Wondering about prehistoric Lansing

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Local Voices

Frank Fetters

I was born in 1941. Our house on Lake Street was between Maple and Lange Streets. I remember digging in the dirt in our backyard. After I dug about eighteen inches down, the black dirt suddenly turned into a loose sand about the same texture and color of the beach sand on the southern shores of Lake Michigan. I wondered why and was given the following explanation. As an adult, I did some research and this is what I found out:

In prehistoric times, the Lake was sixty feet higher than it is now, and it extended quite a ways beyond what is now Lansing. This retreating of the Lake shoreline over the centuries created three semi-permanent shorelines, the oldest of which was Glenwood Beach. As the waters continued to recede, another shoreline was formed. And as the lake receded even further, a third beach was formed. These two beaches were called Tolleston Beach and Calumet Beach, but I’m not sure which beach came first.

I also wonder about Ridge Road, which, to this day, is the main East-West thoroughfare through the Village of Lansing. I remember reading somewhere that Ridge Road had to be partially excavated and lowered, which calls up an image of a high mound in the middle of Lansing with lower land surrounding it on all sides. My problem with that is the fact that Ridge Road is called Ridge Road for miles, extending through Lansing and further on through Indiana to the East. I’ve been told that the Pottawattamie Indians used to ride on horseback along this ridge through Indiana and Illinois, which creates an image of a high stretch of ridgeway trial in my mind. As I tried to understand this, I was somewhat aided by what I found out about the Great Kankakee Marsh, which was the longest inland wetland in the contiguous US at the time. Geologists say that the Marsh followed the meandering Kankakee River for over 1,500 square miles between what is now the city of South Bend, Indiana, stretching all the way to where Momence, Illinois, is now.

And this discussion leads me to ask two questions:

1. Were the Pottawattamie Indians the original inhabitants of Lansing? Or did they just pass through this area by way of the “Ridge Road” ridge?

2. Also, what about the shape and the elevation of Ridge Road? Was Ridge Road simply a road that led to a ridge in the middle of what is now downtown Lansing? Or was it a ridge the ran East and West along one of the beaches left by the receding waters of Lake Michigan?

Frank Fetters, former Lansing resident


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5 COMMENTS

    • Yes, Linda, that is true. I learned as much in Geology class. If I remember correctly, the receding glaciers create moraines and moraine terraces. So I assume that the three “beaches” (Tolleston, Calumet and Glenwood) actually functioned in similar ways to moraine terraces. I also remember when they first opened Lester Crawl School, and the land just south of it was swampy. It’s hard to imagine that now, I suppose, but the territory that became Lansing was part of a larger wetlands area.

      When I was growing up, there were lots of farms in the Calumet Region, and the community slogan of Lansing was “Where Industry and Agriculture meet”.

      Frank

  1. the ridges are old shore lines of larger Lake Chicago, that preceded what is now Lake Michigan. The waters of Lake Chicago are the results of melting ice from the ice caps. Several other lakes came and went from the ice caps. The following is copied from Wikipedia.
    …” Vast amounts of sand in spits, dunes and beach lines—particularly at the southern tip of Lake Michigan—were left behind by each of the three stages of lake level drop. Today, evidence of these vast sand deposits is still clearly visible. Northern Indiana, for example, contains the Indiana Dunes, and many of the Chicago area’s trails and roads follow some of these ancient beach lines or ridges in the sand spits.

    For example, Ridge Road from Homewood, Illinois, through Thornton and Lansing, Illinois, and then crossing the state border into Munster and Highland, Indiana, is one; Michigan City Road through Riverdale, Dolton, and Calumet City, Illinois, is another; LaGrange Road is another; Riverside Drive in Riverside; Ridgeland Avenue in Oak Park, or Grosse Point Road, Carpenter Road, and Ridge Avenue (The Rosehill Spit) in the Rogers Park/West Ridge neighborhood of Chicago, north of Devon Avenue and continuing north through Evanston, Illinois, are some others. Blue Island, Illinois, and Stony Island were, literally, islands left behind as Lake Chicago’s water level fell.”…

  2. TO: Stephen DeFalco, Sandridge Nature Center
    FROM: Frank Fetters

    Frank Fetters

    10:10 AM (0 minutes ago)

    to Stephen
    Stephen:

    Dan, another Lansing Journal reader, reminded me of Lake Chicago, and that explains a lot. I’ve always been curious about the shape of Ridge Road prior to any excavation or road-building activities. I’ve also wondered about “The Levee”,in downtown Chicago. You would think it was maybe Michigan Avenue, but I’m told it was further west at Clark Street. So that gives me an idea where it was in times past. Even the area called The Landing in Lansing. Was that the shore of a large lake?

    I would love to visit the Sandridge Nature Center, but it is a rather long commute from here. I live in Las Vegas, NV.

    Frank

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