and Location Study, August 1974, page 60
"Removal of the railroad would allow for Major expansion of the retail core east to the existing rail line ... (and) for a new inner loop arterial system which would encircle the expanded retail core..." -Downtown Concept Plan, 1980, page 18
"Acquire R.R.right-of-way (east of river) and develop pedestrian walk and optional bikeway." -Center City Master Plan, 1991, page 20
Can traditionalists continue to assume that nothing will happen as usual, that the tracks and all the debate about them will remain part of our Elgin way of life? What if the rails are actually removed? Planners and consultants won't have much to recommend in their wide-margined studies. Citizens, looking in astonishment at the vacated right of way, may lose their bearings, bereft of a familiar landmark.
Just in case the railroad wants to abandon the line, efforts should be made to have the tracks placed on the National Register of Historic Places as an aid to their preservation. What would Elgin be without them?
A long-standing and acrimonious controversy ended in 1932 when dignitaries cut a ribbon opening Highway 58 into the city. Funded by a 100 million dollar state bond issue, construction of the road to Evanston had started in the spring of 1928. There were a number of engineering problems along the 27-1/2 mile route, such as railroad grade separations and intersections with other highways. Seven miles east of Elgin, a slough of peat required 41,000 cubic yards of stable fill. But these challenges paled before a highly emotional, political obstacle.
Work began before a decision had been made about where the road would connect with Dundee Avenue. The state Highway Department preferred an extension of Summit Street, a route immediately rejected by the City Council. Protracted conferences, unfounded charges, and bitter arguments followed for more than three years. Although the state agreed to bear all the expenses of construction, at issue were the costs to the city of acquiring the right of way, the use of Lords Park and, the possible blockage of springs that fed the park's lagoons.
Alternative sites explored by the city-Grand and Oakland Avenues, an extension of Fremont Street, Oakwood Boulevard, Congdon Avenue, Ann, Enterprise and Jefferson Streets- all had disadvantages and raised anxieties of adjacent property owners. The state insisted that there must be no right or left turn "kinks" before the intersection with Dundee Avenue. Park Street was acceptable, but this entrance would have severed Lords Park.
While City Hall remained deadlocked, the road was paved up to the Elgin, Joliet & Eastern Railroad tracks and partly graded to within 500 feet of the proposed extension to Summit Street. And there it remained, a frustrating sight to motorists, while local civic organizations pleaded that some decision be made.
The City Council finally agreed to Summit Street in August, 1931. The deciding factor may have been the state Highway Department's proposal of an eventual extension of the new route westward to connect with what is now Highway 31. To demonstrate the department's good intentions, surveys were actually completed for a new bridge, to be erected at state expense, across the Fox River at the north of Elgin.
Of course there would have to be a later decision about where the bridge would be erected. At Slade Avenue? At Summit Street? When would it be built? Or should it be built at all? What happens in the past is not an isolated event. It becomes a path to the present, part of a road that stretches into the future, perhaps over a river.
It can't be said that Elgin has been a community where new ideas are given an eager welcome. There is usually an anxious period of soul-searching before an innovation gains civic acceptance. Take, for example, the reception accorded a dance step.
To some minds, dancing was fraught with dangerous consequences, "The round (closed couple) dance is nothing more than a public embrace," warned a Sunday School teacher at the First Methodist Church in 1911. "It is like a drink, it always leaves a taste for more." He was referring to the then popular two-step, but faster ragtime tunes soon appeared. Some Elgin social clubs issued edicts that the grizzly, the turkey trot, the bunny hug, and other versions of "wiggle" dances would not be allowed.
And then in 1913, surreptitiously entering town two years after it had been introduced to the fashionable in New York, was a new dance that originated in Argentine cafes of doubtful respectability-the sensuous tango! The arrival of the tango, which left little daylight between the partners, aroused a local controversy. To tango or not to tango became the question of the day. It was prohibited at the bazaar sponsored by St. Mary's Church. Some of the corrupted movements of the severely criticized new dance in 'ght be seen there, Father McCann reasoned, "and it would reflect upon us all."
The issue had to be faced by the committee planning the fourth annual Firemen's Ball. It was the first big dance of the season, and a precedent established at this event would be followed by ensuing social affairs. One fire captain declared that its maneuvering should not be allowed in decent society. Fire Chief Haible said he had no objection, although he preferred the flying two-step.
Given a hesitant approval, the tango swept the ballroom at the Coliseum. Practically every couple on the floor was dancing the new step. Throughout the evening the crowd insisted that Harden's ten-piece orchestra play tango music. The final judgment, perhaps simply confirming a fait accompli, was given by the Woman's Club after viewing an exhibition. The consensus was favorable, but the club president cautioned that the tango "has much that has to be guarded against." The young, at least, would be spared the temptations of the tango for a time. Dances of any kind were not permitted at the high school until 1919.
Looking back at all th' s, those who feared the consequences of the tango's close body contact would be pleased with the evolution of dancing. A public embrace? The young people who gyrate separately to the beat of today's rock music don't even clasp hands.
Salvationists and Witnesses
Elgin often has been called a "city of churches", but three religious groups aroused hostility when their representatives first appeared in this community.
A militant Salvation Army arrived in 1885 with a"blood and fire" attack on the forces of sin. The army's methods were viewed as vulgar and disgusting. Stones were thrown at their street meetings, and scoffers attempted disruptions by beating on tin pans and stove pipes.
One Sunday, ten members and five followers were arrested for collecting a crowd on Douglas Avenue who interfered with the passage of vehicles and pedestrians. Horses were reportedly frightened by the Salvationists' tambourines. The women prisoners were locked up overnight in a room at the Waverly, a former hotel then serving as the calaboose, and the men were placed in cells. Although only one was fined (a fine paid by Mayor Willis), the arrests aroused public sympathy.
One of those jailed was a young printer's devil for the Daily News. He later left Elgin to attend the Army's officers' training school. His name was Edward J. Parker, and he would eventually rise to the rank of national commander.
The Salvationists often invited police action to attract attention. One of the most adept in publicizing a local meeting was a cornet player called "Joe the Turk." He was arrested here in 1894 for holding a meeting on Fountain Square and blocking traffic. No sooner was he released on bond than he marched down Chicago Street tooting his horn, and he was arrested again.
Mormon missionaries arrived in 1906, planning to hold street meetings. They left town after receiving threatening letters. Two years later, the Latter Day Saints again asked permission of the City Council to hold street meetings. Mayor Price said he thought Elgin had enough Mormons without encouraging more. Some aldermen believed public indignation would lead to disturbances. Other aldermen reasoned that everyone was entitled to freedom of speech. The vote was eight to six to deny the petition.
More than 300 Jehovah's Witnesses came to Elgin in February, 1933, to distribute literature. They were told to get out of town after police received complaints. When they returned in May, they were again ordered to leave the city. They were back in July with copies of a magazine The Golden Age, which contained various accounts of their previous trouble in Elgin. This time they made no effort to converse with residents or to solicit donations.
Today, we have a Salvation Army Citadel on Douglas Avenue, a Jehovah's
Witnesses Kingdom Hall on Bode Road, a Church ofJesus Christ of Latter
Day Saints on Park View Drive, and a Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ
of Latter Day Saints on East Chicago Street. The adherents of these faiths
may reflect that a teacher of Nazareth had to struggle against adversity,
© 1992-2001 by E. C. Alft and ElginHistory.com. All rights reserved.