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Lansing history: Lansing’s original Village Hall has served Board members and bike owners — and much in between

LANSING, Ill. (April 26, 2023) – In early 1893 the population of unincorporated Lansing was 249 — and that included the towns of Bernice and Oak Glen. To become incorporated, the State of Illinois required 250 residents. Thanks to a very timely move by a farmer, his wife, and their five children into a home in Bernice, that requirement was met. A special meeting was called to vote on the reorganization. Seventy-eight ballots were cast: 67 in favor, 10 opposed, and one defective ballot. Therefore in March 1893 the Villages of Lansing, Bernice, and Oak Glen were combined, and papers of incorporation officially named them as one: The Village of Lansing, Illinois.

The first municipal election was held the very next month on April 18, 1893. Fifty-one votes were cast, and J.B. McDonald became the first Village President. Six trustees, a clerk, and a police magistrate were also elected all to serve for one year.

With a governing body in place, Lansing needed a place for them to govern from. By the summer of 1894 the new village had a beautiful two-story Village Hall at Lake and Henry Streets. It was made of brick with decorative Italianate mason arches above the first floor windows. The inside walls were formed of cement and were three feet deep. Wooden boardwalks surrounded the building, and roads were still unpaved.

Village Hall
The earliest known photo of Village Hall, at the corner of Henry and Lake Streets, shows the building soon after construction was completed in 1894, and just before occupancy. A wooden boardwalk surrounds the structure, and the roads are still unpaved. (Photo courtesy of the Lansing Historical Society)
Village Hall
This 1897 photo of Village Hall shows the cement sidewalks in place and a horse parked near the entrance. (Photo courtesy of Linda Eckstein Todd, via the Lansing Historical Society)

In 1897 cement sidewalks were poured. The building was further modernized in 1912 when electric wiring and light fixtures were added.

Serving the community

It could be said that the new Village Hall also served as a community center. Local organizations held regular meetings and events on the second floor. A Well Baby Clinic, sponsored by the Lansing Health Council, offered preschoolers free check-ups and inoculations once each month. Concerts, flower shows, art exhibits, movies, business meetings, organizational meetings, weddings, family celebrations, classes, and even dog shows were hosted at the new facility. Small shows required a $2 permit fee.

Those diverse uses set the character of the Village Hall building, and it has continued that flexibility of service throughout its 139 years.

Village Hall – home of a crowded police department

It is unclear when the Lansing Police Department officially formed, but in the 1920s Lansing was served by John Eckstein as Town Marshall, and he worked from an office in the Village Hall building.

Marshall Eckstein
Town Marshall John Eckstein can be seen in the shadows of the Village Hall doorway in this photo from the late 1920s. (Photo courtesy of Linda Eckstein Todd, via the Lansing Historical Society)
Village Hall
In March of 1941, Police Chief VanLaningham parks a patrol car outside Village Hall. Ten years later, the Lansing Police Department would be headquartered here. (Photo courtesy of the Lansing Historical Society)

The Lansing Police Department had been headquartered in the Village Hall building since 1951, beginning with a one-room facility attached to the Village Clerk’s office. By 1953 Village Hall was bursting at the seams. The offices had been modernized, but desks and records occupied every inch of spare space. Officers had no locker room for changing clothes, taking a coffee break, or relaxing between shifts.

The two primitive jail cells located on the far north corner of the building were so small that if you stretched out your arms you could touch both sides. There were no windows; the only light came from two decades-old light fixtures with bare bulbs.

The original jail cells used by Lansing police in the 1950s are still part of of the old Village Hall building today. Cam Harvey, a current tenant of the old building, shows off the old steel door. (Photo: Marlene Cook)

The inadequacy became apparent when police arrested seven men in a raid of a gambling joint. Each suspect had to be quizzed individually in an upstairs meeting room while the other six were crammed into those two dungeon-like cells.

In January 1964, five modern jail cells were added along with two interrogation rooms, a radio room, and a separate office for the captain. The $30,000 remodeling job took about three months to complete, and much of the painting and carpentry were done by police officers. Chief John Brachler did the welding, and Officer William Hutchison did the floor tiling.

In 1974 Dean Stanley became Chief of Police. One of his first objectives was to remodel the police station. Officers again pitched in, adding more offices, training areas, and a classroom. The Well Baby Clinic that had continued for almost 40 years was told in 1975 that the second floor would no longer be available to them as the space was needed for the Lansing Police Department.

Brian Weis, LPD’s current Supervisor of Communications and Records, remembers when he was called to the detectives’ office so the men could ask him if he was hearing the same voices they were. “I assured them they were not crazy,” laughed Weis. “I heard the voices too. There was always some kind of reconstruction or renovation going on, and when they put up a new wall, they just covered the old wall and anything in the way — including the radio.” Somehow the circuit had been reactivated, and they were hearing their own voices.” The courtroom had taken over the front of the upstairs, and the detectives’ office was in the back that was once the radio room.

One hallway featured an original cement wall on one side and a newer wall of drywall on the other. When Comcast came to wire for internet, they had to use a three-foot drill to get through the cement wall.

The Lansing Police Department remained in Village Hall until 1990 when it moved to its current location at 2701 East 170th Street. Dedication of the new location was held on June 1, 1990.

1968: Modern black and white, and a flag

Beginning in 1968, the outside of the building was updated. Windows were repaired, and a new black veneer siding gave the old Village Hall a more modern appearance. Large lettering wrapped around the corner of the building, identifying it as “Lansing Village Hall.” The modernizations were completed by 1969.

