Taverns, airfields, chickens all part of Norridge history
Albert A. Anderson was among those reminiscing about the early days in Norridge during a meeting at the Eisenhower Public Library. | Joel Lerner~Sun-Times Media
Updated: January 14, 2013 6:04AM
NORRIDGE — In its early days, Norridge was quite the bawdy place.
It also played a role in aviation.
Those were among the stories exchanged recently when about two dozen residents attended one of their occasional Old Tymers get-togethers at the Eisenhower Public Library.
Centered around Montrose and Cumberland, the unincorporated predecessor of the Village of Norridge was home to taverns, bookie joints and houses of prostitution, according to the collective memories of those attending.
“The people thought they were back on Taylor Street,” said Albert Anderson, referring to the old Italian enclave in Chicago.
The Village of Norridge was incorporated Dec. 4, 1948.
“There was a tavern on Ottawa run by a large-chested woman named Marsha,” Anderson continued. “She would sing suggestive songs and play piano
“And there was a lot of gambling on Irving Park Road.”
At one time, residents tried to be annexed to Chicago, which surrounds Norridge and Harwood Heights, but “Norridge was turned down,” Anderson said.
The land on which the Norridge Park District stands once was slated to house factories.
“But the Village Board didn’t post the agenda, so they didn’t follow the law,” said Myron Petrakis. “The land was transferred to Harwood Heights.
And that’s how the Norridge Park District became part of Harwood Heights, even though it’s surrounded by Norridge, he added.
Harwood Heights provides police services to the district at Lawrence and Overhill avenues, but many residents of Harwood Heights are not in the park district’s boundaries.
The Norridge area also was home to myriad air strips, including ones at Lawrence and East River Road, Lawrence and Cumberland and Irving Park Road and Cumberland.
“Acacia Park Cemetery is the final resting place of many pilots,” Petrakis said.
Among the pilots using the airfields was Jennings W. “Jack” Rose, a well-known airplane designer of the time.
“Jack Rose used to test experimental planes,” Petrakis said, adding that Rose’s Parrakeet plans still are used today by those building their own aircraft.
In the late 1950s, Rosemary Wegner was a Welcome Wagon hostess.
“We used to give new residents information about schools and churches, “ she said. “We would get certificates (from restaurants) for lunch.”
But being a Welcome Wagon hostess had its obstacles.
“You had to talk fast to let them know you weren’t selling anything.”
At one time, Norridge was about eight blocks long and four blocks wide -- and home to more than a few chickens.
Fred Lehman’s family raised chickens in Norridge, which is why he knows that it really is true -- chickens do continue to run after their heads are cut off.
Parts of the area were swampland, where kids would look for polliwogs.
After World War II, Quonset hut housing for veterans could be found along Cumberland at Montrose and Forest Preserve Drive.
Acknowledging the roots of the area, an Indian Agency house was at 7000 W. Montrose; the agency is better known as the Bureau of Indian Affairs.
The northwest corner of Lawrence and Cumberland at one time had lights but no houses, Wegner said.
And no matter how many flowers and easels from the nearby cemetery were tossed into it, the “bottomless” mud hole on Montrose and Canfield still posed a danger to children, the Old Tymers group agreed.