Sunday, July 10, 2016

My Hometown - Lyons IL

I grew up in Lyons, Illinois during the 1970's and 1980's. Lyons had a bad reputation because it was full of brothels and strip clubs run by the Chicago Mob. Despite that it was a great place to grow up. Those things did not have a part in our lives, except to help the tax base and make things more affordable for residents. 

During those years Lyons had a few destinations for people in and outside the city limits (beside those mentioned above, of course). 
One was Fairyland Amusement Park. It was located on Harlem Avenue between 39th Street and Route 66. A car dealer, fitness center, Marshall's, motel and strip mall stand there now. It had the traditional amusement park rides of the time: the zipper, the lobster, merry-go-round, a train that circled the park, a Ferris wheel, boat ride, helicopter ride, cars that went around like the merry-go-round and more. One of my favorite memories was going with my next door neighbor, he was one of my babysitters and heros, when I was small. We made a record of my voice. I still have it somewhere in my house. I need to have it converted to digital, so I have it always.

Another top attraction was Cermak Pool, a Cook County Forest Preserve facility located on Ogden Avenue just west of Harlem Avenue along the DesPlaines River. Formerly the site of Cream City Amusement Park which burned down after only 2 seasons in 1908. We didn't go there for swimming and picnicing on the weekend, because it was a destination for many people from the City of Chicago. People in the Village did not typically go to Cermak Pool except for swimming lessons sponsored by our recreation department. It is where I learned to swim and had my first paying job! So many great memories there hanging out with kids for both sides of town (Lyons has an East and West side - we were Westenders). 


Finally, the last top attraction is Hoffman Tower. It still stands today and is on the National Register of Historic Places. I've always been interested in history, so I really like the story of George Hoffman and his tower. George Hoffman a was a local brew master who wanted to have a place where people could picnic and take advantage of the DesPlaines River and the recreation opportunities that it could provide. He had the tower built in 1908 and a boat landing constructed just behind it. There was also a large picnic area from Ogden Avenue (formerly Old Plank Road one of the major arteries leading into Chicago at the time - also known as Route 66) to the River.  The street and the water create a triangle perfect for this a picnic area. The tower is eight stories tall with five concrete floors. It contains four flood gates and two flood basins which controlled the level of the river. People could relax, picnic, take boat rides, climb the tower and enjoy Hoffman's beer. Pollution of the DesPlaines River brought his dream to an end in 1920 and the business closed.  His children sold it to Cook County Forest Preserve District upon his death in 1946. The tower sat dormant for years. It wasn't until the mid 1970s that Villagers decided that the Tower should be restored and opened to the public. I remember very well the fundraisers and other events that we had around restoring the Tower when I was younger. My parent's very close friends were instrumental in getting the State and National Landmark status. We had Landmark Day for quite a few years in Lyons during those times. In the late '70s and early '80s you could go up in the Tower and take a tour. Eventually the building was entirely restored and now it our Historical Commission Building or local history museum. I haven't been there in awhile. I believe it is open once a month for tours. 

Hoffman Tower in 1908

The damn has been removed by the Army Corps of Engineers in an effort to make the River healthier

Hoffman's Brewery across the street from the Tower. It burned down in 2013.


  1. I love your memories and the glimpse into your hometown! I would have loved the amusement park!

  2. Thank for reading Carrie. Thanks for writing with us. Summer school started this week so now I'm a few days behind.