While some historic landmarks seem to fade away, their relevance lost to progress, neglect or just change - others maintain a legacy. One such point of interest has survived so gracefully, it might even be one of the best kept secrets of Algonquin.
The Historic Hill Climbs, dating back to 1906, actually hold a significant piece of American history. The Algonquin Historic Commission has a vast presentation of archived material on the climbs. While the name for me initially conjured up thoughts of walking or climbing at the turn of the century — the challenge, I learned, was geared toward automobiles.
The natural terrain, its steep Phillips Hill (north Main Street from Route 62 north to the cemetery) and Perry Hill (now Route 31 starting at Buffalo Park), was a proving ground inspired by the Chicago Automobile Trade Association and the Chicago Automobile and Chicago Motor Club.
Together they developed a competition for auto manufacturers to field test several models. The first competition was held in September 1906.
Jeffrey Jolitz, the chairman of the Algonquin Historic Commission, provided me with thorough materials on the climbs. When I asked if I might be able to reach someone with a personal connection, he said they've all since passed.
Seeking to make a connection myself, I walked up the hill chosen to replace the Perry Hill. This one is at Circle Drive and atop it is Hill Climb Park. On my way up, I was passed by bikers, runners, and plenty of drivers behind the wheel of technology — a century after the Hill was designated a challenge.
Something about it still engages people, either on foot or on wheels, to see how they do on the hills. After sharing photos of my journey online, several friends asked where the hill climbs are, as they're eager to give it a go too.
Back in the day, when drivers' times were officially recorded, a Cadillac cost less than $1,000, and hundreds of spectators lined up to watch the races. While the formal competitions ended in 1912, the hills are as much a part of the Algonquin landscape as ever, a historic thoroughfare that invites generations after the climbing competitors an opportunity to walk, pedal or drive on the same path as our town's early automobilers.
The book "Conquering the Hills," written by the Algonquin Historic Commission is available at the library, and at the Commission. Dozens of articles, advertisements and pictures about the climbs are open to the public at the commission's meetings, on the 3rd and 4th Saturdays of each month, from 8 a.m. to noon.