1900s - 1940s

The Turn of the Century: Civic Improvement & the Baby Fold

Under the administration of Mayor O.L. Manchester in the early 1900s, Town debt was reduced, sewer projects were undertaken and improvements were made to the roads and the waterworks, which contributed to even greater civic improvement.

In 1905, Mrs. Nancy Mason, one of Normal’s early Methodist pioneer women, donated her home to the Baby Fold, which became a place for homeless babies. It was established through the Deaconess Society of the First Methodist church. The home was a child-care nursery created to meet the needs of dependent preschool-aged children. Institutions such as the Illinois Soldiers’ and Sailors’ Children’s School and the Baby Fold demonstrated that the Town is known for extending a sympathetic hand to those in trouble.

1920s: The Automobile Age

The 1920s were a time of general growth for the Town of Normal. The automobile age brought more street paving and lighting projects, and unpaved streets began to be oiled. Houses were designed with garages. In 1925, buses began replacing streetcar lines in the Twin Cities. The growth in population demanded improvements to the water system, and a sewage treatment plant was constructed. A bond for $102,000 was passed to enlarge the Normal public schools. The Civil War Orphans’ Home was again changed to accommodate any child that was a ward of the state. In 1931, the name of the home was officially changed to the Illinois Soldiers’ and Sailors’ Children’s Home.

1930s: Steak ‘n Shake, University Expansion & the Normal Theater

The difficult times of the Depression gave way to the formation of the Normal Community Council, a community enterprise and cooperation that was designed for carrying on any welfare work that would benefit Normal. The council’s acts included forming a community gardening and canning program and establishing a reading room that eventually evolved into a public library. The Town also received benefits from the Federal Work Relief and the Work Progress Administration (WPA), services that were used in many places in the community. General road improvement projects and flood relief projects were a result of the WPA. There was an emphasis on safety and safety information in the 1930s, which led to new metal street markers that were placed on all street corners.

In 1934, Gus and Edith Belt attached a dining room to the side of their Shell gas station and began to sell burgers and shakes. Gus’s idea was to use choice cuts of beef to make ground hamburger, thus making "Steakburgers." Their restaurant is known today as Steak ‘n Shake.

Although the Great Depression was hurting the nation, Illinois State Normal University (ISNU) was benefiting. ISNU reached a new high of 1,850 students in 1935. During this height in enrollment, the campus developed further with the construction of several new buildings.

Another added piece of Normal’s history was completed and opened in 1937. The first theater was built in the area that was specifically built for sound films, or "talkies." The theater was a novelty at the time with its air conditioning system and a sound system that was equal to Radio City Music Hall’s.

Next: 1940s to 1990s