At the turn of the century, one of Lyons' leading residents, George Hoffmann, Jr., dreamed of creating a peaceful area for picnicking and boating…an area that would be a source of pleasure and pride for the community…a special place with a regal tower structure patterned after European castles so that people could enjoy the lovely view from the top.
In 1908, George Hofmann commissioned the H.W. Sauber Construction Company to build his tower from plans imported from Germany on property originally purchased by the Hofmann family in 1874. The tower and dam are located at a ford in the Des Plaines River and an old Indian trail. The dam, built in 1830 in conjunction with a nearby mill, was improved at the time of the tower's construction.
A boat landing was constructed and two canopied boats made excursions up the crystal clear river. In addition to the tower, George owned a picnic grove on the river bank to the east and a triangular piece of land across the street which was enclosed by a lighted, concrete and iron picket fence, and was identical to the fence surrounding the tower property. A pedestrian subway was dug under the street and it connected the park and tower area.
In addition to the boat rides and the view from the top of the tower, other activities enjoyed by families were games, contests, concerts and dancing. It was a place to meet friends, drink beer and relax on a summer afternoon.
Pollution of the river brought an end to Hofmann's dream. By 1920, the picnics and boat excursions were discontinued and the once lovely area was deserted. More than the end of a dream, it was the end of an era.
Mr. Hofmann died in 1942, and his heirs sold the tower to the Forest Preserve District of Cook County in 1946. The once noble Hofmann Tower then fell into a state of neglect.
The Lyons Historical Commission, realizing the important historical value of the Hofmann Tower, was successful in having the building named a village landmark.
Later, in September 1978, it was named a State Landmark, and in December 1978 was listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
The State of Illinois took ownership of the building in 1984 and, thanks to then State Representative Judy Baar Topinka, began its work on the building. The retaining wall which runs parallel to the tower was replaced, the floors in the tower have been reinforced, electricity has been installed, and the building now contains a permanent iron stairway and a new concrete roof. A new door was installed which duplicated the original door and a flagpole was once again placed on the roof so that on Landmark Day in 1988, Old Glory flew once again atop Hofmann Tower for the first time in over 50 years.
In 1989, the Lyons Historical Commission was finally able to move into the building. A museum has been started on the second floor and the interior of the old Lyons Post Office was reconstructed on the fourth floor.
The Hofmann Tower Restoration League has worked closely with the Historical Commission in long range planning for the restoration of the building and grounds. The ceiling on the museum floor needs to be lowered and that floor will have to be "self-contained" in order that heating/cooling may be installed to prevent deterioration of the historical artifacts on that floor. Future work includes permanent windows, lighting and renovation of the exterior, and landscaping of the grounds. The wish list includes a new boat dock and a restored iron picket fence around the property.
Hofmann Tower Facts
Eight stories tall with five concrete floors. Built of reinforced concrete and a special textured finish
Wall illuminated with hundreds of light bulbs
Contains four flood gates and two flood basins which controlled the level of the river
Once the tallest building between Lyons and Chicago
Built in 1908 by the H.W. Sauer Construction Company at a cost of $400,000
Named a State and National Landmark in 1978
Lyons Historical Commission
P.O. Box 392, Lyons, IL 60534
Photo of Hoffman Tower by Dave Waycie
Return to Main Menu