Friday, September 7, 2012

SHE LOVED EVANSTON - Viola Arabella Crouch Reeling

I am a lifelong resident of Evanston, Illinois.  My mother's family came to Evanston from the Hudson River Valley in New York about 1905 and there has been at least one member of our family who has lived here ever since.  My mother was born here, in St. Francis Hospital, and she died in that same hospital in 2003.  My father came to Evanston from Lacon, Illinois in 1936.  I have a great love for this city, and as I like to say "Our roots are deep here."  From a young age I was interested in the history of Evanston.  Maybe it's because my mother used to tell stories about her father Jacob Kramer the landscaper who provided landscaping for Evanston's grandest homes:  For industrialist George Dryden, for James A. Patten the "Wheat King" for Edward Hines, the "Lumber King" and for Charles Gates Dawes, Vice President of the United States.

In the days before the internet, collecting information was not easy - we had to find our information in books.  Once upon a time many years ago I went to our school library and asked for a history of Evanston.  The librarian went to the shelves and drew out a compact volume bound in blue cloth.  "This is the best history of Evanston there is", she said. The book was "Evanston, It's Land and Its People" by Viola Crouch Reeling.

It had been published by The Fort Dearborn Chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution.  I took the book home and devoured it from cover to cover.  It not only told the history of Evanston, it had photos! 

After reading it I had to have my own copy - so I scoured all the used book stores on the North Shore until I found one.  It's the first history of Evanston I ever owned and to this day remains my favorite.  I decided to see what I could find out about Viola Crouch Reeling, a woman who shared my love for Evanston.  Thanks to the internet I was not only able to find out Viola's story, I was also able to find a connection she had with my own family!

Viola Arabella Crouch was born February 20, 1872 in Newark, Licking County, Ohio to Notley Hayes Crouch and his wife Sarah Louisa Wiseman Crouch.  Viola was the youngest of four children:  Joseph (b. 1856), Franklin (b. 1857), and Lula (b. 1869).  Viola's father was a harness-maker, and through him Viola had the right to join the Daughters of the American Revolution.  Notley Crouch was a direct descendant of John Manley, a corporal who fought in Captain John Randolph's Company (light cavalry) in "Lee's Legion" and was with George Washington at Valley Forge.  Viola's blood was as blue as the cover of her book.

I don't know how Viola happened to come to Chicago, but I do know that she was married to George Joseph Reeling on April 26, 1899 at St. Vincent's Catholic Church.

George Joseph Reeling was born August 10, 1873 in Chicago, the son of Joseph E. Reeling and Hibernia Catherine Forrestall.  Joseph Reeling was a house painter by trade and had given a disability discharge from the US Army after he was wounded in the Civil War.

Viola and George Reeling set up house at 2069 N. Robey Street in Chicago.  George found a job as a clerk with the Illinois Malleable Iron Company.

George J. Reeling

Their first child, George Hays Reeling was born September 19, 1900. Their second child, Kenneth, came along April 13, 1902.  

By 1910 the young Reeling family took up residence in Evanston - at 822 Michigan Avenue where they would remain for the next 40+ years. By now George was the Assistant Superintendent of the iron works.  He would ultimately work his way up to Superintendent and then part owner of the Illinois Malleable Iron Company.  

822 Michigan Avenue, Evanston
In 1914 the Reelings rounded out their family by welcoming their daughter Catherine L. Reeling.  

The Fort Dearborn Chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution has a rich history.  On June 6, 1894, a quiet gathering took place at "Anchorfast", the Evanston home of Miss Cornelia Gray Lunt, daughter of Evanston founder Orrington Lunt (and a future writeup on this blog). After a spirited discussion, the name Fort Dearborn was chosen in memory of "the old fort that gave protection to the gallant garrison and early settlers of Chicago." Cornelia Lunt was elected the first regent. In 1895, Frances Willard, prominent social reformer and the first woman dean at Northwestern University, was elected to an honorary life membership. 

