Growing Up In Libertyville in the Thirties and Forties
A Stroll Around Downtown, Part II
Water tower, c.1900-1909
Water tower, c.1900-1909 Details
A large, wormy apple tree stood alongside the path that led through the open space onto Neville's driveway to Brainerd. In the winters the village dumped snow by the tree. The huge piles made wonderful forts and igloos. In the summer the kids had a baseball diamond there. The water tower behind village hall was a prime attraction. Daring older boys could climb all the way to the top on a ladder or on a lower platform, risking the wrath of the police and other village officials who kept a sharp eye out for trespassers.


On Milwaukee, the first store south of the alley was Waldron's, a small grocery. It had an excellent selection of candy. Mr. Waldron lived on Cook, west of Brainerd. His son, Pat, lived on Lake at Mrs. Loveland's, where he rented a room. We often saw Pat, who was prematurely gray, hauling trash to the burner where our back yards met. In those days some people burned garbage rather than pay a carter. The store itself became Ray Smith Shoes at a later date. Flegelman's clothing store was in that building along side Paul Ray's furniture store. In the thirties there was a house occupied by the Haines family. We knew the kids, Jerome (Red) and Bill. That house was razed in the thirties for a commercial building that housed the A&P. Our neighbor, Bill Franzen was a stock boy there while he was in high school and then became store manager, the youngest in the A&P chain.


A paved walkway to the area behind the stores was bordered on the south by Leo Bentson's grocery. During the war years the small, privately owned grocery was still viable. In 1942 I got a Friday afternoon and Saturday job with Leo at thirty-five cents an hour, which was the minimum wage at that time. There would be an occasional tip for carrying groceries to waiting cars. The store took phone orders and ran monthly bills for reliable customers, many of whom lived on St. Mary's Road, Oak Spring and the like. The store delivery truck was driven by Warren Wells. That was a plum job because of the tips.


Leo Bentson was rather volatile and ran a tight ship. If you weren't stocking or waiting on a customer you grabbed a broom and swept the oiled board floor. My star with Leo began to dim when I accidentally shut him into the meat cooler, from which he emerged red-hot. On a subsequent Saturday night he told me to "throw some crackers in the window." He meant boxes to make a display. Not realizing that and being afraid to ask, I opened a box and sprinkled a few crackers in the window. The resulting explosion convinced me that it was time to seek other work. I never told my parents why I quit and never knew whether Leo had told them the story.


There were different stores in the next space. There was a Walgreen drug, Langworthy's clothing store and North Shore Gas at various times. The last business before the alley alongside the bank was a Kroger Consumers grocery. They often had sales and my mother would have me take my wood-sided wagon so we could buy cases of canned goods. That was the time when Birdseye frozen foods were introduced. They were a taste revelation and quite a bit more expensive than cans.



Village Hall
Village Hall Details
The First National Bank was run by Frank and Roy Wright. Ray Lindroth, the cashier, lived on Lake near us. The Silas Wright family years before had raised my paternal grandmother, Kitty Boyd Young. Her mother had died on a wagon train heading west. The Wrights deeded her the house at 606 Brainerd where we lived through the thirties and forties. Willard's restaurant was just south of the bank. It had a faintly Moorish or Spanish decor and served Midwestern food. The Willards lived above. Paul Macguffin's law office was up there as was Scotty Robertson's barbershop before the war. Titus Brothers Electric was on the corner at Cook. My father and Harry Titus were friends as were my mother and Bertha Titus. They lived on Sunset across the street from Frank Underbrink. Roy Titus lived on Laurel.


The village hall was just west on Cook. The American LaFrance fire engine was garaged in the space next to the alley. At one time in the thirties the police department and jail faced the Cook side, but later moved to the rear. C.O. Carlson, who was village tax collector for many years, had an office as did Hattie Boehm, the village treasurer. Ed Schneider was the volunteer fire chief for many years. His son,"Tootie" worked for the village under Simon "Sam" Alkofer. Tootie drove the prewar Ford dump trucks that plowed, collected leaves and did whatever needed doing. In those days road salts weren't widely used so in a cold winter the streets were often paved with packed snow. Small boys would, after a storm, shovel snow into street barricades, but Tootie and the plow never lost a battle.


