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updated: 2/17/2011 4:54 PM

Moving earth, buildings a big part of Arlington Hts. history

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During the early days in Arlington Heights, moving buildings around like pieces on a checkerboard was routine.

The original Presbyterian Church was resurrected as a gym on Vine. The town jail was converted into a residence on Dunton. A downtown hotel found new life as a spacious home on Euclid. A barn at Chestnut and Euclid became a charming home on Fremont. An early school was moved onto a residential lot. The examples are legion.

It was easy. A decision was made. The ever-capable Billy Guild would come with his rollers and team. Voila! New life for old buildings.

What we have also had in Arlington is a lot of earth moving.

When we moved to Arlington in 1954, Oakton Street did not go through from Dunton to Arlington Heights Road. To go to St. James Church, we drove east on Oakton, south on Dunton and east on Willow to what was then called State Road.

About the time village fathers recognized that Oakton had to go through for the convenience of all, not just us, Maureen and John Fischer were building a house on Dunton near Oakton over a potential water course.

Their practical builder raised their house so they would not be flooded when spring rains came. The complication: the house was so high that they couldn't go out their back door. It was a sheer drop.

Serendipitously, there was soon some Arlington Heights earth that would need moving. The dirt dug up so Oakton Street could be cut through could be usefully trundled over to create a sloping backyard for the Fischers. Now they could go out their back door without falling on their faces -- and grow raspberries and peonies.

Meyer's Pond was another notable earth-moving project. Created by early settlers J. A. Kennicott, Chris Geils and Henry Meyer, the pond and ice house south of the railroad tracks and east of Arlington Heights Road were a recreational feature of the town from 1883 to 1934.

Meyer's Park was hugely popular. In 1924, the park was cited as having the best Fourth of July celebration in the Chicago area by the Chicago Daily News.

Ten years later, Arlington Heights Road was being widened. There was earth to be moved. It was used to fill in Meyer's Pond, soon only a happy memory.

Village historian Margot Stimely told the most dramatic earth-moving tale of a hill hollowed out into a pit and later reestablished to look like the original landmark. The original hill was on John Nichol's farm on the far north end of town, west of what is now the Terramere subdivision.

When the farm was sold, the hill was hauled away for landfill, mostly for O'Hare Field. For some years, the former hill was a hole in the ground.

Then, when Lake Arlington was dug out, again there was excess earth in town, And a handy hole in the ground not too far west. So more Arlington earth was moved, and soon there was a hill again on the old Nichols' farm, now a park.

And people watching it grow remembered, with delight, that it was on a hill on that site that Bears' great Walter Payton used to run every day to get in shape. Another mover.