By September 1925, the chapter reached a size not easily accommodated in a private home and meetings moved to the Evanston Woman's Club. By 1929, membership reached 276. In 1964, 431 members were recorded making Fort Dearborn the largest chapter in Illinois. 

Since its inception, the Fort Dearborn Chapter of the DAR wanted to lend its name and resources to a comprehensive history of its home city - Evanston, Illinois.  In 1923 they were approached by the Evanston Public Library who reiterated the need for a comprehensive Evanston history.  According to the library they were being asked for a history on almost a daily basis and had nowhere else to turn.  After much discussion the assignment was taken by Viola Crouch Reeling on the condition that she could do all her own research.  Her comprehensive research and first person interviews, as well as the gathering of over 100 photographs went into the finished product:  "Evanston, Its Land and Its People".  The book was an immediate success and Mrs. Reeling's schedule soon became full with speaking requests, which she proudly fulfilled until her death.

George and Viola Reeling

Once the "author bug" had bitten Viola Reeling she decided to try her hand at writing a different kind of book and in 1939 the Bruce Humphreys Publishing Co. of Boston published her children's book "Funny Fanny and Her Friends."  It is not recorded whether she was ever asked to lecture on this book.

George Joseph Reeling died on Christmas Eve 1947 and Viola followed him on April 18, 1958.  Viola's obituary from the Chicago Daily Tribune of April 20, 1958 is a simple one:

REELING - Viola C. Reeling of Evanston, April 18, 1958, wife of the late George J. Reeling; mother of George Hays and Kenneth Reeling and Mrs. Marshall Smith, all of Evanston.  Resting at chapel, 1567 Maple avenue, Evanston, where services will be held Monday at 2:30 p.m. Interment Memorial Park Cemetery.

As the obituary says, George and Viola Reeling are buried in Memorial Park Cemetery in Skokie, Illinois.

My Contact With the Reelings

As I have mentioned before, my father started working for The Public Service Company of Northern Illinois in 1926.  He was transferred by Public Service in 1936 to Evanston where he met and courted my mother. Eventually Public Service was merged into The Commonwealth Edison Company.  When I was a little boy, Commonwealth Edison had a store on Sherman Avenue in Evanston. In the front of the store they sold electric appliances and in the back you could pay your light bill and get light bulbs.  The front of the store was staffed with salesmen, but the back was staffed with management personnel from Commonwealth Edison.  Whenever my mother and I were in downtown Evanston we always stopped in to say hello to my Dad.  My Dad was the assistant to the General Superintendent of Commonweath Edison for the Northern Division of Illinois who was ~~~ Kenneth Reeling ~~~ the son of George and Viola Reeling.  My dad worked for Ken Reeling for many years and my parents and the Reelings were good friends.  Over the years I myself was in the Reelings home on Ewing in Evanston but never made the connection between Kenneth Reeling and Viola Crouch Reeling. Sadly, Kenneth Reeling died in 1988.  He and his wife Muriel are buried next to George and Viola Reeling at Memorial Park Cemetery.

I would have loved to have met Viola Crouch Reeling and hear her stories about the Evanston of days gone by.  So many of the pioneers of Evanston who were alive in the 1920s to be interviewed by her were gone within one generation.  I never met Viola Reeling but I can tip my hat to her today and thank her for the wonderful legacy she left us:  "Evanston, Its Land and Its People".

Through the magic of the internet you can read "Evanston, Its Land and Its People" free of charge. Go to this link:

and you can read it, or download a copy to keep.

Viola Crouch Reeling was not born in Evanston, Illinois, but she was a long-time resident and came to love this city and its rich history. Frances Williard was another transplanted citizen who came to love Evanston as home.  The words of Frances Willard would make a good epitaph for Viola Crouch Reeling:

"When I die, I want to register as from Evanston." 

Viola Crouch Reeling - wife, mother, patriot, author, historian - May she rest in peace. 


  1. Thanks. Very nice history of my family.

  2. This comment has been removed by the author.