Joe Saam was police chief. He was compact and swarthy. He was an expert motorcyclist and had ridden in competition in cycledromes, hill climbs and such. Joe led all the parades and funerals on the police Indian, occasionally standing up on the footboards and moving so slowly it was hard to see how he kept his balance. He wore a uniform cap with insignia, goggles, a Sam Browne belt with revolver attached, gauntlets that came nearly to his elbows and leather boots that were knee high. Frank Druba was a sergeant, later chief. Other policemen were Herman Nolte, Pete Hansen, Fitzgibbons and Churchill, probably not all at the same time, because at one time in the early thirties there was no night man.



Library Park
Library Park Details
Cook Park was the centerpiece of the village. The Cook House/public library sat roughly in the center of the park. There was a concrete plaza in front where the municipal band played and ceremonies were held. Sidewalks ran to the two corners on Milwaukee and a walk led from the library steps to Church. Kids played hours of rotation baseball and touch football behind the library where three huge horse chestnuts made a column toward Cook. There was a tennis court just opposite Dr. Wiese's house and another to the south across from the post office on Church. There was a football-type field alongside Church that was flooded for skating at least one winter. For many years, until after the war, the municipal band held Thursday night band concerts. People sat in folding chairs or on blankets or in their cars. After a piece ended those in cars would blow their horns for applause. The bandleader for years was Percy Snow. My uncle, Clair Smart, played lead trumpet. Reynold Geary, who at that time worked with my father at the Public Service, was a frequent singer. He had a grand, if untutored voice and I can still hear him singing "The Road To Mandalay".


There was a flagpole, and a cannon sat on a concrete pad on the front lawn. Its wooden-spoked wheels were shod in iron hoops. It fired iron balls rammed down the bore and touched off by a match at the rear of the barrel. There was no breech or elevating or traversing mechanism. It probably dated from the Civil War. The story was told, and it may have been only a story, that sometime in the twenties some local blades fired off a load of apples or walnuts which smashed the front window and startled the drinkers at the Park View tavern. The bore was quickly sealed with concrete, so the story went. Unfortunately, during WWII the cannon and shot were given to a scrap drive.


During the thirties and forties until the interstate highways were built, Milwaukee Avenue was a major route to the lakes of northern Illinois and southern Wisconsin. On summer Sunday nights the traffic was horrendous and locals would sit in the park and watch and listen to the seemingly endless stream of cars heading back to the cities. There wasn't much air conditioning or many radios in cars back then.



Cook Memorial Library
Cook Memorial Library Details
Cook Memorial Library was my favorite haunt for years. To this day I can draw a layout of the library, which occupied the main floor. The children's room on the southwest corner had a separate entrance and it was a happy day for me when Blanche Mitchell, the head librarian, decided I was old enough to come in the front door. She and her husband John lived on the second floor. He worked at Abbott Laboratories and took care of the library. The other staff member was Miss Doane. She was what was then called a spinster. Quiet and intelligent, she knew everybody by name and reading preference. In the summer there were reading contests for kids. Every book read meant a star on the score chart. The top readers' names were posted at the end of summer.


I used the library until I went to college. Relations were always cordial except for the time my brother rearranged parts of the card catalog to revenge himself on Mrs. Mitchell for some imagined slight. The resulting phone call to our house caused some commotion and he was banned from the library for some time, until Mrs. Mitchell allowed him back on a trial basis.


The southwest corner of Church and Milwaukee was graced by Proctor's ice cream parlor, a favorite hangout of high-schoolers. Its jukebox had all the latest hits to accompany the thick malteds at fifteen cents and the huge banana splits that went for twenty-five cents.


