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Local History Class turns new eyes on Ridge Road after tour

by Jamilyn Hiskes

LANSING, Ill. (April 27, 2019) – It was a pleasant sight to see more than 40 people from Lansing and surrounding communities gathered on a perfect spring evening for a “history walk” down Ridge Road. The walk was held April 24 and led by Illiana Christian School teacher Jeff White, who included it as part of his annual five-week local history class.

White, a Lansing native, showed the group some historic sites up and down the town’s main street. While some of the attendees already knew some of his fascinating facts because they’d lived in Lansing for more than 50 years, others were surprised to learn the stories behind some everyday buildings they didn’t usually look at twice.

History teacher Jeff White teaches the tour group about the former “ridge lines” Lansing and surrounding communities are built on. (Photo: Jamilyn Hiskes)

“I love having some of you on the tours because I learn things every time,” White told the more knowledgeable attendees.

The first stop on the walk was Fox Pointe, Lansing’s new outdoor music venue which will begin its first summer event season at the end of May. While there, White explained what the different parts of Lansing’s flag mean and went over the history of the town. When two students raised their hands to say they were descendants of one of the first Lansing settlers, it was evidence of how deep the roots of some of the town’s residents run.

One of the most engaging parts of the history walk was the series of historical photographs printed on overhead transparencies White brought along, supplied by the Lansing Historical Society. White passed out these images to the attendees and encouraged them to look through them at specific points along Ridge Road, to see what the street looked like in the late 19th century and early 20th century. Peering through the images of the former railroad tracks that once crossed through town, old buildings and businesses that have since been torn down, and old residences of Lansing was a fascinating way to look back through history.

Standing in the Fox Pointe pavilion, Jeff White’s Local History class look through overhead transparencies of a 1910 photo of the farmstead that Fox Pointe used to be. The photo showed the old farmhouse, and students could line it up with the actual farmhouse, which still stands on Henry Street. (Photo: Melanie Jongsma)

When the group came to stand in front of a particular storefront, White encouraged them to look up. There, some of his students noticed apartments above the stores they hadn’t paid attention to before.

“There’s a whole entire world up there,” White told the group. “When I take my [Illiana] students here, I say, ‘Look above the street line.’”

This stop also included White revealing that 3341 Ridge Road—the building which houses Cole and Young Jewelers, Boerman Marjorie CPA and Agatha Hassan, D.D.S.—is one of the oldest business buildings in Lansing, despite its modern façade. Many tour-goers were surprised to learn this.

“[Dr. Hassan] has taken me downstairs to look at the old timbers in the basement,” White said. “If you go to her, ask her to take you downstairs sometime.”

White reads the Lansing General Store placard outside Gus Bock’s Ace Hardware. (Photo: Jamilyn Hiskes)

After stopping at Gus Bock’s Ace Hardware (3455 Ridge Roa) and reading the Eagle Scout sign placed outside detailing the history of the building as the former Lansing General Store, White led the group to the final stop on the tour: Tacos and Burritos Rancho Grande (3444 Ridge Road). Outside the cozy restaurant, White explained the history of the Fox Beer advertisement painted on the interior brick wall. Known as a “ghost sign,” the ad had been covered up at one point during the storefront’s development and was only re-discovered when Rancho Grande was being constructed.

Jeff White (standing) hands out copies of an article that describes how the Fox Deluxe Beer “ghost sign” was found during the construction of Tacos and Burritos Rancho Grande, (Photo: Melanie Jongsma)

As if the enriching history lesson wasn’t enough, White then brought the tour group inside to enjoy some chips, dip and tacos from a local Lansing business.

“Knowing your history is important,” White said. “I had a [history] class this year of 35. And in that class of 35, I had seven Lansing residents, two Dyer (Ind.) residents, one South Chicago resident, one Flossmoor—they were from everywhere. And I said to them, ‘I want you to go to your respective towns and look at your town differently. I want you to look at things and ask questions.’”

Jamilyn Hiskes
Jamilyn Hiskes
Jamilyn Hiskes is a Loyola University Chicago School of Communications graduate and experienced journalist who enjoys writing stories about people, entertainment, and politics. She’s new to Lansing, but that only makes her more eager to learn about the town through her reporting for The Lansing Journal.