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History of Downers Grove Unveils on the Big Screen

Documentary of village from its founding to 1945 shown at Tivoli Theatre. Week of Downers Grove history kicks off.

A new documentary created by the Downers Grove Historical Society will guide residents through the first century of the village’s history.

On a bleak and stormy afternoon, the historical society unveiled its video, “Images of the Past: 1832-1945,” at the venerable Tivoli Theatre, an appropriate site given its own long history in the village. The 30-minute production, narrated by Montrew Dunham, a former president of the historical society, takes viewers through more than a century of history.

Using still photographs, Dunham explains how the village began as a small settlement founded in an oak grove along an Indian trail stretching from Fort Dearborn to the Naperville Settlement. The community started with a handful of people and grew to a thriving suburban village of more than 11,000 people by the end of World War II. Along the historical path, village mothers sent their sons, brothers and husbands to three wars, and saw the beginnings of electricity, telephones and automobiles. 

The documentary highlighted a number of businesses in the community, including several which reached the century mark, such as Dicke Tools, which began in 1889. Additionally some prominent sons and daughters of the village were also featured in the documentary, including James Henry Breasted, who was present at the opening of King Tut’s tomb and Lottie Holman O’Neill, the first woman elected to the Illinois General Assembly.

Monday’s film presentation was the kick-off of a week of celebrating the history of the community. Other events this week include:

  • Tivoli Theatre Tours: Aug. 13 between 10a.m. and noon. Take a tour of the historic Tivoli Theatre. The Tivoli Theatre, 5021 Highland Ave., was the second theatre in the United States to be designed and built for talking pictures. When the Tivoli Theatre opened at 1:30 p.m. Christmas day, 1928, there were more than 4,000 people in the line waiting to see a “talking movie.”
  • “We Were There” panel discussion will be held at the Downers Grove Library on Aug. 14 at 2p.m. Listen to long-time resident and business people including Duane Baker, Montrew Dunham, Willis Johnson and John Mochel. Please contact the library prior to the event to sign-up.
  • Trolley Tours of Sears and other historic homes on Aug. 20 at 9:30a.m. and 11:30a.m. Individuals who want to participate should meet at the museum for a ride on an open air trolley through the neighborhoods of Downers Grove. Participants can learn about the many Sears homes andvother historic sites built during the 1920s and 1930s. Registration is required through the Downers Grove Park District.
  • Junior History Detective will take place Aug. 8-28. Identify the mystery element in some of the historic photos and win a great prize. Entry forms are available online. At www.downtowndg.org

Tom Casey, the current president of the historical society, said he hopes this week’s program will spur new membership in the organization. He wants to see membership double from its current level of 100 members.

“I want to see new members from all ages as well as members from the business community,” Casey said.

Part of the growth of the historical society will include the launch of a new Web site. Casey said he expects the Web site to be completed and online by the end of September.

Casey said celebrating the rich history of Downers Grove is important not only for the psyche of the community, but also for economic development.

“The history of Downers will differentiate it from other villages and businesses will see that as a reason to locate here,” Casey said.

Copies of the historical society's documentary are available. If interested call 630-450-3336.

Cheryl August 09, 2011 at 12:10 PM
Will there be a future showing of "Images of the Past"?
Alex Keown August 09, 2011 at 12:17 PM
No, but dvds are available
Willy Novak August 09, 2011 at 01:20 PM
The presentation was excellent ! I have had the film on VHS tape for years and watch it 2-3 times a year ! Would love to see a " Then and Now " book on Downers Grove, featuring old pictures of town and what it looks like today ! Lots of history and interesting stories in this beautiful old town, keep up the good work !!!
Barbara Bollenberg August 09, 2011 at 11:22 PM
How much is the dvd and where is it available?
tom c August 10, 2011 at 12:26 AM
Cost for the DVD is $10.00. Membership in the DG Historical Society is only $15 per person or $20 for the whole family. The DVD's and books are available for purchase at the Downers Grove Museum or you can contact the DG Historical Society at P.O. Box 663, Downers Grove, Il 60515. The D.G. Historical Society will be selling these items at the Tivoli event on Saturday as well as the Panel discussion at the library on Sunday.

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