Byline: Katherine Hamilton-Smith
To understand why the Great Lakes Naval Training Center was built, you have to go back to 1898 and the Spanish American War.
While it is largely forgotten today, the war with Spain was a major event in American life - and in Lake County.
On April 23, 1898, 13-year-old Irene Rockenbach of Deerfield wrote in her diary, "I did not write last night because I had such a toothache. There would have been enough news though. War with Spain has about begun. The first shot was fired at 7:10 a.m. yesterday morning by the Nashville, which captured the Spanish merchant ship Buenos Ventura. The President has called for 125,000 men. Everything is war talk."
Rockenbach's diary entries about the war continued throughout the spring and summer of 1898, interspersed with news about school picnics and chores to be done on the farm. The war figured prominently in the American consciousness, largely because of the performance of the U.S. Navy.
Following the war, Navy Department leaders decided to establish a new site for training sailors. North Chicago was chosen because the Midwestern states had long provided a sizable percentage of the Navy's men, and it was situated between two large cities with easy rail transport and excellent liberty potential for the sailors. Also, and perhaps most important, the land was donated to the Navy by a group …