3-28-2013-1-23-02-PM-10162865

Clearing’s Past Is Reminisced By Local Club

Rob Bitunjac, president of the Clear-Ridge Historical Society, delved deep into the history of Clearing during a lively talk at the Clearing Library on March 20.

More than 50 people turned out to learn a little bit about the area that became Clearing, going back to the 1800s, when Clearing and Garfield Ridge were still largely farmland.

Bitunjac explained that each township was divided into 36 mile-square sections, and Midway Airport, designated as Section 16, originally served as the mile-square area that every township was required to set aside for educational purposes since 1785.

ÒThe Board of Education would lease the land to local farmers, and use the money to pay teachers’ salaries,” explained Bitunjac, a Garfield Ridge resident and head librarian at Clearing Library at 6423 W. 63rd Place.

He noted that the Midway property was originally part of Lyons Township, and then Stickney Township, before being annexed to Chicago.

Chicago Municipal Airport opened on the land in 1926, but originally the airfield only occupied a section of the land.

Many in the audience were amazed to learn that the original Hale School, now at 6140 S. Melvina Ave., was located on airport property until the 1940s.

But Art Hill and John Campbell, whose families have lived in Clearing for generations, were also there, and recalled being classmates at the old Hale School, and playing outside while planes flew nearby.

A second elementary school, called Clearing, was also located on airport property at one time, along with a golf course.

Campbell’s father operated a local ice business, delivering blocks of ice to area homes in the days before refrigerators.

Active Belt Railroad tracks once crossed the airport land as well. Trains no longer ran on the tracks after 1941, but they weren’t removed until the 1950s.

While there used to be a blacksmith’s shop at 58th and Lockwood, few vestiges of Clearing’s pastoral past remain. But one of them is a building just west of Central Avenue on 63rd Place, that once housed the Clearing Dairy. Bitunjac noted that a hitching post for horses remains outside.

Many at the gathering also recalled streetcar lines coming down 63rd Place.

Bitunjac also discussed and showed photos of the station for an interurban streetcar line at Archer and Cicero, which marked the city limits until 1915. At the station known as ÒThe Limits,” passengers could board a streetcar that would take them through Willow Springs and as far as Joliet, following Archer Avenue and Archer Road (Route 171). From there, people could connect with another line that went as far as Starved Rock.

Following the meeting, audience members perused the displays of Clearing memorabilia on tables lining the meeting room. These included a pith helmet that Art Hill gamely put on, explaining that his father, George ÒMilt” Hill, wore it as an air raid warden walking the neighborhood during World War II.

His grandfather, also named George, first came to Clearing in 1909 and founded the Hill Family Hardware store. Hill pointed out the alarm bell that was kept in the store at 63rd and Central. It was sounded in the event of robberies at the Clearing Bank, across the street, and was put to use at least twice in the 1920s and ’30s, at the height of the gangster era. In one instance, he said that hardware store staff alerted to the robbery under way came out carrying shotguns, and the robbers fled.

He said wanted posters of the bank robbers promised a larger reward if they were found dead than if they were found alive.

ÒMaybe they should do that now,” he said with a smile.

The memorabilia also included bound booklets of Clearing history put together by longtime resident Diane Johnson, whose Midway Jewelry shop has been at 5635 W. 63rd St. for 45 years.

Johnson was among the Clear-Ridge Historical Society members who spearheaded the failed attempt to save the Crane & Moreland building, across the street from her business at 63rd and Central, from the wrecking ball.

The architecturally distinctive, mixed-use building that has been a Clearing landmark since it was completed in 1927 is going to be razed this year by the Chicago Department of Aviation. Like other corner properties surrounding the airport, plans are in the works to turn it into green space as a safety measure.

Bitunjac noted that Crane & Moreland was a real estate company responsible for building many of the homes in the area.

Carol Alesia, who came for the talk, once owned a business in the Crane & Moreland building. She now lives in the suburbs but comes back often to visit Johnson and other friends in the area.

ÒI found the talk very interesting and informative,” she said, adding that she planned to join the historical society.

Hill was pleased with the large turnout for the talk, but said he would like to see more younger people come to these gatherings, which are usually held every two months.

ÒWe older people aren’t going to be around forever to pass on these stories,” he said.

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