Subject:            Oral History of Park Forest

Interviewer:      Betty Myers

Narrator:          Florence McCoy Schumacher

 

 

 

This is an oral history interview with Florence McCoy Schumacher on July 22, 1980,

at Florence’s home at 1529 Main Street.  The interviewer is Betty Myers.

 

 

 

Q:  Florence, did you always live in Crete?

A:  I was born in Chicago Heights and grew up there until I was entering college,

 and then we, my family, moved here.  But, this was the home of my grandparents,

so I spent many hours up here as a child and have many memories of preschool years up here in the same house.

Q:  Well, in other words, you have lived in the area all your life, right?

A:  Yes.

Q:  Okay, so from your earliest memories can you describe the area on which Park Forest now stands?

A:  Well, you know, Sauk Trail at that time used to be a lovely road to go from, oh, Chicago Heights  to the Crete area to Richton Park and on over to Joliet.  It was a very quiet street; not bustling like it is today.

 We’d go, preliminary to getting to Sauk -- to Western Avenue, on Sauk Trail; we’d go past my great grandparents’ pioneer home site.  I remember the home that, the second home, they built a log cabin

 when they first came in 1834.  And, they were the second white family to settle on Sauk Trail or in this area.  The old cabin was replaced by a wooden home, kind of a long, low home with a huge orchard around it and big barns and what not.  And we passed that and then we’d get to Western Avenue and there was Indian Wood Country Club.  We’d go by there, and in later years I did play on the Indian Wood Country Club course.  Then I don’t remember much of anything near the country club until you’d get almost to Rich East High School. 

It used to be a huge pond, slough if you want to call it that, that was always, in the spring, filled with ducks, wild ducks, or in the fall seemed to be a stopping place.  It was always very interesting driving past that particular section.  In fact, my father, Milton H. McCoy, always thought that that should be turned into a bird sanctuary.  He was a civil engineer

 for the City of Chicago Heights for many years.  But then Park Forest came along and Rich East High School, and I understand the Rich East High School’s had problems with its gym floor because it was built over the area where the slough was.  Then…

Q:  Who was that that owned this place, do you know?

A:  The what place?

Q:  Who owned the place where the slough was?

A:  Who owned it?  I have no idea.  [Ed note: Weishaar’s]

Q:  Someone said something about Grandpa Somebody, I think.  That’s all right.

A:  I just don’t know, it’s too bad my Aunt Martha McCoy isn’t alive today.  She could really tell you much about the area.

Then going on to Richton Park, we had friends over there and we’d often drive over there to visit them.  They lived [at a place that was located] just before you get to the viaduct in Richton Park, up on the high slope on the north side of the street.  But before you got to that point, I always remember a little farmhouse, perhaps it wasn’t, but it stood along on what is now a corner (N.E.) where now you would turn to go to Matteson.  It’s still there but it has been remodeled and…

Q:  A brick home, is it?

A:  You know I can’t remember what, but I think it has the brick front.

Q:  Is it near where Garafalo’s is? [Ed. Note:  This seems to be the house at the corner of Sauk Trail and Lakewood on the southeast corner.]

A:  Well, it’s very close by, but on the north side of the street.

Q:  All right!  Okay, people have asked me about that house.

A:  That used to be there and of course, in later years, it has been changed from what it was then.  I mean modernized somewhat, but that home was there for many, many years.  And then of course, going on, after you got under the viaduct in Richton Park, there wasn’t much to Richton Park and then you’d go on west and, as I say, it was always a very pleasant drive.  Western Avenue and Sauk Trail was at an important intersection because there were fewer connections east and west with Western Avenue.  Western Avenue at that time was a two-lane highway and people from this area would go from

Flossmoor to take the IC train.  One could really make time on Western Avenue because [there was] no traffic.  In fact, one story goes, one person was reading his newspaper as he was driving to the train (laughter).  And then, of course, Indian Wood had planted a lot of trees on the west side of Western Avenue, and some of those trees are still there.

Q:  That’s the golf course you are talking about?

