How Western Springs Illuminated its Downtown
Nighttime shopping in downtown Western Springs used to be a major challenge, until the business owners decided to install new street lights.
While electricity officially arrived in Western Springs in 1898, street lighting was extremely limited. This was due to its high cost of installation, as well as the village’s relatively small population (just 1,258 in 1920). As a result, nighttime shopping in the downtown area was dark and uninviting.
By 1926, the downtown business owners decided that retail sales would increase if new lighting was installed. Based on documents in the Western Springs Historical Society archives, a new lighting system was being installed in LaGrange at that time. This, no doubt, gave impetus to the project.
In September of 1926, the Business Men’s Association submitted a proposal to the Village whereby the Association would underwrite the cost of installing 17 modern light poles in the business district. Four poles were to be placed along the Tower green, nine more on the south side of Hillgrove Avenue (Wolf Road to Lawn Avenue), as well as four on the north side of Burlington (Wolf to Lawn).
The total cost, including installation, was $2,045. However, in today's dollars, the cost would have been closer to $25,000.
The poles themselves were 13 feet tall and made of concrete. They were octagonal at their base and tapered, featuring a white glazed globe. See first photo. While the purchase and installation cost was borne by the business owners, the Village Board agreed to assume the cost of maintenance and electricity.
In 1927, the local electrical utility’s trade journal compared the Western Springs system to those installed by Deerfield and Kankakee. It also stated that, Chicago’s “State Street is the lightest (sic) street in the world, but it is no better illuminated” than Western Springs’ downtown.
While the Village added more light poles as the downtown area expanded, the days of the old concrete poles were numbered. In the 1950’s the Village installed taller, metal poles. Each had an extended arm which held a more modern and efficient light fixture. See second photo.
In the 1970’s the Village experimented with another type of light fixture, as shown in the third photo. However, these were apparently not successful and were eventually removed.
By 1988, the downtown lighting system had aged to the point where it was almost beyond repair. As a result, the Village began investigating ways to upgrade the system, including the introduction of a more aesthetic “coachlight” look with a lantern-type top and finial. The lights also featured longer-lasting high-pressure sodium lamps. See fourth photo.
Due to the need to better illuminate the train platforms, the 1989 project involved the installation of nearly 95 cast-iron poles. While the cost was nearly $490,000, much of the money came from the West Suburban Mass Transit District and the Burlington Northern fund. The balance was financed through 10-year installment purchase bonds.
These light poles remain in use today, also providing display opportunities for flags, banners, holiday decorations, and colorful floral baskets.