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It occurred to me earlier this year that, although I drive around many of Chicago’s suburbs on an almost daily basis, I know very little about the towns and villages that surround us so, inspired by some excellent tour programs hosted by Geoffrey Baer on WTTW Channel 11, I decided to do some research of my own and, whenever possible, actually get out of the car, walk around and explore.

The camera has been getting a good work-out and in the coming months I’d like to share some pictures and observations on the various communities that I’ve visited. The first in this series is the Village of Arlington Heights.

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William Dunton, founder of Arlington Heights, arrived from New York in 1837 when the area was nothing more than prairie grass and trees. He was a farmer and stone cutter and eventually he and his wife Almeda, set up house beside an old Potawatomi trail now known as Arlington Heights Road. His statue stands overlooking the corner of Arlington Heights Road and Northwest Highway.
Things have certainly changed since the days when William was Justice of the Peace, Township Treasurer and Supervisor of Cook County.

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The Village Hall, located on Arlington Heights Road, was built only recently. Coming from England as I do, the word ‘village’ to me conjures up images of thatched cottages, quaint pubs and village ponds. I’m not quite sure what qualifies a place to be a village over here in the US but this seems to be one mighty big Village Hall by any standards.

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The architecture in the village is diverse with many beautiful old houses and more modern blocks of condominiums in the downtown area which has undergone a revitalization process in the past couple of decades. This blending of the old with the new seems to have worked very well in Arlington Heights.

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Keeping track of events, past and present, is the Arlington Heights Historical Museum located on W. Fremont Street. Located on the Museum’s Campus are The Banta House which was the first architect-designed house in the village, The Muller House and adjacent Soda Pop Factory where the Mullers kept the machinery used for bottling the soda pop that they made in the basement of their house and which now houses the Museum gallery, and the 1880’s Coach House for stabling the horses and wagons used in the delivery of the drinks.

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On the next block is The First Presbyterian Church of Arlington Heights. And just across the street you’ll find North School Park where outdoor concerts featuring local bands are held during the summer months while for the Christmas season it’s decorated with lighted sculptures and animated figures.

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Further away from the downtown area is Lake Arlington, a park with a nicely paved 1.8 mile walking path surrounding the man-made lake, although watch out as it’s shared by cyclists and roller skaters which can be a bit of a problem. Here you can rent sail and paddle boats or go fishing. There are also picnic areas and a children’s playground.

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Arlington Heights has a Camera Club that is arguably second to none and they have a well-designed website at http://www.arlingtoncameraclub.org/ if you want to learn more about this organization. The village also has an excellent library, shops, cafes, restaurants, a cinema and the Metropolis Performing Arts Center in the downtown area but I suppose the village’s biggest claim to fame is Arlington International racecourse located on Northwest Highway. It’s one of my favorite places to visit during the summer and, although the food is rather expensive, it provides a great day out for the family.

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The history of the track is quite interesting. H.D. “Curly” Brown, an entrepreneur from California, was the driving force behind the creation of Arlington Park which opened in 1927. Ownership of the track changed hands several times over the years and in 1985 a fire completely destroyed the stands and many of the buildings of what was then considered to be one of the country’s leading racecourses. The owner, Richard Duchossois, was determined to rebuild and it reopened in 1989 with the new name of Arlington International.

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On a personal note, with reference to Arlington Heights and the racetrack, not long after the track reopened I went there in the hopes of getting a book signed by one of my favorite authors, Dick Francis, who was scheduled to present a trophy after one of the races. I wasn’t quite sure how to go about meeting him so I stopped a passerby who I thought might be someone who worked at the track. This someone turned out to be none other than Richard Duchossois who kindly listened to my request and later allowed me to enter the winner’s enclosure where I got to meet Dick Francis, have my book signed and my photo taken with the British author and champion steeplechase jockey.

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