A:  Yes.  Where the golf course was.  The Indian Wood golf course and those trees, I have seen them grow and seen a lot of them disappear because of the elm disease.  But, as I say, in those days it was very easy getting to the Flossmoor parking lot and not much trouble finding a place to park your car when you got there.

Q:  This Indian Wood Golf Course, it was in what is now Park Forest?

A:  What is Park Forest now?

Q:  Yes.

A:  Indian Wood.  Yes.

Q:  Were people upset about losing their golf course for a new town?

A:  I don’t really know, I didn’t hear, I’ve never heard much about that particular aspect of it.  I suppose some people were.

Q:  Your ancestors now, where was this home of theirs that you used to pass as you went down Sauk Trail?

A:  From Western Avenue and Sauk Trail, going east on Sauk Trail, after you go around the bend there’s quite a bend in  the Sauk Trail road going east.  And you cross a bridge and just after you cross the bridge, which has been known for many years as the McCoy Bridge, the north side of the street up on the little knoll where most of the – if you notice most of the

farmers and pioneers usually built their homes up on a little elevation.  Not like some of the subdivisions today where they’re down in the low spots (laughs).  But, there was a little elevation there and the old farmhouse and barns and what not, stood there.  I’d say it’s about a quarter of a mile east of Western Avenue and Sauk Trail.  On the north side of the street, then the south side

of the street, it was part of the farm, old farm, too, and that was the pasture land, and it was over there that the Indians had a campground and they would stop at the old McCoy farm. They’d winter in-- Pottawatomie Indians would winter in Iowa and then they’d come through in the spring on their way to Michigan, usually Detroit or around in that area, because the Indians had a special Indian burial ground for chiefs and high,  important Indians and they’d take the bodies, the bones up there to bury them.  Then they’d stay up there in Michigan and hunt and fish and come back through on the Sauk Trail in the fall.  And they called my great-grandmother, “the Good White Woman,” because she always would befriend them and if they needed medicine or home remedies, if any of them were sick, she was there to lend a hand where she could.  In fact, on the area on the south side of the street some place is an Indian burial ground that my great-grandfather had told the Indians they could use and that he would never disclose where it was.  None of us have any idea where it was.  He was quite a man too, and when the cholera epidemic was in this area, I can’t tell you, it must have been in … well I can’t tell you exactly when, but he buried a hobo or a tramp that was coming through that died of cholera.  And at that time, nobody would bury him and he said he would.  He used a pitchfork and was very careful in not touching the body, but he contracted cholera and died from it, too.  So that was quite a tragedy.

Q:  The Indians that your grandmother befriended, the hobo that your grandfather buried, they would  have all crossed Sauk Trail through Park Forest, wouldn’t they?

A:  Yes, umhm.

Q:  I don’t think you told me your grandparents’ names.

A:  They were John and Sabra McCoy.  They came from Rutland, Vermont, in a covered wagon as far as I could learn.  And got…arrived here in 1834.  This territory was not opened to the White settlers until about 1832 or 33 when the treaty was signed with the Blackhawk chief, Blackhawk Indians.  [Tape player shut off while Florence answered phone]…says something about this territory.  Before this treaty was signed any Whites that came into the area were in danger of being attacked by Indians who were not friendly to the White’s invasion.  After the treaty was signed, all these Indians moved

westward, the territory was then safe for settlers to come in.

Q:  Did you ever find any Indian artifacts?

A:  I found, I’ve found several Indian arrowheads.  My father found many; he was a civil engineer and out on surveys he’d quite often pick up an Indian arrowhead or some Indian artifact.  [He] had a nice collection of them.  During the Civil War times the McCoy farm was also an Underground Railway station.  Slaves were hidden there and smuggled out under hay loads and taken to the next station.

Q:  I understand that the Batchelder family was one of the first settlers in the area of Park Forest which would be Western Avenue and Sauk Trail.  Did anyone, your parents or grandparents or anyone, ever tell you stories about this family?

A:  No, I’ve heard the family mentioned by this aunt of mine, Aunt Martha.

Q:  This aunt, Aunt Martha, what was her occupation?

