Elgin Motor Club Marker
McDonald & Thomas Rds N of Virgil
Photo taken by Steve Conro in June 2016
+41.98962, -88.5085641°59'23" N, 88°30'31" W
With the increasing number of automobiles on the city's streets, the Elgin Motor Club was first organized in 1903. It lapsed after a few years and then, when there were about 500 locally owned vehicles, was revived in 1912. The club's primary objective was to get its members' cars out of the mire and onto a network of good roads stretching from Elgin east to Chicago, south to Aurora, and north to McHenry County.
The Elgin Motor Club pressured township road commissioners, erected directional and cautionary signs, distributed road maps and information about travel conditions, provided mechanical first aid and an emergency towing service, campaigned against speed traps, sponsored a schoolboy safety patrol, and promoted parking and traffic regulations. Membership reached a peak of about 1,200 during the 1920s.
The president of the Elgin Motor Club for more than 25 years was Theodore J. Schmitz, a watch factory foreman. He was also a leader in the state automobile association. T. J. Schmitz and the Elgin Motor Club are generally credited with originating the "Illinois line", or marked lane division in the center of highways.
The club's most enduring service was making sure that major paved highways were routed through Elgin. When the first of these roads in Kane County, the Fox River Trail (now Highway 31), was projected in 1914 to skirt west of the city along McLean Boulevard, the Elgin Motor Club worked to divert traffic into the downtown area.
Again, in 1919, when it was proposed to route the Grant Highway (now Highway 20) through Dundee and Huntley instead of through Elgin and Marengo, the Elgin Motor Club and Commercial Club (now the Elgin Area Chamber of Commerce) vigorously protested. The uproar inspired Merrill 0. Calame, the city's poet laureate, to pen one of his lyric efforts, entitled "The Last Prayer":
Take not my Grant Highway,
It is my tires' salutation...
I grant indeed, that you will grant
The highway the right to travel
Through Elgin our city grand,
Instead of roads made out of gravel.
Schmitz demanded that state highway officials attend a public hearing on the question at the old armory building, and sent the watch factory band into the streets to drum up a crowd of more than 400 protesters. During the long, tumultuous session, cigar and cigarette smoke became so thick that persons halfway back in the room were barely able to distinguish the speaker. Elgin kept the highway.
Some of the motor club's suggestions were farsighted. It called for a third downtown bridge in 1926 (the Highland Avenue span opened in 1940); a Highway 20 bypass in 1931 (completed in 1960); and the extension of Duncan Avenue to East Dundee in 1935 (opened in 1954). The Elgin Motor Club was dissolved in 1952, but drivers are still benefiting from its efforts in getting cars out of the mud and routing roads into and around the city.
- July 3, 2016: Added by Steve Conro