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updated: 8/9/2011 3:42 PM

Arlington Hts.' 125th a reason to recall earlier times

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Arlington Heights will celebrate the 125th anniversary of its incorporation as a village next year.

Just thinking about the event stimulates much then-and-now thinking. Then, the streets were unpaved. In an interview about early days in town, Elsie Peter once described Arlington Heights Road (then State Road) as a sea of mud after a rain. She had to be rescued more than once by kindly Mrs. Kellogg who lived at the corner of Oakton when Elsie tried to cross the street to play with her daughter.

When it wasn't raining, the problem was dust. Horses and wagons going by blew dust into the air which seeped constantly into the frame houses that lined the streets. Housewives did a lot of dusting.

Sidewalks, however, were technologically superior to the streets. They were designed to lift pedestrians high out of the mud. Of fifteen village ordinances enacted in 1887, the first provided for the appointment of the village officers. But there were five ordinances concerned exclusively with sidewalks. Obviously a lot of walking went on.

Sidewalks had to be made of 2-inch thick planks, 6 to 8 inches wide, laid crosswise and spiked to stringers 14 feet long. According to one ordinance, "lot owners must build and keep in repair any sidewalks along their property."

In a town where most of the householders were carpenters, you wouldn't think that keeping the sidewalks in repair would be too difficult. But there were constant complaints.

Elsie Peter, who lived "way out" at Dryden and Euclid, told an interviewer years later that women's high-heeled shoes got too often stuck in cracks. The village employee who cleared the sidewalk snow in the winter for the commuters deplored the danger to his horse's legs.

There were ordinances governing assault, drunkenness, disorderly conduct and defacing property, evidently perennial problems. But some ordinances might be construed today as quaint. One such rule was that you couldn't fasten your horse to a tree without the consent of the tree's owner. Or you could not drive an animal down the sidewalk. Also, there was a prohibition against leaving cellar doors uncovered. Were they afraid that Charlie Chaplin might fall in?

Surprisingly, it was unlawful to play cards, dice, checkers, or billiards for money. Or to swear or use vulgar language.

I can't find the reference, but I think I remember one of the many people I've interviewed about Arlington telling me that there were times when desperately cold townspeople ripped boards off sidewalks to put in their stoves. I wonder if that ever happened to the "Sidewalks of New York."