A:  She was a high school history teacher, in Chicago, Roosevelt High School, for many years.

Q:  What did she tell you about the…?

A:  Well, just mentioning that the Batchelder family and the McCMcClashion was it?  McClashions?  [Ed. Note:  On the original parcels bought in 1946 were names like McClure, Madsen and Marthaler.

       There are no indications from the Plan of Town whether the parcels were under “pioneer” ownership.]

Q:  Merkers?

A:  Well Merker’s I heard her mention also, but I don’t remember anything in particular about them.  But I do remember her telling about the Sauk Trail being such a widely used…Besides the Indians coming  through; they often saw sheep being herded to the west.  And they would go right by the house, the old farmhouse.  And then, of course, this history has mentioned the 49ers going west used Sauk Trail also.  So it was a well-traveled thoroughfare.

Q:  It sure was.

A:  The trails that these Indians made were always chosen on the high spots throughout the territory where they were traveling because those were the ones that stayed clear of snow and the leaves and what not.  And it was easier traveling for them.  Before horses became so prevalent in the area they would, they had one or two horses, they would have a, oh a trailer, it was made of long poles that they would attach somehow to the horse, and they’d lay all their paraphernalia that they wanted to carry across these poles and drag it up.  Now on the camp ground that was on my great-grandparent’s property, they erected the framework of the teepees and they would leave the framework there, but they’d take their skins off when they left, and went back to either Iowa or went on to Michigan.  They would put the skins on when they came and then they’d take them with them when they left.  And they would bring this great-grandmother of mine, if they were coming from Iowa, they’d bring her maple sugar, and when they came back from Michigan in the fall, they’d bring her cranberries.  And they always had something to give her because they considered her a benefactor.  They were rather scary for the children of my great-grandparents.  My aunt told me one story about one time her aunt was, they were baking, making doughnuts, and there was a knock on the door.  This young girl opened the door and here was an Indian and she, she had some doughnuts in her hand and she was so frightened she just threw them at the Indian.  But the Indians, for the most part the settlers were friendly, but the little children were a little leery.  In order for the settlers to get their flour and supplies in this area or to have their grain ground, they would have to go clear over to Vincennes, Indiana, and it would take them three weeks each way.  The men of the group around the area would get together and go, and the wives and children would stay home.  But sometimes my aunt had told of stories that they said when the wolves were bad, they would build a fire, the great-grandmother and the children, out across the front of the property to keep the wolves back so they wouldn’t come in too close to the house.  Then the men traveling would very often carry pork.  They’d slaughter a pig and they’d carry this pork with them so that if a wolf, pack of wolves, came after them, why they’d toss out a piece of meat, and the [the wolves would] start fighting over that and killing one another over them, and in the mean time [the men] could get on their way a little farther toward their destination, and so that’s how they progressed.  Then they were all very happy when finally there was a mill up north of here; I can’t remember just where that one was.  But at any rate, it was shortened to maybe two days traveling compared to maybe three weeks.

Q:  That is a big difference.  Do you know anything about this Merker family?

A:  No, except just the name was mentioned.

Q:  I understand he was a first settler in Park Forest, or where Park Forest homes now are.  All right, when were you first aware of the fact that Park Forest was to be built?  Or how?

A:  Well, I’ve forgotten just the year, when was that?

Q:  Well it started about…

A:  In the 1940’s?

Q:  Yes, after World War II, about 1947.

A:  Because my father was acquainted with the developers of Park Forest and I don’t, I’ve forgotten what his feelings were, but I think a lot of us sort of felt, “Oh, all that nice wooded area’s going to be gone,” you know?  It was, you could get away from the hubbub of the cities and the whatnot and get out and it was very restful driving through that way.  Not much traffic. 

Of course with the coming of Park Forest, we watched it with interest to see and we’ve felt that the developers did very well in developing that village, I mean from scratch as they did, because it has turned out to be quite a stable community.

Q:  Did you have doubts that this planned community was going to work?  When it was first started?

A: Yes, I think some people didn’t expect it to last too long [tape shut off briefly].

Q:  Why were people skeptical about it?

