More Hidden History Behind Chicagoland Landmarks
Last fall, we took a look at the little-known past of a handful of notable and obscure spots in suburban Chicagoland. With so much more to explore, we couldn’t resist–here’s round two.
Ford Hanger (Lansing)
Lansing Municipal Airport in south suburban Will County might not seem like much. The small public airport, which straddles the Indiana border just a stone’s throw from 3 Floyds Brewery in Munster, does not see commercial air service. However, you might be surprised to learn it was originally built as a massive production for Ford–Ford airplanes. Ford Tri-Motor planes, which would go on to be used by dozens of airlines in addition to the Army, Navy, and Air Force, were to be built there.
Ford purchased the land in 1923 and began building a hangar in 1926. The hangar, which still stands, was groundbreaking in its design, and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The planes, however, wouldn’t last as long. The Great Depression curtailed much of Ford’s plane-making ambitions, and the company had rented out the entire airport facility by 1932. The Village of Lansing finally took ownership in 1976.
Leaning Tower of Niles (Niles)
No list of obscure or interesting historical spots in the suburbs would be complete without a feature on the Niles’ best attempt at the famous Italian icon. Built in 1934, it was part of a recreational park for employees of an HVAC company. So, perhaps the Leaning Tower of Niles was an employee recruiting tool? A more common explanation is that it was built for water storage for local recreational swimming pools.
The tower became part of a YMCA between 1960 and 2015, when Niles finally purchased it for $10. Indeed, the village has embraced the legacy of the tower: in 1991, Niles became a sister city of Pisa, Italy, and after Niles took control of its tower, residents voted in favor of spending taxpayer dollars to renovate and maintain it. Bells within the structure are supposedly hundreds of years old.
Gold Pyramid House (Wadsworth)
Way up north along I-94, one finds an Egyptian escape. A 1977-built house is a literal pyramid six stories tall, complete with a moat completely surrounding it. Outside is a 55 foot tall statue of Ramses and, of course, a smaller pyramid that serves as a four-car garage. A replica of King Tut’s tomb lies inside. The pyramid was originally literally plated in 24-karat gold, to the tune of an extra $1 million, making it one of the largest gold-plated objects in the world. However, the owners were forced to remove the gold after neighbors objected to its blinding reflections.
Intrigued? While you can’t get too close from the outside, the house had been open for tours. This bizarre treasure was almost lost forever after a 2018 fire put its future in question, but the owners vowed to renovate and allow visitors back in within a few years. According to their website, they even plan to have concerts on the property.
Graue Mill (Oak Brook)
In what was once known as Fullersburg (and before that, Brush Mill), a classic water-powered grist mill remains significant over a century after it became functionally obsolete. German immigrant Freidrich Graue purchased the site and had it in operation by 1852, grinding corn and wheat. The Graue family were vehemently opposed to slavery, and their mill’s biggest claim to fame was being one of few Illinois stops on the Underground Railroad. More advanced mills ran this one out of business by the 1910s, but its historical legacy has protected the facility ever since. It’s now a tourist attraction, and you can even purchase grain ground at the site. Surrounding parkland along the Salt Creek can make for a nice escape as well.