You Couldn’t Get There From Here, but Now You Can!
When the Western Clock Company (a.k.a. Westclox) began producing its world-famous timepieces, about the only way to get from the factory in Peru to LaSalle and back again was via St. Mark’s Street (now Fifth St.) in Peru, across a rather rugged bridge over a nasty ravine to Third St. in LaSalle.
Early bridge across ravine between Peru and LaSalle on St. Mark’s Street (East 5th St.)
Looking east into 3rd St. in LaSalle
(This bridge was later replaced by a “modern” structure known to residents as “the steel bridge”.)
If you weren’t coming or going to the factory, you could risk the often flooded, frequently muddy Water Street. Before the 1920s, you could try to pass between the two towns by way of Eleventh St. in LaSalle to Shooting Park Rd. in Peru. Of course, this road was not much more than a deep rutted dirt trail, and if it had rained enough to wash out the ravine at the border of the towns (today’s intersection of Peru’s Shooting Park Rd., LaSalle’s Eleventh St., and North Chartres St. (a.k.a. Airport Rd.), that was virtually impassable. There was no connecting route via Fourth St. in LaSalle and Seventh St. in Peru, due to the deep ravines. In fact, part of the City of Peru in this area was virtually isolated! Hard to imagine, isn’t it?
Let’s move ahead to the 1920s – the “Roaring Twenties” – when things really started happening in the east end of Peru, thanks to Westclox. Unknown to most, Western Clock Company (Westclox) owned the greater portion of land in this part of town – pretty much everything from the factory north to Shooting Park Rd. and slightly beyond. A lot of this land was not much more than undeveloped ravines, creeks and woods, but before his death in 1918 F. W. Matthiessen, president of the clock company, had a vision of what this property could become. Shortly after his passing, the company began hauling cinders to fill in the ravine and allow for a road to access a planned housing development in what they called Central Park. This was to be a well-planned and designed development, beautifully landscaped, where they would build bungalow homes to sell to their employees at very low or no interest. A pleasant “side effect” of the development was another connecting road between LaSalle and Peru.
By 1922, it was possible for employees to leave the plant via Orleans St. and follow the gently winding cinder road north to connect with Sixth St. in LaSalle or East Ninth St. in Peru. While this road wound through private property (Central Park), and was built and maintained by Westclox, the public was able to use it freely. You might not think much of a cinder road, but it was far superior to the connecting streets.
BEFORE: Central Park, 1920 – before Westclox began road construction and development.
AFTER: Central Park – after road construction and development by Westclox. Photos taken from the same vantage point.
In 1922, Westclox was strenuously encouraging the City of Peru to pave the two blocks of East Ninth St. that were nothing but dirt, but their encouragement for improved city streets in both LaSalle and Peru did not end there. It was the company’s firm belief that more good connecting roads between the two towns were essential to the growth of the communities.
In 1924, repairs were being made to the tracks of the electric street cars in the area of the “car barns” on West Third Street in LaSalle (between Chartres St. and Peru St. – the present site of a car wash), requiring a detour around the area via Fourth Street in LaSalle. A June, 1924 Tick Talk article stated, “….now the public has to ford Mud Lake, known locally as West Fourth Street, LaSalle
…….Traveling over Eleventh Street would be like an ant riding over a wash board on a kiddie car, and then the culvert has a nasty habit of washing out every time we have a heavy rain.
Water Street is out of the way, and two railroad crossings wait invitingly for unsuspecting travelers. And if Central Park, which is private property, should be closed to the public because of some unforeseen trouble, how do you suppose people could get between our two towns? It would take a burglar to get in or out.”!
Not only did Westclox keep the pressure on concerning LaSalle and Peru streets, the company formed a good cooperative arrangement, mostly with the City of Peru. In 1927, the City of Peru granted Westclox permission to dump cinders and waste material in a very deep ravine across what should have been East Seventh Street. The company dumped five, ten and sometimes twenty loads of refuse into the ravine daily. The refuse was the result of the regular work at the plant and consisted of cinders, metal scrap, “brick bats” and dirt. This was augmented by the dirt excavated from the construction site of a four-story addition to the factory, as well as excavations made in the boiler room. In 1928, the City of Peru and LaSalle County cooperated to construct a culvert to take care of a small creek so that filling could be extended across the ravine. By 1934, all of that fill and cooperation paid off in the form of a connecting road between LaSalle and Peru along Seventh Street in Peru to Fourth Street in LaSalle. Think about that the next time you use that route to travel between the towns, and remember that without Westclox it might never have been.
Now, what about that other main artery we use today to pass from Peru to LaSalle and vice versa – Eleventh Street (LaSalle)/Shooting Park Road (Peru)? Remember what the Tick Talk article in 1924 said about that route – the ant on a washboard? They weren’t kidding!
Shooting Park Road 1922 – Looking west from the border of LaSalle
However, it just so happens that Westclox had some housing development plans on the north side of Shooting Park Road in an area know a Halligan’s Grove, a popular picnic area. Westclox had acquired this property, and had undertaken considerable professional planning to turn this area into a residence park. The property was not an official part of the City of Peru, but in January, 1929, the company asked the City of Peru to officially accept it into the City. According to the proposal by Westclox, the company would install and pave all roads in the development, as well as utilities. They also agreed to pave Shooting Park Road from Walnut Street east to the border of LaSalle.
Shooting Park Road 1932 – Looking west from border of LaSalle After the road was paved by Westclox.
They further agreed to improve the west half of North Chartres St. (a.k.a. Airport Road), which is in Peru, as long as the City of LaSalle agreed to maintain the east half. The City of Peru accepted the grove into the City, and paving proceeded as promised. So, next time you drive between the two towns via this route, offer a silent thank you to Westclox for “paving the way”.