A:  Well, this was a new undertaking.  I don’t know whether this was the first town or village that was built from scratch and

planned to every detail.  Seems like there was one other in the east that…

Q:  New Jersey, I think.

A:  That had been a planned community, but people had seen plans come and go and not materialize so they were watching it

closely to see what was going to happen.

Q:  What did you think of the houses that they were building?

A:  Well, I don’t remember hearing very much of a comment on houses.  They were nice little homes and, of course, they have improved greatly with the landscaping having grown from little twigs to trees and what have you.  But it would... seems that they were… had a lot of foresight in planning that by building apartments first and then homes.  And, in fact, at one time the Crete-Monee

 School Dist6rict was using at least two of the homes near one of the schools over there as classrooms.  In fact, I did some substituting in the little homes over there.

Q:  In Park Forest?

A:  And then when the school district got their building built, I guess it was Talala, before they had Talala built, they turned them back to

the developers and then they remodeled them and sold them, but they served very well as school rooms.  For temporary schools.

Q:  Part of Park Forest is in Will County.  I live in Will County.  And of course our children go to the Crete-Monee School District.  

Did that cause any problems with the schools?

A:  Yes, it did, in fact there was almost a settlement at one time whereby all the children that lived in Park Forest would go to the Park Forest – Rich [East] High School.  It had gone so far as to how they were going to divide up the assets and make it equitable.  The Will County School Board had okayed it.  But then at the last minute Cook County would not okay it, and so it fell through. 

But the Park Forest children, if I remember correctly, considered Crete a farmer school (laughs), and they would have rather gone to a school in Park Forest, and not come to Crete.  Then there was quite a bit of rivalry when the Rich East High School was built, between Crete-Monee students and the Rich East students.  But I think that antagonism has oh, calmed down now.  But there used to be quite a bit,

and I think maybe the Will County [Park Forest] students now find that maybe Crete-Monee isn’t quite as bad as they thought it was.  Not quite as farmerish maybe let’s say (laughs).

Q:  Right!  It’s a wonderful school.

A:  But there was a problem and because our district, 201-U, is a spread out district, it would have been much easier if we had a smaller area to superintend and to provide for.  But I think most of that has been alleviated, hopefully.

Q:  You’re on the school board now?

A:  No, I was.

Q:  You were?  When were you?

A:  Oh, it was in the 1960’s, but I can’t give you the exact dates now [1966-1970].  I was the first woman to be elected to the School Board since back in the twenties (I think).

Q:  Where all have you taught school?

A:  Where have I taught?  Well, I’ve sampled a little bit of everything.  I’ve, I’m really a high school English teacher, but when I started teaching Crete-Monee wasn’t Crete-Monee, it was Crete Community High School and it was just the beginning of a two-year high school, and so I taught a little bit of everything in those days.  Algebra, and history, civics, physical ed., and

later on I took charge of the glee club, put on seven operettas, and finally when the school grew large enough, I got into just my English, field of English and history.  I also started the school paper and yearbook.  So I spent, oh almost 12 years or so, 12 to 13 years teaching here in Crete Community High School.  Then, I was married and I didn’t teach for a while, but I’d substitute.  Then I went back

 and I taught at Bloom with EMH students and the…taught high school English there.  One year I taught English in the Bloom Community College

 at that time.  Kindergarten down in Steger one year and sixth grade in Oak Forest, then tutoring, so I’ve sampled a little bit of…a number of fields in the teaching business. But teaching today is a different, is a different problem than what I had when I began teaching because if you had any trouble…[phone rings]. If you had any trouble with any of the students, all you had to do was call the parents and the parents would see to it that that student behaved himself or herself.  But today it’s a different problem.  We teachers might call a parent, and get our ears pinned back because, “my Johnny wouldn’t do anything like that.”  So it isn’t as pleasurable teaching as it used to be.  You had more rapport with your students and in fact busing I think is one problem, too, because students

can’t stay after school to get help.  You never see your students; if you need him or her because your free period doesn’t coincide with his free period, so you can’t get together for conferences because they can’t get there any earlier than when the bus brings them, and they have to leave when the bus goes in the evening, and it’s a lot different teaching.  Changed things considerably.

