Meet the Kranszes - Part 3
The Past Becomes the Present
By: Gloria L. Evenson
Though members of the Kransz family were once prominent citizens in our area, none of the Kransz progeny lives in Edgewater today. The Kransz name, however, still comes up now and then.
Bernard Dentzer, Jr., of Dentzer Plumbing and Heating, 6217 N. Clark, recalls that his father, Bernard, Sr., had a friend named Henry P. Kransz. The two Luxembourgers belonged to numerous farmers’ lodges once common in north Edgewater. Henry’s father, of course, was the late, great Nicholas Kransz, Sr., who built Seven Mile House, the first residence in Edgewater, in 1848. Henry, together with a son-in-law, Cyrus Neuses, founded the Kransz-Neuses Mortgage Company. Henry’s attorney, Vincent Wyman, was grand-father to our own EHS member and lawyer Austin “Bud” Wyman, Jr.
Bud states he has heard much of Henry as a well respected person to whom local farmers went for advice. A picture of Henry - sturdy, rotund and smiling - can be seen in “The Saint Gregory Story,” put out by St. Gregory’s Catholic Church for its 50th anniversary. He was one of four founding fathers of that parish in 1903.
Another present-day link with Kransz history is Lois Kransz, granddaughter to Henry’s colorful brother, Peter. Since the family was not close, Lois doesn’t recall much of Henry, other than that he had a nice house on Sheridan Road, several children and later moved to the northwest suburbs. A Harry Kransz, descendant of Henry, lives in Wilmette today.
Lois, currently retired from the position of clerical manager for the Apollo Musical Club, has lived in Niles since 1964, but grew up in Edgewater. She now sings alto in the choir at Immanuel Lutheran Church, 1500 W. Elmdale.
By the time Lois was born in the 1920s, Clark and Ridge had come far from the isolated prairie on which her great grandfather built Seven Mile House. Cochran’s and Cairnduff’s subdivisions had taken place and a community, suburban in character, had been established.
Lois’s early memories are of living at 5888 N. Ridge, which shared a yard with the brick house at 5896 N. Ridge, where her eminent grandfather Peter and his wife Katarina resided. Lois had one brother, also named Peter, who was born in 1919 and died ten years ago.
Down the street from them, Seven Mile House was showing signs of its age. Lois says she never went inside the house (it was rented to tenants at the time), but remembers it as a typical frame farmhouse with a porch. It looked like it had started as a rectangle with additions made whenever someone wanted them. The second story was very low, under an attic and, if a basement existed, it would have been a musty cellar with a dirt floor. The lot sloped downhill toward a summer kitchen at the rear. The house was a dirty gray and the Welter family who rented it kept a cow in the yard.
Lois remembers well her grandfather Peter. He had a thriving insurance business, was a member of many organizations, traveled much and loved to boast of his experiences. Peter was the life of any party and also played with his grandchildren a good deal. Katarina was an introverted homebody who preferred to look after the dog while her husband traveled.
Alois Kransz, Lois’s father, was apparently most like Katarina. Though successful in insurance like his dad, Alois liked to stay near home. He also had a stubborn preference for steam-driven cars. Most auto owners in the 1920s had evolved to the use of gas power. Alois, for some reason, never trusted the internal combustion engine and drove steam cars from 1903 on. Lois says it took about an hour and a half to go through the procedure of lighting the pilot and heating water to start the thing and neighbors always stared as if waiting for it to blow up. Kids usually wanted, and got, a ride in the contraption.
Lois and her brother Peter were the first generation of Kranszes not educated at the old St. Henry’s Catholic School on Devon and Ridge. Alois had attended St. Henry’s but was required to repeat 7th and 8th grades at the Rosehill School (Clark and Glenlake) before being admitted to Lake View High. St. Henry’s standards were evidently no longer high enough compared to other schools. Alois’s one sister, Elsie, went to St. Henry’s but did not go on to high school; education wasn’t a priority for girls in those days.
Parish loyalties became a bit confusing in predominantly German Catholic north Edgewater, as boundaries changed every time a new church was built. Since St. Henry’s was deemed unacceptable, Lois ended up being sent to public school at Hayt Elementary. Her brother Peter went to St. Gertrude’s through the 5th grade and was then transferred to Hayt. Both Lois and Peter attended high school at Senn. Lois went on to North Park and Augustana Colleges, with a history major and a music minor; women had come a long way in just one generation!
However, progress is not always without adjustments. During World War II, Edgewater’s choice farmland was once again put to use with many victory gardens. But then came more people, more houses… and high-rises.
Lois remembers when Dick Harrity, a nephew to her grandmother Katarina, sold his family’s homestead on Peterson and Wolcott and moved with two adult children to the 23rd floor of a Sheridan Road high-rise. Many people were afraid to visit them there because they just weren’t used to being up so high.
Lois had a look at the place once and then went home and sat in the basement for two hours to “stabilize.” The apartment had floor-to-ceiling windows opening onto a balcony. A window sill, she said, she could have stood, but not floor-to-ceiling windows! Others shared her sentiments. When Dick Harrity died, his children immediately moved into low-rise housing.
The installation of lane-control signals at Clark and Ridge also took time to get used to. Traffic had become so fast and furious by the time they were installed, says Lois, that the janitor of a building on Ridge and Ardmore would sweep his leaves into the street and yell, “Down to Broadway!” And, by golly, the leaves would be carried down Ridge by the traffic flow.
More serious incidents were a fire on the lot where Seven Mile House had stood and a tornado that passed over the area.
At the time of the fire, Seven Mile House had long since been torn down. Its lot was occupied by a hamburger stand which eventually went out of business. A tar truck used in paving the parking lot caught fire and, while no one was injured, the fire was quite a sight.
Lois doesn’t recall the exact year of the tornado, but it occurred in the late 1940s or early 1950s. Though the funnel didn’t touch down, it left the neighborhood somewhat “reorganized,” according to Lois. A generous supply of Maybelline cosmetics was blown out the window of a factory on the south-west corner of Clark and Ridge. Anyone interested in free samples had all they wanted off the sidewalk the next day! Tires from a nearby gas station were also everywhere. People spent weeks running around trying to retrieve lawn furniture and gardening tools. “Have you seen my…? Is this yours?” became the talk of the day.
So here ends the Kransz family chronicles for a time. Lois feels the Edgewater of today still has a lot of potential, but she will probably always remember her old neighborhood as it once was.
I can appreciate her feelings. When waiting to cross Clark and Ridge, I often no longer see traffic swarming around Donald Duk’s fast-food stand (which currently occupies the site) or Senn Metropolitan Academy looming in the background. I see Seven Mile comfortably reposing on a prairie of waving grass. In the distance is the old German farmer, Nicholas Kransz, Sr., with children working and playing around him. East on Ridge, groups of laughing people, well-dressed, go in and out of Peter’s brick house. Then the light signal changes. Reality returns and I must be on my way. The past has become the present.