My turn

Streets and towns abound with names of our optimistic ancestors

2013-03-31T00:00:00Z Streets and towns abound with names of our optimistic ancestorsBy Bill Vargo Times Columnist
March 31, 2013 12:00 am  • 

I may have mentioned before that long ago I taught history in the Lake Central and Griffith school systems. I only think about it every other day now, rather than once a day when summer rolls around.

I was reminded of it recently when doing research on a story I've been working on for weeks. What story isn’t important - wouldn’t want to give anything away.

What is important is that the story is about a place filled with familiar names. When you ride the train into work every day, you hear the announcements as if in a dream state.

"Next stop, Van Buren, Jackson Boulevard" or "Millenium Station, Randolph, Michigan Avenue" ring out. Some conductors are better at announcing the stations than others - using a carnival barker's voice.

Walk down Michigan Avenue and you might notice the bust of Jean-Baptiste Pointe DuSable on the Michigan Avenue Bridge over the Chicago River, or the statue of Nathan Hale in front of the Tribune Tower.

Riding home, you might see some of the landscape along the way, littered with the history of the area, the Pullman Railroad Works off in the distance or a glimpse of some other long lost part of our history.

Back at home we take this for granted, but in all parts of our region we have a little bit of everything to take in, from industry to the farm, sometimes side by side. The younger ones might be interested in knowing whom our streets and boulevards are named after in communities from East Chicago to Lowell.

Many streets are named for the community's founders.

Dwiggins Street in Griffith derives from the original town name, Dwiggins Junction. A town built at the crossing of rail lines makes for a great many interesting names.

My own street in Highland is from one of the original housing tracts built after World War II, in a kind of "It’s a Wonderful Life" fashion. Douthett’s Addition is just south of Ridge Road and east of Grace Street. As late as the 1990s, the street looked remarkably like it had 40 years earlier, but remodeling and other work has since changed the looks quite a bit.

Traveling farther north, Hohman Avenue and Gostlin Street are named for the people who founded Hammond over a century ago.

They are still around, both in name and in monuments in Oak Hill Cemetery at Hohman Avenue and 165th Street. This is the same cemetery that sat in disrepair for many years and became a source of embarrassment to our area when the news came out that the caretakers "took the money and ran," so to speak.

These monuments to the founders of cities and towns should not be taken lightly. They speak to the dreams and aspirations of our forebearers and all that they worked to create.

You can read the old headlines or advertisements for Minas on microfilm or on Google. You will find a past that was rich with optimism about the future. These pioneers saw a bright, shining future, whereas we look at their photos and see grim faces.

I’m inclined every once in a while to stop in front of the statue of Nathan Hale. The thought will cross my mind that at 21, he stood before a British hangman and said, “I only regret that I have but one life to lose for my country.”

Now that is optimism of the highest order.

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