Growing Up In Libertyville in the Thirties and Forties
A Stroll Around Downtown, Part I
St. Paul Depot, 1953
St. Paul Depot, 1953 Details
If you started walking south on Milwaukee from Johnson Avenue the first businesses were on that corner. There was a gas station with the old-fashioned grease pit in the ground. Cars drove up a small incline onto wooden planks over a pit in the ground where the mechanic worked. Memory fails as to how they managed in the rain and snow. By the late thirties those pits had mostly been replaced by today's hydraulic lifts. Also at this location was Libertyville Coal and Ice, run by a burly, good-natured man named Nels Christiansen. He had his main layout in Rondout for easy access to the railroad. Between there and the railroad track there was the Proctor sign shop and at least one house.

 

The Chicago, Milwaukee, St. Paul and Pacific Railroad was known locally as The St. Paul, although in the thirties many of their locomotives bore the logo, "The Milwaukee Road." A freight siding began there and ran west to Winchester Road. This was a branch line off the mainline at Rondout, but it had regular passenger service and freights heading toward Madison. In those days most commuters to Chicago used the North Shore line because it ran into the Loop rather than Union Station west of the Chicago River.

 

Sometimes in the summer that siding housed carnival trains. The show with its various rides and tents would set up just south of the tracks in a grassy area. Usually there would be a modest parade with the show animals and the municipal band. The war finished off most of those rail-borne shows. Later they came by trucks to other locations in town.

 

The train station was just east of Milwaukee with the parking lot right along the tracks. Hand-drawn freight trucks were on the platform to move light freight. The station was standard layout with two waiting rooms joined by a short corridor behind the agent's space which had two bay windows for vision up and down the tracks. Heat was by coal stoves. A couple of times daily a "flyer" would storm past the station and a device would snatch a mail bag from a pole and drop it into the mail car which rode just behind the tender. Mail coming into town was thrown from the mail car in a heavy canvas sack. Most of the trains, though, made the stop, and made small boys happy to get a nod from the engineer or stand in the billows of steam from the locomotive.

 

There was a phone booth in the station used by high school boys who wanted to call their girls without being overheard. Once a friend of mine became enraged by two boys who wouldn't vacate the booth so he tipped it over, door side down. We often asked how long those two talkers had to wait for rescue.

 

 

Nantz Oils, 1956
Nantz Oils, 1956 Details
Right next to the tracks there was a gas station operated by Shelly Nantz. He hired high school boys for nights and weekends, but his day man was Orville Smith who was famous for his greasy coveralls, in which he was fond of leaning against cars. Orville lived on the west side of Lake between Brainerd and Lange Court and later moved to a stucco house on Lange which my parents bought after his death in the sixties.

 

 

American Legion, Libertyville Post #329, 1955
American Legion, Libertyville Post #329, 1955 Details
Just south was the house owned by George Small who was the janitor at Central school for many years. When a teacher had to leave a class unsupervised George would come in and play a few tunes on his harmonica. Next was the Town Hall which was also the home of American Legion Post 329. A U-shaped gravel drive served the hall and a vehicle garage to its rear. An alley ran south to Lake behind the stores fronting on Milwaukee.

 

The brick building that ran to the corner of Lake held various businesses; an insurance office, an ice-cream parlor and a Western Auto store on the corner. Above the alley on Lake there was a similar building that held a music studio, the offices of Jake Boyes, a township official, and just after the war a laundromat.

 

 

Liberty Theatre, after 1938
Liberty Theatre, after 1938 Details
That area around Lake was often quite busy, after the new movie house opened in the thirties; and for many years the Legion held Saturday night dances with live bands and food served by the Legion auxiliary. They had square dancing, polkas, schottisches, varsuviana. One musician was Percy Gustafson, who later had a car dealership at Milwaukee and Park.

 

On the south corner at Lake there was a gas station owned by Merle Weiskopf, who in the early thirties had a garage in the alley behind the stores across from where School street intersected with Milwaukee that later became a mortuary. The gas station at Lake was sold to Chet Flagg and Hank Sodt who ran it for years. Right above them on Lake was a garage that at one time housed the Ed Sawusch Chrysler-Plymouth garage. That space was taken over by Bernard Chevrolet after the war and Sawusch and Wes Froland had an auto parts store in the part of the garage fronting on Lake.

 

 

Bernard Chevrolet, 1955
Bernard Chevrolet, 1955 Details
Just south of the gas station was Bernard Chevrolet. It had a vehicular entrance on Milwaukee and another off Lake that also gave access to the garage on Lake. Chuck Brown's Libertyville News Agency had a cubbyhole office on the Milwaukee face of Bernard's. Del Murphy had a car agency next to Bernard's and memory says that the cars entered it from the alley to its rear. Liberty Liquors, owned by the Rozhon family was in that space later in the thirties. The Oasis tavern or beer hall had a pool table and tables for card players. John Wheeland and Ray Young had a Gamble auto parts store. At one time there was a cold storage meat locker facility in one of these shop fronts.

 

Opposite School Street was Ray Smith's shoe store with repairs by Tony Abbadessa who added a shoe line when Smith's moved to a location south of the alley. Next was Frank Huber's Royal Blue grocery. Today we might call it a convenience store, although he cut meat, had fresh produce, and sold pastry and bread from Charlie Jochheim's bakery which was in that basement. Charlie lived on Lake, just around the corner from us on Brainerd and we could have set our clocks by his regular trips to and from his house and the bakery. Two of his sons, Bob and Jim, were prominent high school athletes.

 

On Sunday mornings I'd pick up 25 cents left on the kitchen table and go to Decker and Neville drugs for the Chicago Sunday Tribune, which cost a dime. Then, it was off to Hubers for a dozen sweet rolls which were 2 cents each. That left me 1 cent which was good for a couple of jawbreakers. At one point my cousin, Clarence (Sonny) Wilson worked at Huber's Royal Blue. He graduated from LTHS in 1936 and for many years held their pole vault record. Sonny and Art Newbore later had their own grocery in Long Lake.

 

Lester's tavern was between Huber's and the alley. Originally run by John Lester, it was later taken over by Joe Hoye, who had a beer distributorship and who used part of an alley building for storage.

 

Next to Lester's an alley ran west to a large open area in the center of the block bounded by Lake, Cook, Milwaukee and Brainerd. In the early thirties Merle Weiskopf had a garage back there (see map) that had an open grease pit. That building later became the Julius Treptow funeral home. A house occupied by the Jerry Buski family stood back there and I never understood why it was built in such an odd location. Part of the open space was used by Bernard Chevrolet to store old cars. It was a haunt for small boys who coveted gear shift knobs and such.

 

In the early thirties there was a car dealership at the west end of the building just south of the alley. Waldron's barn stored hearses and ambulances. Harry Dugan was a driver and occasionally chased away kids who peered into the various vehicles, wondering about their contents.
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