Luther Village roots date to 1892 and began with dimes

The man across the street who lived on our block for all his 86 years has moved to Luther Village. Technically, Wallace Luettschwager was born round the corner on Hawthorne Street. He was very young when his grandfather built the family home on Dunton Avenue just north of Euclid. Wallace remembers the story of moving the family furniture up the middle of Dunton in wheelbarrows and wagons.

After Wallace moved into the Hearthstone section in the Luther Village complex, his Dunton neighbors, the Bertzes, hosted a party there for him. The guests were neighbors, so much of the talk was of the houses on the block, their age and history. That history has to be unique. Where else in Arlington Heights do you find a house built in the Civil War era on one corner and a house built around the time of the Iraq War on the other?

People are surprised to know that the father of Arlington Heights' founder (William Dunton), Asa Dunton, built his house on the block across the street from Wallace's house. Dunton's house is still there.

Luther Village has a lot of history, too. When we were house-hunting in the early 1950s, the precursor to the Oakton establishment was on Northwest Highway just west of downtown. It was built on part of the farm of Dietrich and Maria Schamhorst, who in 1892 sold four of their acres for $500 to a group of 26 Chicago parishes.

Parishioners intended to house, as one source put it, "poor homeless Lutheran men." This was very generous of them because they were relatively poor themselves. The dimes they contributed every month to build housing for the homeless were a sacrifice.

The place on the highway looked just right for the purpose to us. It was big, commodious, with gardens behind, and with a great porch across the front from which residents could survey the early traffic on the highway, The Altenheim, as it was then called, seemed a great place to retire.

Much of the provender for the Altenheim was grown out back. Their farm provided vegetables, fruits, milk, eggs and meat for the residents.

The farm was sold to the new high school district in 1922, replaced by 80 acres of the Kehe farm on Oakton Street. By the 1950s, the needs of the elderly necessitated further growth and a three-story home was erected at 800 W. Oakton St.

Looking at the incredible complex that is the Lutheran Home today, I find it unbelievable that it all started with the dimes of poor people. But not more unbelievable than the story Henry Leark told me 30 years ago. He lived on the bend in Walnut north of the Christian Liberty school. We swerve there today because it was long ago convenient for a horse.

As Henry put it, "The farmer who went back and forth between the Altenheim and the farm on Oakton every day let his horse pick the route and we are still following it."

The horse knows the way …

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