LANSING, Ill. (October 14, 2023) – Not many who sat on one of the whimsical ice cream parlor chairs at Erfert’s Ice Cream Parlor in the early 1900s are around to talk about it.
However, Naomi Erfert Guhl, who wasn’t even born at that time, is the proud owner of two of the twisted wire chairs that were once in her grandmother’s ice cream parlor just east of 3422 Ridge Road in Lansing.
Erferts move to Lansing
Naomi is the daughter of Anna and William Erfert Jr. William was born on May 26, 1898, in Schmeidmuhl, Germany. He was just a year old when he learned to walk aboard the ship that took him to the United States along with his parents, William and Lena; three brothers, Carl, Erwin, and Walter; and two sisters, Hattie and Elizabeth. They first settled in Fort Atkinson, Wisconsin, where Naomi’s grandfather, William Sr., who had managed a brickyard in Germany, was unable to find land suitable for brick making. They relocated to Lansing in 1900.
According to Naomi’s son Matthew, who did a genealogy project in high school in 1994, the family moved into a home at 17950 Ridgewood Avenue where William Jr. and his siblings grew up and were educated at Indiana Avenue School. William went on to study business and commercial law at Chicago Business College. After his schooling he took a job as time keeper and later paymaster for Republic Steel of East Chicago, Indiana.
He was forced to take a year leave of absence after developing some eye problems, and during that year the plant moved to Youngstown, Ohio. William didn’t want to move, so instead he and two of his friends took a year-long vacation, traveling throughout the west, working on farms for financial support. His eyesight improved, and he returned home.
After William’s wanderlust was over, he learned the post office had an opening for postmaster. He took the exam, passed with flying colors, and was appointed postmaster by President Warren Harding on February 13, 1922, becoming the youngest postmaster in Illinois at age 23.
At some point during this period, William Jr.’s parents bought a two-story building at 3424 Ridge Road, (just east of where Edible Arrangements is today). William Jr. opened an ice cream parlor on the first floor and the family lived on the second floor.
Only two known photographs show the building, which was erected in 1850 as a residence. An addition that housed a store was built in 1865. At some time, the Erferts rented that space to an electrical company.
The land on which the Erfert house stood was deeded by the government in 1850 to Osmyn Paxtell who then deeded it to James S. Flynn in 1861. In 1864 Flynn transferred 100 feet to the Chicago and Great Eastern Railroad for right of way. The rest was sold to Henry Lansing, after whom the village is named, in 1865. Lansing subdivided the property and sold a portion of it to Charles Yeager in 1888. Yeager later sold a portion of his land to the Erfert family who also purchased three lots adjacent to the two-story.
It’s not known what year the Erferts purchased the building. The only clue is that William Jr. received his Village of Lansing business license on August 5, 1919.
When William was appointed postmaster in 1922, he sold the ice cream parlor to his mother Lena. She did well and earned enough money to purchase a home at 18262 Roy Street, where she lived until her death on July 10, 1948. By this time, she had 12 grandchildren and three great-grandchildren. Her husband, William Sr., had died on January 4, 1938, and had been employed at the Illinois Brick Company for 30 years. Both are buried in Oak Glen Cemetery.
Another unknown is when Lena closed the Erfert Ice Cream Parlor. What is known is that the building was torn down in 1937. An article in The Times dated February 16, 1937, reads, “William Erfert Jr. whose father was an early pioneer, recently discovered love letters and other historical data of early Lansing history with the destruction of the old building that housed the old Victorian ice cream parlor, where between a crack the relics were found, depicting the progressive spirit of the residents of the time.”
The article went on to explain the building was being demolished to make way for a new road, possibly Henry Street.
William Jr. had purchased three lots to the west of the ice cream parlor and in 1929 built a post office at 3344 Ridge Road that today is Edible Arrangements. Naomi said her father leased that property to the government for 20 years, but sold it after World War II when the rent the government was paying (that was locked in) was too low for him to make any money.
William meets Anna
As a young man, William was thrashing grain on a farm managed by Walter and Fred Schultz on property where the Lansing Municipal Airport is located today.
Anna Schultz would bring the men hot lunches daily. It proved to be true that the way to a man’s heart is through his stomach because when Anna gave William an extra slice of lemon meringue pie, he was hooked. They were married at St. John Lutheran Church on August 29, 1925.
They moved into a house that William had built for Anna at 3246 Ridge Road. Today known as the historical Erfert House, it is still standing to the west of the First National Bank.
When Naomi was a child, she and her mother Anna favored the color pink. So William painted their house pink. Naomi said whenever someone asked where their house was, her dad would say, “It’s the pink one on Ridge Road.” After her parents died, Naomi inherited the house and it remained in the family until last year when Naomi sold it.
William Erfert Jr.
William Erfert served a span of 37 years as postmaster. He was succeeded by Anthony Koselke in 1934 who retired in 1943. Erfert was at that time reappointed by Franklin Delano Roosevelt under the Civil Service Act. Erfert took a disability retirement in 1959.
William died November 26, 1978. His wife Anna died November 25, 1987. Both are buried in Oak Glen Cemetery.
William had become involved in public service as a very young man and remained active in public service his entire life. He served six years as village trustee from 1937-1943 at which time he was forced to resign when he took the postmaster position. He was founding member of the Lansing Volunteer Fire Department and was its first president, (1922), a member of the Lansing Police and Fire Civil Service Commission for several years, founder of Lansing’s first Athletic Club and founder of Lansing’s first Chamber of Commerce, (1920). He also organized a Welcome Home event for World War I veterans in 1921. He served as chairman of the original building committee of the new St. John Lutheran Church that was dedicated in 1951. He also served as general chairman of the Lansing’s Centennial Celebration in 1954.
The frosting on the cake, or more appropriately, the cherry on the ice cream, was when the Lansing Park District named a park for William and Anna. A three-day dedication celebration took place in July of 1983. The 17-acre park is on the site of the Christian Schultz family farm, Anna Erfert’s grandparents. The park serves as a reminder of the dedication and involvement the Erfert and the Schultz families exhibited in shaping Lansing’s future.
Note: The Lansing Journal is grateful for help from local photographer Dan Bovino, who took photos of old photos, recreating them digitally for us to use in this article.
- What’s that house behind Subway?
- The Adduci house on Ridge and Lorenz once belonged to Henry Lansing
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