Breaking News Bar
updated: 2/13/2011 10:48 AM

New Elgin police chief brought changes in 1911

Success - Article sent! close
  • Daniel Gahan, Elgin's chief of police in 1911

    Daniel Gahan, Elgin's chief of police in 1911
    Courtesy of Elgin Police Department


A new police chief can often bring big changes.

That was certainly the case a century ago this month as a new chief took office in Elgin.

There was also plenty of talk -- as well as candidates -- as the city moved forward with plans to institute a new form of government recently approved by voters.

And, as the nationwide movement to allow women the right to vote gained momentum, one Elgin clergyman shared his views with his parishioners. Here's a look at those and other stores making area headiness in February 1911.

New police chief: A new police chief can often bring changes in enforcement, and the swearing in of Daniel Gahan as Elgin's top officer a century ago was no exception.

The new executive increased enforcement at area pool halls saying those under the age of 18 were prohibited from entering. The chief said he would also no longer tolerate "blind pigs," or unlicensed drinking establishments, as well as the gambling "dives" operating in boathouses north of the Kimball Street bridge.

On one occasion, the chief's aggressive enforcement filled the city jail with 26 occupants, reported to be the largest in years. Those in custody included people arrested on charges of drunkenness, forgery, wife desertion, bigamy, and even attempted murder.

The crowded conditions also meant "the color line had to be eradicated" when a white female was placed in a cell with an African-American woman.

Red alert: The police department also boasted a new technology which would quickly help them apprehend criminals at large.

Within minutes of receiving certain calls, a red light would be flashed from the tower of city hall, then located at Spring and Chicago streets, alerting officers "to be on the lookout" for certain subjects. Patrolmen could then call from special telephone boxes for more information.

Shortly after the installation of the system, police used the new technology to apprehend two subjects who had entered a house on the near east side.

Moral outcasts? As the nationwide movement to allow women to vote gained momentum, one Elgin pastor told his congregation why he was opposed to women's suffrage.

"Our good women would shirk from voting while moral outcasts would march to the polls in solid phalanx," the pastor said.

"Not so," responded an Elgin women who said the clergyman had not thoroughly researched the matter.

In Wyoming, she said, 90 percent of the women voted and in Colorado the figure stood at 72 percent. Large numbers of women also voted in elections in Utah, Idaho, and New Zealand, showing women take a "lively interest" in this new found right.

City government: After Elgin voters had recently approved a change from the ward system to a commissioner form of government, newspapers were abuzz with how the new plan would work.

"There should be things doing in Elgin when the commission scheme is in successful operation," said one businessman of the new arrangement.

The new plan, which was gaining popularity across the nation, called for 14 part-time aldermen, each elected from a certain geographical area of the city, to be replaced by four full-time commissioners elected at-large, each who would have charge of a certain aspect of city government.

"Real estate and business should also boom and people will be attracted to the city. The success of the plan is electing competent people as commissioners," he added.

Upcoming election: The upcoming election also proved to be one of the busiest in the city's history.

Over 50 people, including members of the increasingly popular Socialist Party, had taken out petitions to run for the city council. One overzealous candidate was told by police to stop writing campaign messages on the city sidewalks with chalk or face arrest.

Those who might have had a change of heart and thought of withdrawing from the campaign had better think otherwise, explained the city clerk. The legislation that created the new form of government prohibited them from doing so.

Church vandalized: Finally, extensive church vandalism happened in the "good old days" too.

Damage estimated at hundreds of dollars -- an amount equal to thousands of dollars today -- was done to the interior of the Holy Trinity Lutheran Church located at Division and Chapel Streets on the east side by people who has throw eggs on the fresco walls, organ, pews, and other furnishings.

"I hate to think Elgin is home to religious fanatics who would stoop to such a cowardly act," said the pastor.

Other Elgin clergymen pledged to do what they could to apprehend the offenders and stop any future occurrences.

Get articles sent to your inbox.