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updated: 1/23/2011 11:35 AM

A look at Elgin news 100 years ago

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Elgin voters decided to abandon the "ward' system a century ago this month and trade it for a new form of city government that was gaining popularity across the country.

The month also brought a new way to play golf in the winter, a congregation that used a new technology to bring people into its church, and a realization that the problems of alcohol abuse and poverty were broader than some thought.

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Here's a look at those and other stories that made area headlines in January 1911.

New city government: Should the people of Elgin replace the current ward system of government with a commission form instead?

That was the question faced by voters in 1911. Advocated by the Elgin Commercial Club -- the forerunner of the Elgin Area Chamber of Commerce -- the new system would replace a part-time mayor and two part-time aldermen from each of the city's seven wards with a full-time mayor and four full-time commissioners -- each who would be responsible for a specific area of city services.

The campaign began with a series of public meetings, but both sides agreed to restrict efforts to the newspapers during the final two weeks. Existing city council members were originally supportive of the new plan, but later chose not to become publicly involved.

The question carried in each of the city's seven wards with more than 2,100 of the 3,600 voters -- all men -- agreeing to the new system. Who would run for city council under this new system and how it would function will be reported in this column in future months.

Motorcycle club: With the increasing popularity of the motorcycle, it was bound to happen -- a motorcycle club.

Calling themselves the Elgin Motorcycle Club, 15 bike owners officially organized to "promote interest in the sport" and elected officers and developed club bylaws to carry forward their plans. Members agreed that anyone caught violating the laws would be suspended from the club and that they would turn off their mufflers when entering a city area.

Destitute families: "In all my work with the Salvation Army, I never saw so much destitution and misery as there is in Elgin right now," said the head of the Elgin organization.

In one home he found a young mother in a freezing room nursing a 19-day-old baby. In another residence where two children had recently died of whooping cough, he found the father out of work caring for his very ill wife. Neighbors refused to help the family for fear of contracting the disease.

Whenever they could, Salvation Army representatives provided those in need with food and a quantity of coal to help them survive.

Indoor Links: As the new sport of golf grew in popularity, those who fancied the game could now enjoy it indoors.

Said to be the first indoor links outside the city of Chicago, a course was laid out in the basement of the multistory Spurling Block, now the Elgin Commerce Building, at Spring and DuPage streets. The floor was sprinkled with sand and the walls lined with canvas to allow the players to hit their balls at full force.

In addition to serving as a place for new players to learn the game, the location was planned for competition between some of the city's best golfers.

Women drinkers: "You will be shocked when I tell you the number of women who come to the waiting station to smoke and drink," said a representative of the streetcar company to a civic improvement committee of the Elgin's Woman's Club.

"Many are accustomed to bringing liquor with them," he added. Children eating lunches, fruit, peanuts and leaving scraps was also a cause of the unsavory conditions in the waiting room.

The women vowed to do what they could to address the problem.

First female attorney: Elgin said goodbye to Marie Hunter Willis, reported to be the first female lawyer in Kane County. Only 39 years old at the time, Willis had been bedridden for several months before her death.

A graduate of a Chicago law school, she ranked first in her graduating class of 178.

Willis was originally married to William Hunter, a Kane County attorney, and following his death married Judge Henry Willis of Elgin.

Church movies: Finally, while many churches were opposed to people viewing motion pictures, one Elgin pastor said watching films was not only acceptable but that he would be showing them in his sanctuary.

"When motion pictures first became popular, the nickelodeon was shunned by good people as a place of amusement where shows of questionable variety were shown," said the pastor of the First Universalist Church. "I hope to present films which will not only amuse but educate."

The shows, which would include an admission charge and be shown several times a week, would sometimes be followed by a lecture, he added.

• Jerry Turnquist writes about Elgin history. E-mail him at ibemrt@aol.com.

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