Q:  When you taught at Bloom, did you have any Park Forest children there?

A:  I don’t believe so.

Q:  I understand at least for a while, 1948 to 1954 are the dates I have that Park Forest children went there.

A:  I don’t believe I had any Park Forest students.  I think by then that they had a high school of their own.

Q:  Did you ever go to Park Forest Plaza to do any shopping?  In the early days in particular?

A:  Well, I have shopped over at Park Forest Plaza for many years.  And I really prefer shopping there to going to Washington Mall…or Lincoln Mall…What is it?

Q:  Lincoln Mall.

A:  Washington Mall is north.  I detest having to go to Lincoln Mall to shop.

Q:  So do I.

A:  I like to go to Park Forest because you don’t have to walk miles to get where you want to go.  Plus the fact, in these malls, especially in the winter if it’s very cold out, you are dressed to the hilt to

keep the cold out.  You get into these malls and you’re just dying of the heat because you’ve no place to put your coat except to carry it on your back or over your arm.  Whereas Park Forest, well, what

if you do have to go out for a little bit?  It’s not very far to walk and you get a breath of fresh air again.

Q:  Right.

A:  So I prefer shopping at Park Forest when I can.  And I would like to see the shopping area come back to the potential it had then.

Q:  Yes.  What were some of the first stores there?  Do you remember?

A:  Not exactly, but I’ve always liked Field’s, of course, and Sears.  And Lyttons, ah…I’ve shopped there considerably.

Q:  Do you know if the competition of the Park Forest Plaza caused any problems with the merchants like here in Crete?

A:  I don’t think in Crete it caused…there wasn’t that much here in Crete at the time to be competitive with what was in Park Forest.

Q:  Well, what about the grocery stores?  Jewel store, wasn’t that an early store?

A:  Well, I think these stores still do draw customers away from our Crete store here, but I think for the most part  if you’re…especially today, if you’re going to have to spend gasoline to save two or three cents, it doesn’t make sense to go traipsing around just to get a bargain in one store (laugh).  So I don't think the merchants or stores here in Crete were hurt too much by that.

Q:  As a neighbor, what do you think of Park Forest today?

A:  Well, I think it’s a very stable community and I have a son-in-law that teaches at Rich East.  In fact, he’s taught in all three schools, Rich Central, and he’s done some teaching at Rich South.  His main school is Rich East, however.  He likes the students there.  It seems like the community has become integrated quite successfully.  At least you don’t hear of any

more problems over there than over the rest of the territory, with vandalism and what not.

Q:  Do you have any friends or relatives that live in Park Forest, then?

A:  I have a number of friends.  I don’t believe I have any relatives that live there.  None…not any that are very, very close.  Some in Olympia Fields.

Q:  Are your friends happy in Park Forest?

A:  They seem to be.  Yes.

Q:  What changes do you see now from when the village was a new community?

A:  Changes from when…what?

Q:  When it was first started.

A:  What changes?

Q:  Do you see differences now [both talking at one time] from when it was first developed?

A:  Well, as I mentioned before, the homes look a little more lived in.  The vegetation has grown up and enhanced the appearance of the property, the…streets are well cared for.  I don’t like to try to find a new place that I don’t know just exactly where it is when I go to Park Forest (laughter).

Q:  I agree.

A:  But I would say having grown from the days of the mud and the wooden sidewalks over there, it has developed very nicely.

Q:  It’s a very neat looking village, I think.

A:  Very.

Q:  [Tape shut off briefly].  I understand you’ve given some programs in Park Forest to the school children.  Could you tell me about that?

A:  Oh, it’s been a few years ago.  Well, last year, I think, I talked to the high school, Rich East High School students about the Indians in the area and the history.  But a number of years before that I was at the Sauk Trail School.  I had gone over there to tell them about Sauk Trail.  They wanted to know the history of Sauk Trail and Indian lore, and I had taken some

Indian artifacts, things of that type to show the children.

Q:  That’s very interesting.

End of Interview.