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posted: 5/14/2013 12:43 PM

New Arlington teen center a far cry from living room library

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Maybe it is that, in a way, I am always writing this column in the back of my head, but I do find myself looking at our town as it is now and thinking about how it was "then."

I can be sitting in front of the relatively new condo building at Dunton and Campbell, but my attention is riveted by the structure across the street that was built just after the Civil War.

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Some days I'm beguiled by the knowledge that once a creek flowed through what is now the parking lot of the Vail Jewel.

The creek flowed on east, eventually filling up a pond behind what is now city hall, which was a source of much of the fun and games in Arlington Heights prior to World War I.

So it was an easy transition -- for me -- to go from the recent picture in the Daily Herald of the new teen center at the Arlington Heights Memorial Library to the living room of the little white frame house at 202 N. Dunton, where teens in 1894 went to find something interesting to read.

It really was a little house, built originally, parenthetically, for the friend of William Dunton called Peter Bradley, for whom our town was briefly named. When it was the town library, the two Shepard sisters who lived there welcomed townspeople to scan the bookshelves in their living room for books to take home and read before the fire on cold winter nights.

Lucy Shepard, described as "chunky and cheerful," was librarian until she accepted the post of teacher at Wilson School on Palatine Road.

Then it was her sister Effie who took on responsibility for the growing cache of books. Between them, they served the community without pay from 1894 to 1909.

I entertain myself looking back. What would those two faithful souls have thought if they could have foreseen the modern design and modular furniture in the Hub teen area? Or learned that the library they ran as, basically a "freebie," now has a yearly budget of $12 million or $13 million.

When North School welcomed the always-growing library to a former recitation room, the women of the Arlington Heights Woman's Club decided to take over official duties at the library.

Effie Shepard, citing her experience and her need, asked for the position of librarian for a dollar a day. She was not hired, but the Shepard women were given a hearty vote of thanks for their years of service.

They were a resilient pair. Knowing, as I did, that Dunton Avenue sidewalks ended at Willow, I once wondered aloud how Lucy got to Wilson School on days when Mother Nature looked unkindly on spinster schoolteachers without transportation. What did she do when the sidewalk petered out at Willow and there was nothing but snowdrifts all the way to Palatine Road?

As usual, I got a look of bewilderment at my ignorance as the only possible answer resounded: "She put on her galoshes, pulled her shawl over her head and plunged into the drifts."

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