History of the house next door in Arlington Heights has much to tell

 
Posted4/14/2016 6:00 AM

If British heritage can be traced through the historical homes of Britain, as in Downton Abbey, why can't we in Arlington Heights do the same as in, say, Dunton Alley? (Dunton has the only alleys I know of in Arlington.)

Let's trace the history of the house just north of us, for an example, and see how its history parallels the history of our town. When we moved into our bungalow, the frame house next door to us was already old, and like many houses in town, the style was "carpenter Gothic."

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

It harbored two families and had a wide front porch, which wound around to the front door on the south, maybe seven or eight feet from our bedroom window. That fact portends later complications.

The house's history would be a perfect fit for Arlington's history if it had been built by one of the original New Englanders, the town's first settlers, people like the Duntons. That I don't know. What I do know is that the subsequent owners were German farmers. Germans, fleeing repression in their homeland, comprised the second great influx in our town.

They were knowledgeable and industrious, better farmers than the New Englanders, and had a profound effect on town culture and, in the case of my German neighbors, my backyard. To this day it sprouts swathes of snowdrops and ferns and mint which emigrated from the German farmer's lot to ours.

When we moved in, the house next door was a two-flat, probably as a result of the Great Depression, when many single family homes in town were converted to accommodate several families who could not afford to keep up single family residences. (Our house had an apartment upstairs when we moved in.) A family of three lived on the first floor and teachers on the second, symbols of the growing school population.

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Arlington had its fling with less desirable elements over the years, especially during Prohibition. And next door to us, the unsavory goings on took the form of a group of young men who rented the first floor and apparently conducted drug deals 7 feet from our window in the middle of the night. Neighbors got together to plot their removal. Dick Hoover, across the street, bought the house.

Hoover rehabbed the house into a one-family rental and replaced the druggies. All over town the same thing was happening. Pretty soon a block serving two families to a lot was serving one-family units. There were post-World-War-II families in Arlington Heights that were double and then triple the size of families born during the Depression and then the war. There were classes of more than 50 kids in the Catholic schools.

Then came the wrecking ball. I watched it gut history from out my bedroom window where I had watched the druggies and the parade of neighbors who created history next to me. And from the wreckage of "carpenter Gothic" I saw arise a 21st century Gothic turret on a very modern frame home oriented to a spacious backyard. And in that yard with its lovely tulip display in the spring and its double recreation deck, Arlington history buffs can still read the past in the hardy ferns lining the south fence.

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