The Story of St. Paul Woods
In the book, “Flora of the Chicago Region”, published in 1927 by the Chicago Academy of Sciences, the author stated that the Niles Woods were the finest in the entire area. They extended from the North Branch of the Chicago River almost to Lake Michigan and from Edgebrook north to the Lake County line. The Chicago, Milwaukee and St. Paul RR had built a station at Morton Grove where the line crossed the North Branch and George C. Klehm created a picnic grove along the river that provided an escape for city dwellers in a naturalistic setting. St. Paul picnic grove offered a carousel and other amusements as well as rowboat rentals where the river was backed up by a dam to provide a pool of water. The remnant of his stone dam is commonly mistaken as being an Indian fish weir.
In the 1919 Mr. Klehm received a letter from Ransom Kennicott, Chief Forester of the new Forest Preserve District of Cook County, asking for an assessment of his woodlands as the District was interested in acquiring them. In his response, George Klehm described the present woodlands as second growth timber, the virgin forest that once extended from the North Branch almost to Lake Michigan, was cut for railroad ties and planking, much of which found its way into the building of the Milwaukee Avenue plank road. Fuel, cordwood and charcoal was the principle substitute for scarce coal. He mentions the sawmill and a dam for waterpower located 50 feet south of Dempster Street bridge. He describes the fine grove of sugar maples in Morton Grove and the carpets of wildflowers that appeared each Spring. His descriptive letter assuredly encouraged our fledgling forest preserve to acquire what they did along the North Branch.
Crane Creek in Saint Paul Woods
The stream that flows into St. Paul Woods from behind the John Crane company on Oakton Street was once an intermittent creek that originated near Dempster and Lockwood Avenue in Morton Grove. In man’s attempt to make practical use of every bit of land, most of the stream was covered and converted into a storm sewer, coming out into the open as it enters St. Paul Woods near Oakton. It flowed into the North Branch where the river used to make a sweeping bend eastward before flowing westward along Oakton. The map shows the course of the stream and the river as they appeared in 1926. The river cut across the neck of the loop to form its present day channel under the Oakton Street bridge and the old bend of the river is now an oxbow filled with yellow irises. Named Crane Creek because we could not find any identification on older maps. It is an attractive feature of St. Paul Woods.
George Klehm’s Catalpas
When St. Paul Woods was a picnic grove many years ago, George Klehm, the owner, planted two rows of Catalpa trees which are seen today growing parallel to the entrance drive from Miller Road. The Catalpa is a Midwestern native but is related to a tropical plant family, Bignonia. Years ago, they were the cheapest tree nurseries carried and as they grew almost anywhere, they are found far from where they originated. The large leaves form shade and shelter for wildlife and in the spring it is covered by thousands of white tropical looking flowers. As they usually are found high up in the tree, most persons cannot see their beauty which rivals that of orchids. The flowers are followed by long seed pods that children called “cigars”. The wood of the fast growing tree is rot resistant and was used by early settlers for fence posts. It has an interesting grain and sheen but is seldom seen on the market. The tree is also the sole source of food for the Catalpa Sphinx moth whose larva feed on the leaves exclusively. Because the worms are excellent fish bait, anglers have been known to plant small orchards of Catalpas to provide bait. When visiting St. Paul Wood towards the end of June, take notice of these Midwestern transplants and note their beautiful flowers.