WEST CHICAGO – History and progress are meeting in West Chicago, as the City Museum prepares to launch a new app to enhance a long-running walking tour of the town's many historic sites.
The free app is expected to be available starting Thursday through mobile communications company OnCell. It will allow users to access information and photos for each stop on the tour with just a few clicks of their smartphone.
The convenience of the technology makes learning about West Chicago history more accessible and flexible than in the past.
"It allows more people to be able to use it and see the information," City Museum Director Sara Phalen said.
West Chicago residents can take the tour at their own pace, and the app's GPS feature will tell them when they've reached each destination, which is especially helpful when they visit the site of a structure that is no longer standing. Photos that show how the location used to look will be available through the app.
Users can even go through the tour digitally from home, by accessing it through the app or, for those without a smartphone, visiting the tour's webpage on OnCell's website, www.myoncell.mobi/westchicago.
Users of regular cell phones on the walking tour will be able to call a phone number as they arrive at each site to hear its history read aloud to them. Tour brochures also will soon be available at the City Museum.
While the museum has offered a walking tour since the 1980s, the program now will include sites beyond the historic downtown area, including High Lake, which used to serve as a suburban resort for Chicagoans, and the stockyards behind Reed-Keppler Park, Phalen said.
"We definitely wanted to expand beyond downtown," she said, adding the new locations are ones people often ask about on guided tours led annually in the fall by the City Museum.
The tour is expected to last about 30 minutes to an hour.
While the stories of many sites will be shared on the tour, here is a glimpse of what residents can expect to learn. Information and photos are courtesy of the City Museum.
Get the app
Download the free OnCell app through Android and Apple app stores and search "West Chicago" to find the tour. Tour information also will be available at a to-be-released phone number, www.myoncell.mobi/westchicago and the City Museum, 132 Main St.
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Photo 2: Turner Town Hall, 132 Main St.
Built in 1884, Turner Town Hall was the community's municipal center for 92 years. It served many uses, from housing local police and fire departments to hosting bazaars, art exhibits and monthly dances. In 1976, government operations moved to the current City Hall, and just one year later, Turner Town Hall became the home of the West Chicago Historical Museum, now the City Museum. It was listed in the National Register of Historic Places in 1991.
Photo 3: Kruse House, 527 Main St.
Built in about 1917 for Fred and Bertha Kruse, the house represents a simpler style of architecture to contrast the popular, ornate nature of the Victorian homes that can be seen in West Chicago's older neighborhoods. A lifelong resident of West Chicago, Fred Kruse worked for the Chicago & North Western Railroad in various capacities for many years. The house was passed down to Kruse’s only child, Celia, after he died, and upon her own death in 1975, she bequeathed it to the West Chicago Historical Society to serve as a house museum.
Photo 4: Norris Furniture Store, 112 Main St.
After moving to West Chicago in 1855, expert cabinet maker Augustus Norris operated a furniture store in his home on Washington Street. In 1872, Augustus partnered with his son Charles until the younger Norris assumed entire ownership of the family business, which also included a funeral home, in 1877 and continued both at 112 Main St. The furniture store closed on Main Street in the 1950s, and Norris-Walen-Segert Funeral Home now sits on Fremont Street, according to the home's website.
Photo 5: Ripley House Hotel, 200 Main St.
As West Chicago rail traffic and business activities increased, businessman William Ripley decided to have a three-story hotel built next to his grain mill in 1878. Run by Ripley's wife, Jane, the Ripley House Hotel offered 24 rooms equipped with steam heat to keep visitors comfortable during the cold prairie winters at about $1.50 rent per day. The hotel operated until 1915, and its building is now home to West Chicago's art gallery, Gallery 200.