How Northwest Highway came into being

I am so old that I remember the man who thought up Northwest Highway.

When we moved into our house on Dunton, Al Volz lived on our corner. He was famous for being almost 100 years old, for walking to town every day to talk with his buddies, for being mayor, a state legislator and for thinking up the highway.

As one version of the story goes, he was riding on the Chicago & North Western train one day with a state commissioner, William Busse, when it occurred to Volz that there should be a highway along the tracks. Because they were both serving in government, they were able to make the highway they dreamed of a reality. A lot of trees came down, a lot of streets were dead-ended, a lot of people were made unhappy, but Volz' dream of a road along the tracks connecting the Northwest suburbs came true. Now life along its corridor seems unthinkable without it.

Often when Volz went by on his daily jaunts, I'd be out front with my little kids playing hopscotch or some such, and he and I would talk of what was going on in town - his passion. We were like a remnant of another age when everyone in the village knew what was going on with everyone else and about village affairs. That was probably the last time a person could keep tabs on the town scene. Many would miss those days. I think of Florence Hendricksen, the wizard who made the Arlington Heights Memorial Library appear on North Dunton, who came to town after World War II and rented an apartment on the northwest corner of Evergreen and Northwest Highway. She and her husband Clarence were building a spacious home on North Belmont, but she loved the corner apartment as a vantage point on the town.

"I knew what everyone was doing," she told me. "I knew who was shopping on the highway. I knew who was going to the show. (The theater was on Evergreen.) And I knew who was getting on the train and who was getting off."

Myrtle Lauterburg, another town specialist, learned the local news simply sitting on the front porch of her family's little hotel, Wheeling House, on Campbell. Nothing passed her by. What she didn't observe for herself, she learned from passers-by who stopped long enough to tell her who was newly pregnant, for instance, or who had an appendectomy, or even who went to the city to shop at Marshall Field's.

The view from the corner window was not always edifying. Gertrude Pfingston's perch was her bedroom at Dunton and Campbell, over her father's shoe store. She kept track of Saturday night drinkers.

"Evening before Prohibition started, all the men came uptown and got drunk. Night after Prohibition started, the same drunks rolled out of the same taverns, only now they were speak-easies."

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