Dimes once went a long way in Arlington Heights

Posted9/16/2014 1:38 PM

Headline in the Sept. 10 New York Times: "For the New York Condo Owner with Everything, a Million-Dollar Parking Spot."

That's right. An underground garage that costs four times the national median sales price for a home, which is $217,800. For someone like me who is always rummaging in the past, prices included, this is astounding arithmetic. I remember when a kid could ride a streetcar for three cents.


Time was when you could do lot with a dime. I remember standing with my neighbor Stephen Urich in front of a two-story white frame house at the corner of Vine and Highland where he was reminiscing about his life in the house where he was raised.

"I remember my father telling me proudly that he made 10 cents an hour … when he bought this house," Urich said.

"It was a good place to live," Urich said. "A lot of room for a garden. Every year after the crops were harvested, a one-elephant circus put up in the lots between Highland and Vail." That probably cost a dime, too.

Another time I was interviewing a couple on a dairy farm on Palatine Road about life during the Depression. They described how one day after they had shucked corn from dawn to sunset, they thought they would like to reward themselves with ice cream cones. Cones were a nickel then.

The wife offered to find a dime in the house, but she came out empty-handed. She couldn't find a dime.

Parenthetically, at the time I asked her how they paid their taxes if they couldn't put their hands on a dime, and they told me of a generous German farmer who was sustaining his neighbors during the hard time. But that is another, though heartwarming, story.

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My third "dime" story comes from village historian Margot Stimely. It's timely in that Luther Village just this summer opened a handsome new unit for people in need of rehabilitation. What is today that impressive building began as part of a farm belonging to Dietrich and Maria Scharnhorft.

In 1892, the Scharnhorfts sold four acres of their farm to 26 German parishes in Chicago for $500. According to Margot Stimely, "The old folks in these parishes pledged a dime a month to build the first Lutheran Home (which was on Northwest Highway). These were poor people, but they wanted to raise the money." Dime by dime.

The 60 homeless men who went to live in the Altenheim, as the Lutheran Home was first called, probably lived better than the folk who contributed their dimes. And with indoor heating and hot and cold water, the new Lutheran Home residents had luxuries many of the other 1,700 residents of Arlington Heights were living without.

That was with dimes. Imagine what those frugal Germans could have done with 10 million dimes!