Just west on Church was Perry auto parts. Right after the war Hanlon Ford used the rear of the building. The Independent Register office and plant had their own brick building. The paper came out on Thursdays and kids could search around the loading dock for lead linotype slugs which were melted and poured into moulds to make toy soldiers. At one time the Buttemiller-Day clinic was in the house next to the newspaper building.



St. Lawrence Episcopal Church, c.1917
St. Lawrence Episcopal Church, c.1917 Details
The Episcopal church and parsonage were next, right before the post office, which was built in the late thirties. The Masonic Temple on Brainerd was across from the Methodist church which housed our Boy Scout troop. Chuck Sweeney, the Methodist minister's son, often played football with us. We were somewhat in awe of him because he spoke Spanish, which he probably was studying in high school. Father Rogers of the Episcopal church was often seen on the street in his cassock, smoking a cigarette, which drew critical comments from non-Episcopalians.


On Milwaukee just south of Proctor's Chatterbox there was a storefront that had various tenants over the years. At one time it held a beauty parlor. A vacant lot held cars from Hanlon Ford during the thirties and the war years. Later, when Hanlon's moved it became Sawusch Chrysler-Plymouth. Mesenbrink florist and home were south of the garage. Then there was Bert Ree's house and gas station with a small garage in the rear where commercial trucks were stored.



Hanlon Motor Co., 1955
Hanlon Motor Co., 1955 Details
On Milwaukee opposite the Broadway intersection Hanlon Ford built a garage shortly after the war. Bert Ree died in the thirties and his gas station was demolished to make room for Hanlon's which also contained a storage cooler used by Kraft cheese. The Public Service Company leased space from Hanlon to store its local truck which my father drove, so he had a key to the garage. It was a great treat when he took me with him on a night or weekend call. I got to manipulate the truck spotlights and hoped to be seen by envious friends.


There was a big house on the northwest corner of Milwaukee and Maple and another on the southwest corner which housed an eye clinic at one time. Then there were a couple of smaller houses. In the forties Merle Weiskopf put up a new garage and showroom for his Buick dealership. The bowling alley was busy during the war years. High school boys worked there setting pins. The alley had a jukebox, sandwich counter and rows of spectator seats. In later years the bowling alley became part of Miller-Krueger Motors. The Boyer house was south of the bowling alley. Mark and Bill Boyer were notable musicians in high school groups. There was a gas station on the corner at Park and a large house just west on Park later became the Ray-Burnett funeral home. Dr. Galloway, who was our family doctor in the thirties had a large house on the southwest corner.



Chicago North Shore and Milwaukee Railroad Station, 1955
Chicago North Shore and Milwaukee Railroad Station, 1955 Details
Then came the rail tracks of the interurban Chicago, North Shore and Milwaukee Railroad, usually called the North Shore. This was a spur line which ran to Mundelein from the main Chicago-Milwaukee line, which was called the Skokie Valley route. The spur also went to Lake Bluff where you could change to the Shoreline route. That led from the main North Shore station in Chicago at Adams and Wabash to downtown Waukegan, often on the same tracks used by local street cars.


The North Shore folded in the sixties. It was a victim, in part, of the new interstate highway system and the moves of the big oil companies. The Libertyville station was on the south side of Milwaukee. For years the agent was Otto Packer, who lived above the station. It had a large waiting room with a graveled parking lot and small freight shed to the east. There were also stops at Fourth street and Garfield which had open-sided shelters. Most Libertyville commuters preferred the North Shore because it circled the Chicago Loop, saving another jaunt from the steam rail stations west of the Chicago River. There was a Shell station at the corner of Milwaukee and Sunnyside Place. It was run in the forties by Russ Brown. In the forties you could get your car a ring and valve job for fifty dollars. In those days you were lucky to go more than fifty thousand miles without needing an engine overhaul. For years a dollar would buy five gallons of gas and a quart of oil was forty cents or less. Russ's brother, Chuck, was the local distributor for the Chicago papers.


On Milwaukee between Sunnyside Place and McKinley was Molidor's grocery, with a flat above. From there to Rockland Road there was a string of large houses. The Kroll family had a gas station and bar on the corner of Rockland.
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