History of La Grange churches rings a bell
Updated: January 28, 2013 1:58AM
LA GRANGE — There is steady din of background noise when you’re outside taking a walk, doing yard work, hanging Christmas lights or whatnot. From my perch in town, I can hear cars and trucks rumble along nearby busy streets, train horns blare during rush hour and sparrows and cardinals sing their signature birdsongs.
There is one sound, though, that adds joy to my day whenever I hear it: music and bells that peal from local churches.
I grew up on a block that intersected a street aptly called Church Street, which was dotted with at least four churches. At varying points in the day, bells and songs would fill the air and it became a kind of background music for my childhood, along with the sight of steeples piecing the sky.
All around this country, churches are part of people’s neighborhoods, set on the same block as family homes. It made sense when the early settlers and dwellers were building their communities, and it’s nice to see many of those churches still thriving with roots in the neighborhood and surrounding area.
Here in La Grange, as well as in neighboring LaGrange Park and Westchester, churches that have stood for decades, if not more than a century, remain part of the residential landscape.
While I am walking from my house to downtown La Grange, for instance, I often pass the First Church of Christ Scientist on Catherine Avenue and its striking bright white façade, stately columns and dramatic spire that extends well beyond the treeline. I see the reading room, off to the side of the building, and I think about the history of that institution, imagining how it must have looked when the streets were dirt and ladies like myself wore petticoats instead of jeans.
I recently did a little research on some of the churches in La Grange and how they sprang up over the years.
In the 1870s and 1880s, services were often performed in people’s homes. According to one book on the history of La Grange, local Methodists worshipped at the train station in town, because the ticket agent there was a preacher.
As this area began to grow, permanent church structures followed. La Grange founder Franklin Cossitt donated land to churches as a way to develop the burgeoning village, including a parcel given to St. Francis Xavier church. The original St. Francis Xavier church, then a wooden building, went up in 1892.
The oldest church building that still stands in La Grange today is in the heart of town, at La Grange Road and Cossitt Avenue. The First Congregational Church, which was Franklin Cossitt’s own parish, was built in 1882.
Meanwhile, the First Presbyterian Church of La Grange, which traces its roots to 1890, was built in the early 1900s, based on a design of a church in Wales. During the booming 1920s, other churches arose in La Grange neighborhoods, including Emmanuel Episcopal Church, First Baptist Church of La Grange and Grace Lutheran Church. In the Baby Boomer era following World War II era, as the suburbs expanded again, St. Cletus was constructed, with a nearly 100-foot-tall bell tower.
Today, that tower provides some of the bells and songs that ripple through the air, amid the cacophony of traffic and everyday hustle bustle, serving as a melodic, subtle reminder of our neighborhoods’ history and the hope and faith of those who live there.