It was in 1976 that the Village Hall hoisted its first flag. Students from grades five to eight entered the flag design competition sponsored by the Lansing Junior Woman’s Club as one of their bicentennial projects. Steven Able, an eighth grader at Memorial Junior High School, won the competition. Stars along the borders and a little house with a flag overhead depicted the theme “Home of the Friendly Neighbor.” The Village Board adopted the design, had it made into 3×5-foot flags, and ordered them to be flown at all Village buildings.

Village Hall – home of the Lansing Fire Department

The first fire house was on the west side of the Village Hall and was a small one-bay building. The larger quarters were built in 1946 and were capable of housing their brand new 1946 LaFrance engine and other conveniences of the time. That became known as Station One.

Remodeling in 1964 added new heating equipment, electrically controlled doors, a new ceiling, and a redecorated squad room. The station remained active until 1958 when Station Two was constructed and an adjacent building was used as a meeting hall. After that Station One pretty much became a storage building for the fire department. They finally cleared out all their belongings in 2013 when the building was leased to the Visible Music College.

At the old Station One some of the guys would use the door leading to the roof to get a breath of fresh air or maybe take a cigarette break. On that roof was the air raid siren that was installed during World War II as a civil defense warning. After the war it was repurposed as a tornado siren. Ken Verkaik, retired Fire Chief, laughed as he told how the late John “Chevy Jack” VanRamshorst, who was a firefighter for 47 years and owner of Ridgeway Chevrolet, maintained it. ”He was frugal and instead of buying an authorized switch to activate it, he used a Chevrolet floorboard dimmer switch. It worked just fine, but he didn’t bother to tag it. He knew what it was, but no one else did. Many times someone would ask ‘What’s this for?’ and push it. Drove the dispatchers crazy trying to figure out why the siren was going off and on and not knowing what to do about it.”

Village Hall – home of Lansing Public Works

The Public Works Department operated in limited space in the old Village Hall until 1964 when they moved to new quarters at 3300 171st Street, where they are located today. The new facility had 7,200 square feet of space and housed new offices, 10 trucks, and maintenance equipment for the street, sewer, and water departments. In 1990 an additional 20,000-square-foot building was built to house three recycling trucks, recycling bins, and eight garbage trucks. The $378,000 garage was ready for occupancy by November of that year.

Village Hall – home to the Lansing Chamber of Commerce, twice

The Lansing Chamber of Commerce, founded as the Lansing Business Association in 1949, first operated out of businesses on Ridge Road and later in the homes of secretaries before occupying the upstairs of the Lansing Village Hall in March 1975. But by January 1976, the Village was planning to remodel the upstairs, and there would be no space for the Chamber. The Chamber board agreed to rent offices in the Walker Building at 18225 Burnham Avenue.

In 1990 the Police Department was vacating the old Village Hall, leaving the facility empty. The Lansing Chamber of Commerce was invited to move its offices back into the building – rent free! With an offer they couldn’t refuse, the Chamber moved to the first floor in the summer of 1990. The Chamber kept that office until 2013 when the building was leased to the Visible Music College for $1.

Village Hall – home of Visible Music College

There were rumors of tearing down the historic Village Hall, but when Visible Music College expressed interest, the Village Board voted 6-0 to lease it to them for $1 plus a commitment to spend at least $250,000 in repairs and renovations. Visible ended up spending more than $400,000.

Work began in 2013 using contractors as needed. The majority of the work was done by volunteers from Lansing and some students from the college’s Memphis, Tennessee, campus. A stage was installed in the bay where fire engines were once parked.

Village Hall
In the garage bays where Lansing fire trucks once parked, Visible Music College created an area for musicians to take the stage. (Photo: Marlene Cook)

Today the college focuses on giving music lessons rather than accommodating in-house degree students, as technology makes online learning an affordable option for students seeking music degrees. Visible is still planning to offer a few concerts during the summer months.

Greenway Bikehouse – the newest occupant of old Village Hall

Temporarily sharing space with Visible Music College, Greenway Bikehouse opened for business on April 6, 2022. It is located where the Chamber of Commerce used to be. Since the black-and-white building is situated along the Pennsy Greenway Trail, it’s a fitting place to purchase bikes and accessories, get repairs, and hang out.

Greenway’s vision was to open at 3144 Ridge and include a coffee/wine/beer shop with patio seating. However the costs to renovate that building proved prohibitive as estimates gradually climbed toward $1.1 million. Instead owners Cam and Megan Harvey are contemplating opening at a location further southeast on the Pennsy Greenway Trail — in the old Waters Edge building on Wentworth Avenue. Cam Harvey hopes to sign a lease soon and move by mid-summer.

History still stands

Many of the historic remnants of Lansing’s old Village Hall building are still visible throughout the structure, including:

  • The steel doors of the jail cells
  • An old safe with its door holding every yearly vehicle sticker since the Village started selling them in 1933
  • Headers from the first fire station built on the west side of the building sometime before 1893
  • A relay for 9-1-1 — it’s hidden behind a wall and continues to work

The building is like a maze with small rooms, nooks and crannies, and short hallways twisting and turning throughout. It would be easy to get lost.

Whatever becomes of this piece of Lansing history, the historic Village Hall has served its community with stability and flexibility for more than a century, and it continues to do so today.

Village Hall
Photo: Lansing Historical Society, 1894
Photo: Melanie Jongsma, 2023
Marlene Cook
Marlene Cook
Marlene Cook is a Lansing resident who loves learning and writing about local history. A member of the Illinois Women's Press Association since 1973, she has won multiple IWPA awards. Her 2020 awards in the Mate E. Palmer Communications Contest included first place for columns and second place for nonfiction book in the history category.

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