Savanna's Main Street looking north after a snow storm in 1920s.
With the the roaring 20s in full glory, Savanna was a booming town with two theaters, two opera houses, a growing Army Depot facility, and from 1925 to 1940, Savanna had the third largest switching yard for passengers trains. There were 10 to 12 passengers trips daily between Chicago and St. Paul and there was daily passenger service to St. Louis, Kansas City, Omaha and to the Pacific Coast. Savanna had over a dozen eating places and several hotels and rooming houses to meet the needs.
Several residents came out to witness a train wreck on the Milwaukee Road in 1926.
On June 12, 1926, a train wreck occurred just southeast of the Wacker Road Plum River Bridge on Five Mile Drive. A flash flood had washed out the small culvert on the Milwaukee track and two engines went into the ditch. Engine 6136 with engineer Tank Helden and fireman Amvin Mills was in the lead. The second one, Engine 8305 with engineer C. J. Wall and fireman Dave Potter was bound for Bensenville with a heavy load of freight. Although the crews were shaken up, no major injures were reported and the engines eventual retuned to service.
In 1928 the Federal Government purchased seven million acres along the river for development of their lock and dam systems.
View of Main Street during the centennial parade looking north.
From Aug. 19-22 in 1928, the citizens of Savanna celebrated its Centennial. The celebration began on Aug. 19, with special Sunday services held in many of the city churches. Main Street was decorated from the north end to Chicago Avenue and most stores had window displays about the town’s early settlers. The Pioneer Monument was dedicated on Monday, Aug. 20, and on Tuesday afternoon a large parade was held with nearly every organization and several business participating, along with a variety of bands. There was also a fireworks display with an Indian head as a special effect, seven separate free amusements including trapeze and both aerial gymnasts plus carnival attractions.The festival concluded on Aug. 22 with a program given at the city cemetery. Names were read of the deceased pioneers and markers were placed on their graves.
View of Main Street during the centennial parade looking south.
The original Palisades Park acquisition was made in 1929 with the purchase of 420 acres by the Illinois Dept. of Conservation for a state park. That same year the paving of Illinois Route 84 north of Savanna was in progress and would continue for several years.
On July 1, 1929, five citizens met in a room at The National Bank to hold the initial meeting of the Savanna Park District. The founding commissioners were Frank Jenks, president; Alfred Boothby, secretary; and Laurence Miles, Harfin Dinsen and Oluf Hansen, commissioners. In August of 1929, the park board commissioners adopted their first levy for $16,050. It wasn’t until April 1, 1930, the City of Savanna turned over property to the park district. Ordinance #396 gave the park district Marquette Park, 29 acres at Old Mill Park and the Pioneer Monument.
Early in the 1930s, the Civilian Conservation Corps was established a camp at the newly formed Palisades State Park to develop the natural beauty of the area. Some were lodged in tents, some in barracks but all were put to work creating roads, pathways, bridges and other structures including the south pavilion, several shelters, part of the Sentinel trail system, the south end spring, and numerous fire pits. Many of the original structures still stand.
In 1931 work began on the Savanna-Sabula bridge and it was competed in 1933 with a dedication ceremony on Oct. 12, 1933. The cost of the bridge was $750,000 for the steel and cement structure of 2,488 feet.
The Burlington Zephyr heads north by the Palisades State Park. The passenger train could go from Chicago to the Twin Cities in six hours and their speeds reached 105 miles per hour.
Savanna became a popular destination for passenger trains of the late 1930s. The Burlington Zephyr’s million mile of service came at 12:58 p.m. on May 27, 1936 near Milepost 114 about a quarter mile west of the single tower by the Burlington Viaduct. The trackside ceremony was broadcast over the NBC Radio network and was witnessed by more than 100 persons.
Federal agents pose for a photo after the raid at Timbuctoo in 1933.
During the 1930s a strong effort was made to crack down on the dispensaries and brewers of illegal liquor. Normally law-abiding, many citizens succumbed to the temptation of making “homebrew” or visiting the local speak easy during prohibition.
One of the largest raids in the area occurred on Nov. 14, 1931, when almost 90 officers, local and federal, conducted a simultaneous raid upon local lawbreakers. The successful officers turned up everything from spiked near-beer and homemade hooch to five-gallons cans of raw alcohol.
On Aug. 7, 1933, federal agents from Chicago seized possession of the still at Timbuctoo crossing about three miles south of Savanna on Route 80. Five men were arrested in the raid which also netted 1,500 gallons of bootleg whiskey and 25,000 gallons of mash. The illegal operation represented an investment of $25,000 but was capable of producing 1,500 gallons of day which could net up to $1,200 daily.
Buildings that one housed Nesbitt Plumbing and Heating Shop, a cigar factory, Berner’s Barber Shop and Cottral’s Card Room were torn down in 1934 to make room for the new Marth Brothers Variety Store at 325 Main Street. That was finished in 1935.
On Feb. 26, 1937 the building built in 1883 by Hans Johnson Sr. was on fire which now housed the Law Meat Market and Orpheum Theatre in the 500 block of west Main Street.
Businesses in Savanna in 1939 included Paul A. Palmer Economy Paint Store; M.W. Stark Oil Station; Texaco Oil Station, Laird Castle Shell Oil Station; Kranert’s Shoe Store, J. B. Squire & Co.; Jenks Brothers Dry Goods; A. O. Elliott Jewelry Co.; Fisher Brothers & Herman Inc.; Savanna Cleaners and Dryers; A. & P. Tea Company; Stransdale Farm Products; William Werthwein Groceries; Albert Greison’s Shoe Store; National Tea Company; Savanna Building an dLoan; Northwest Illinois Utilities; Parker and Cromer Clothing; Marth Brothers Variety Store; Ginie Confectionary; Helenfern’s Beauty Salon; Glenn B. Laughrin Hardware; R. G. Fuller Funeral Home; F.A. Herbert Clothing; Savanna Bakery; Young’s Cafe; Madsen Brothers Studio; C. S. Ferguson Clothing; Sullivan Grocery Store; C.C. Connel Red and White Store; John S. Young Dry Goods; Alexander Lumber Company; Shinner’s Meat Markey, Nesbit and Stiles and the National Bank. Attorneys in town included Lawrence Smith, J. L. Brearton, and F. U. Stransky. E.C. Turner and J.B Schreiter were both physicians and surgeons, and P. R. Bryant was the Optometrist.
The 400 block of West Main Street looking south in 1940.
Construction on the Savanna Times Theater was started in 1941 and has been a fixture at 222 Main Street since the showing of “The Wife Takes a Flyer” on July 28, 1942.
In 1946 Howard Gorman erected a 10-unit hanger, shop, office building and classrooms on a 160 acre plot of land that formerly belonged to the Stransky family. He taught an Army flight school there for six years. State and federal funds enabled the city to pave a 3,500-foot runway and taxi strip after the airport was deeded to Savanna by Mr. Gorman in 1962.
An igloo at the Savanna Army Depot containing 150 tons of high explosive TNT and Tetryl in anti-tank mines blew up about 9 p.m. on Jan. 21, 1948. Nearby magazines were seriously damaged and many area windows were blown out. There were no casualties.
Savanna saw a slight decline in population during the 1930 (5,086) and 1940 (4,792) but was back up over 5,000 by 1950 thanks in part to the increased work force during World War II.
The east side of the 300 block of Main Street in 1940.
Work on Illinois Route 84 began in 1929.