Klehm family leaves tree legacy in Arlington Hts.

Posted5/26/2015 2:40 PM

Skimming along Arlington streets in May, I am always reminded of A.E. Housman's evocative lines from "A Shropshire Lad:"

"Loveliest of trees, the cherry now


Is hung with blooms along the bow."

For in spring, Arlington is hung with blossoms on its cherry, apple and crabapple trees, thanks in some part to the legendary Klehms, who over their long years of service to the village, donated thousands of the trees that have lined our streets.

The Klehms emigrated from Germany to Buffalo, New York, before the Civil War. In the best immigrant tradition, they had only seven cents in the family exchequer when they arrived. But son John had a trade. He had learned early to be a bricklayer so the family could survive. They were three: mother Catherine, and sons John and George. Father Paul had died in 1840 in their homeland.

Within two years of their arrival in 1841, the Klehm family crossed a third of the country to Illinois and bought an acre of land at what would be Davis and Miner in Arlington Heights.

Although John was trained to lay bricks, the ambitious teen saw opportunity in Housman's "loveliest of trees." Having learned to graft cherry trees, which thrived in the Arlington climate, by 1862 he had a nursery business on nine acres of land. Like our town founder, William Dunton, John Klehm astutely bought his acreage along the right of way of the railroad cutting through town.

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Also, like William Dunton, the Klehm family were generous benefactors of the village.

I first heard of their openhandedness when I was writing the history of the library. Florence Hendrickson, then president of the library board, told me how she went to Carl Klehm, grandson of John Klehm, for help with the landscaping when the new library building was built in 1968 at Euclid and Dunton. "What can I do for you?" Carl Klehm asked Florence.

What he could do -- and did do -- for her was arrange redbuds across the front of the library, cover the mud with sod, move trees onto the south lawn, add ground cover and bushes.

This bounty for the library was more than matched by Klehm family generosity to the town.

"For 21 years, annual gifts of trees were made to any citizen willing to plant them to improve his property," Daisy Daniels tells in "Prairieville, U.S.A."

Trees in railroad parks, church and school grounds were donated and planted by the Klehms. Over 4,000 elms and maples were donated to the people of Arlington Heights. As Daisy Daniels wrote appreciatively, "Much of the natural beauty of Arlington Heights with its fine shade trees can be attributed to the Klehm nurseries."

Much of the greenery around our house came from Klehms' barn at Algonquin and Arlington Heights Road. The story I like best is my discussion one day with Lois Klehm, Carl's wife. I wanted advice on what plants to put on my southern exposure bay window radiator. Lois was appalled. She wouldn't recommend anything be raised on a radiator. So I went home plantless.

To this day I think of her whenever I water the plants that have managed to survive in that inhospitable spot -- cactuses and aloe. And I hail the Klehms for their big hearts and high ideals, which have richly contributed to our town's livability.