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Tinley's Windmill And Other Eclectic Pieces Of The Past Preserved At Museum

Tinley's Windmill And Other Eclectic Pieces Of The Past Preserved At Museum
The Star - Orland Park and Orland Hills, IL USA
April 20, 2006
Jennifer Golz

A lot can be learned from a wooden spoon, old receipts and sales fliers, arrowheads, a cuspidor and trunks of clothing.

The Tinley Park Historical Society has been collecting items such as these and others, including grave markers, since its inception during the nation's bicentennial celebration in 1976.

"Clearly this part of the country really wasn't much to speak of 200 years prior. In 1776, it was all wilderness," said Brad Bettenhausen, historical society president. "But we did have history, and we did need to start pulling it together and documenting it."

In the 1970s, the village helped the historical society negotiate the purchase of Tinley Park's oldest church, the Zion Lutheran Church, built in 1884 at 6727 174th St.

Storage and research facilities are in the church's rear and basement.

Today, the worship area in the front is rented for weddings and the rear of the church, just two small rooms used for Sunday school, is the museum that holds an eclectic collection of Tinley Park's past.

"It's part of our heritage," Marvin Block, historical society member, said of the church and all that is within.

Block, a retired history teacher of 36 years from the Bremen High School District 228, volunteers at the museum by giving tours to school children and Cub and Girl Scout groups.

The largest item, at more than 7-feet-tall, is in the museum's entryway.

It's the original plaster model of a coal miner, commissioned by the state, and was created by Tinley Park artist John Szaton.

Today, the bronze statue made from the mold sits on the northeast grounds of the state building in Springfield.

When Szaton died in 1986, his wife donated the plaster model to the historical society.

"I say we have the original," Bettenhausen said. "We have on display the full-size plaster model he created in his studio here in Tinley Park."

While many know of the coal miner statue and its ties to the village, "not too many people know there was a windmill in Tinley Park," Block said.

Built in the 1870s, the approximately 110-foot tall structure stood where White Hen is now at 171st Street and Oak Park Avenue.

Each blade was about 75-feet long, Block said.

The historical society has some of the original grinding stones from the windmill that were recovered in the ground more than 60 years after it was torn down, Block said.

As a history class project, a Tinley Park High School student built a scale model of the windmill and donated it to the historical society.

Other items donated to the historical society include a 1914 bill of sale for a Tinley Park funeral service that cost just $88, $40 of which was the casket cost.

Also there is a sales flier for the village's first factory, a manufacturer of hand-operated Spiral washing machines.

But when electricity came to Tinley Park in the first decade of the 20th century, Block said, the factory closed.

The Goodall Aero Co., which built tri-planes used in World War I, moved into the factory after it closed.

The historical society also has fliers for this short-lived business, Block said, as well as fliers for North American Mushrooms, which moved in afterward
and was in operation until it burned to the ground in 1960.

"Raising mushrooms is very hazardous," Block said. "They spontaneously combust."

Just last week the historical society received another flier for Vogt's Department Store, or the former Bremen Cash Store. For 3 cents, consumers could have purchased a glass cake plate, a funnel or a doughnut cutter. The flier is not dated.

The historical society is also the owner of the school bell from the original Kirby School that sat just east of where the Bettenhausen Recreation center is today, atop a hill on 171st Street.

The historical society also acquired several desks from the school house when it closed.

Inside one was a book that once belonged to a Katie Hollestein in 1887. She wrote the town name as New Bremen, as the village did not become Tinley Park until 1892, Block said.

In 1906, that book was passed on to a Alma Hentsh, who signed her name under Hollestein's.

"This is before our country even had 48 states," Block said.

Also donated is a doll that is more than 100 years old made from a wooden spoon, two clothes pins and crepe paper.

There is a lot of railroad memorabilia from the Rock Island line, including a shield from the front of a train, a stove from the caboose, a lantern and cuspidor.

A recent acquisition by the historical society is a register from the J.C. Funk General Store, where Bogart's Char House sits today.

The register holds names and original charge slips from the 1940s. A more clear receipt indicates Wesley Stemm's son purchased a pack of crepe paper for 10 cents on May 10, 1940.

"We have the receipts from the first priest at St. George, and we know he ate a lot of Jell-O," Block said with a chuckle.

In the Ladies Room is trucks of clothing, dolls and other items, including a wedding dress that was worn by Erna, who married Walter Goebel June 4, 1938, in the Zion Lutheran Church before it was sold to the historical society.

Before the Ladies Room, the historical society had an Indian Room.

"At the beginning, we were closely associated with Pottowami Indians," Block said.

Dolls, clothing, earthenware and arrowheads are among some of the collection in the Indian Room.

Many of the items "were donated by local farmers, who, when plowing their fields, would turn up arrowheads," Block said.

Also interesting is the historical society's two gravestones from the Batchelors Grove Cemetery, one for infant Emma Fulton and one for Mr. and Mrs. Thomas Moss.

Although the cemetery is not within the village's corporate limits, as it's located inside the Rubio Woods forest preserve in Bremen Township, Bettenhausen said the cemetery is important to Tinley Park's past.

"Batchelors Grove is the first area of settlement in this area's vicinity," he said. "This goes back to before the 1830s.

"As time goes on, the Batchelors Grove settlement starts to dwindle as people follow the railroad, which is present day Tinley Park," Bettenhausen said.

Because of vandalism and theft, only about 15 headstones remain in the cemetery, leaving most of the deceased in unmarked graves, he said.

Through the historical society's genealogical and news archive research, Bettenhausen has identified more than 150 plots in the Batchelors Grove Cemetery.

"One of the coolest things is, if I were to go out there with survey instruments or just some rope and a tape measure, I can locate where there are people buried," Bettenhausen said.

"The end product is we really have, now, more legitimate information about that cemetery than we ever had in the past 150 years.

"When you deal with a lot of local history, you deal with a lot of loose ends in your pockets, hoping to find something that fits. There are pieces of many puzzles I am still looking for."

Most of the historical society's several thousand item collection is a result of donations.

"We have gotten to a point where we don't want things if they're not from Tinley Park," Block said, because of limited storage space.

In a small office, the historical society has newspaper achieves that date back to the 1920s and a business directory that dates back to the 1800s.

"A lot of people think we have all the answers to Tinley's history, but that isn't quite true," Bettenhausen said. "We have a little bit of information on a lot of things, but not a lot of information on one thing of Tinley's history."

Jennifer Golz may be reached at jgolz@starnewspapers.com or (708) 802-8816.

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