Eisenberg: Of signs and woods, bakers and names
By Paul Eisenberg Citizen Journalistemail@example.com June 7, 2012 12:42PM
The iconic Hi-Way Bakery sign on Chicago Road in South Chicago Heights once lit the night sky, but hasn’t done so in years. | Supplied Photo
Updated: July 11, 2012 6:05AM
Some things you know, and some things you just think you know. Then there are things you don’t really think about at all until someone else brings them up.
These are some of those things.
After mentioning as an aside that I enjoyed the sign for Hi-Way Bakery on Chicago Road in South Chicago Heights, bakery owner John Koester sent some pictures and a bit more information on the Dixie Highway icon.
Though the sign’s neon tubes haven’t lit up in years, Koester said he hopes to one day repair the sign, which he said was built in 1949. A longtime customer, he said, offered to share in the cost of repairing the sign, but “I don’t think he knows how much it would cost because I have been told by a reputable sign company that the sign has to come down and be rebuilt,” Koester wrote.
Still, he hopes to one day restore the gleaming outline of Ms. Hi-Way to neon glory. That’s right — the baker depicted on the sign is, upon close examination, a woman.
Not sure why I had always assumed the opposite, but photographic evidence confirms her gender. It makes me wonder if the bull once perched atop, and now in front of, Los Portales is actually a cow, but I won’t be taking any close-up pictures to find out.
Woodrow Wilson’s name adorns Chicago Heights’ most prominent woods, on the northwest corner of the “Crossroads of the Nation,” Dixie and Lincoln highways. Yet the 28th president of the United States has no connection whatsoever to this area, at least none that I could find.
In the years since it was just a rural crossroads, the intersection has been nearly completely Lincoln-ified, with depictions of the 16th president adorning two corners and three directions of the intersecting streets having been, at one time or another, part of the Lincoln Highway.
Yet Wilson’s corner, which now is fronted by a large monument to American war veterans, somehow resisted Lincoln’s influence at a time when the last members of the Grand Army of the Republic were checking out.
As far as I can tell, here’s why: The land was acquired by the Forest Preserve District of Cook County in 1921, the last year of Wilson’s presidency. Wilson had presided over the entrance and exit of the United States armed forces in World War I, the first major war the country had participated in since the Civil War.
Perhaps those in charge of naming things back then thought Wilson would be as highly regarded as the nation’s previous wartime president, Lincoln. Regardless, the land newly named for the World War I president also became home to the city’s first war memorial, a rock with a plaque bolted to it honoring the city residents who lost their lives in the War to End All Wars.
The plaque was later amended to honor those who died in subsequent wars, and that first war monument still can be found in Wilson Woods, though it’s now overshadowed by the larger monument donated to the city by the local VFW.
These days, we don’t name natural areas for presidents or other elected officials. Locally, they’re more often named for the folks who once owned the land that is now being protected, such as with Bartel Grasslands, or for a prominent natural feature, such as Thorn Creek Woods.
But in trying to find out the history of Wilson Woods, I came across details of an old legal case between Forest Preserve District of Cook County and the Wallace family, which owned the land northwest of the Crossroads of the Nation. The condemnation case sought to determine a fair price to be paid to Isabella Wallace, who was appealing the initial sum of $33,390.
Described as originally part of a 100-acre farm, the 1921 document describes the land as being bordered by “the Chicago Road or Dixie Highway” on the east and “Lincoln Highway, also known as Fourteenth Street” on the south, and with a “small stream known as Thorn Creek” entering and flowing in a meandering, northeastern line.
The land was “rough,” with “diversity in altitude of over 20 feet,” with half the land “in timber,” and subject to periodic flooding, especially north of “the old creek bridge,” the document states.
And so the judgment was upheld, the Wallace family received their $33,390, and their former land was named for Wilson. Perhaps as a consolation prize, the Wallace name lives on today as a street name on the east side of town, about eight blocks from their former farm.