Lemont and the Capones

Saloon at Smokey Row ca. 1900. Photo courtesy Lemont Area Historical Society

Saloon at Smokey Row ca. 1900. Photo courtesy Lemont Area Historical Society

Lemont and the Capones

Okay, so this picture isn’t the Capones, but this early Lemont saloon does show you what taverns were like in the early 1900s. Note that there are no stools, and men gathered at the bar or around the stove. It was also common to allow children in saloons, although it wasn’t likely they were served.

Many Chicagoland suburbs claim ties of various kinds to Al Capone, and Lemont is no exception. There are a number of credible reasons that make it likely he had some attachment to Lemont.

Al’s brother, Ralph (Bottles) Capone, had a business in Lemont for many years. A major business for the Capones was the distribution of illegal alcohol, which of course needed to be bottled, and profits were greater if their own “business” provided the bottles. Wold Beverages in Lemont manufactured bottles for local distribution of “Wold’s Wonder Water”, a soft drink, and Ralph’s granddaughter, Deirdre Marie Capone, remembers the bottle manufacturing company in Lemont. It stands to reason that Al would have spent some time with his brother and possibly that he financed and controlled the business to some extent, although this is conjecture.

Al was an avid golfer (but terrible, per his caddy). In the forest preserves along 107th Street between Archer and Kean Avenues there was once a golf course, built in 1921 and managed by the Cook County Forest Preserves. It was know by a number of names, most commonly as Palos Golf Club, and is one of the courses Al played. The course was located in a geographic area called Mount Forest Island, which in prehistoric times was an island in Lake Chicago, before the water receded, leaving Lake Michigan. One approached the golf course from 107th Street, across from Saganashkee Slough.

The course was popular in its day, secluded back in the woods, unseen from the road, and carved into the side of a hill, which prompted golfers to say it was a great course for players who had one leg shorter than the other. It had a large, attractive clubhouse, which was said to be one of Al’s “hideouts”, or at least a meeting place to discuss business with some expectation of privacy.

Today the course is forgotten, because its closing was shrouded in secrecy. During World War II, when at the University of Chicago, U.S. scientists were racing German scientists to produce the atomic bomb. The Manhattan Project was moved from Chicago to this secluded area, adjacent to the golf course. The project was, of course, top secret, so the golf course was closed, demolished, entrances to the area secured, and any mention of its very existence discouraged. It is hard to find anyone who remembers it.

“Suburban” legend has it that Al Capone also had a home along Bluff Road on the outskirts of Lemont. Deirdre Capone denies that Al ever had a home in Lemont, however, she does remember Al and Ralph golfing in Lemont. She also shares that he was fond of the toboggan slides at Swallow Cliff, which have since been demolished, leaving only a sledding hill and steps popular today for exercise. She used to accompany them on these trips, and also to other places they frequented in Lemont, but cannot remember the other names.

Deirdre has written a book about her famous family and what it was like growing up as a Capone, which I thoroughly enjoyed. Her book is titled Uncle Al Capone, and you can also visit her web site at www.unclealcapone.com.

About Pat Camalliere

Pat is a writer of historical mysteries. She lives in Lemont, Illinois.
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12 Responses to Lemont and the Capones

  1. Sandra Harris says:

    I will be purchasing this book.We were caretakers of the old golf course during the years of 1951 thru 1958.Our home was located on 107th. across from the slough. My parents Marge and Harold Harris rented from the forest preserve dist. when Cap. Sauers was there. We attended the one room school that was located behind the Tavern the Sag Inn and across from the Polka Dot club. My brother and myself have many memories of our time in Lemont. I agree with you that it is a special town.

    • Thank you for your comment Sandra. I have been looking for people who have memories of Sag Bridge, and will be contacting you via email to open a dialogue with you. So pleased you will be reading my book!

  2. Norene Campbell says:

    My parents were good friends with Marge and Harold Harris and I remember spending a lot of time at the house. I remember the brick driveway going up there. Also remember Sandy Harris and Dave and Don.

    • I’m so glad you found my blog, and I hope you have read the post about the lost golf course. This is a very special place forgotten by most. I talked to Sandy and Dave Harris recently, and wish I could have seen the clubhouse before it was demolished. My book is available on Amazon, or if you live in the area you can purchase it at Smokey Row Antiques in Lemont. The primary settings are Sag Bridge and Lemont, and I think you would enjoy it.

      • Chuck Zadak says:

        My grandmothers sister married into the Kirk family that owned or ran the tavern at Sag Bridge. I recall going to the area she lived in near the tavern back in the late 50’s. I also recall hearing some stories about things in the area but can’t recall exactly what.

        • Very interesting – my mother was a Kirk and I remember visiting a tavern west of Palos Heights owned by a relative back about 1953 or thereabouts. I wonder if it’s the same place in Sag Bridge and if it’s the same Kirk family.

  3. Norene Campbell says:

    Forgot to mention my brothers and I also attended Sag School. I graduated the year it closed. Great memories. Now I have to search for this book.

  4. Sandra Harris says:

    Hi Pat, Sorry I haven’t contacted you sooner but it’s been a little busy lately. Just want to let you know we haven’t forgotten about our planned trek thru the house area on 107th street. Dave is under a Dr.s care for awhile so we will be in contact as soon as he is better. I am planning to contact Noreen Campbell as I remember her family very well. They visited with us often. Please keep in touch with us and thank you for bringing back the memories and friends of our childhood.

  5. Donna (Wold) Burke says:

    I was a Wold kid from Lemont, IL, but not related to the Wold’s Quality Beverages bottling company. Seems like every one of my brothers has a Wold’s pop bottle and not me. I don’t suppose there is still a way to purchase one of those vintage bottles?

  6. Diz says:

    I’ve been walking around that place lately the old golf course I’m fascinated by it right now. Yes it’s sad that’s totally forgotten.

    • It’s been fascinating to me ever since I researched it about five years ago for a Lemont Historical Society program on the history of local golf courses. So fascinating, in fact, that I’m making it the site for the novel I’m writing now, tentatively titled “The Mystery at Mount Forest Island.”

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