Oak Park History

In 1837, Joseph Kettlestrings purchased 172 Oak Park Historyacres of land just west of Chicago. By 1850, the Galena and Chicago Union Railroad was constructed as far as Elgin, Illinois, and passed through what would later become Oak Park. In the 1850s the land on which Oak Park sits was part of the new Chicago suburb of Cicero. The population of the area boomed during the 1870s, with Chicago residents resettling in Cicero following the Great Chicago Fire of 1871.

Oak Park has had a history of alcohol prohibition. From the time of its incorporation, no alcohol was allowed to be sold within its village limits. But this law was relaxed in 1973, when restaurants and hotels were allowed to serve alcohol, and was further loosened in 2002, when select grocery stores received governmental permission to sell packaged liquor.

Oak Park’s expansive homes, parks and an excellent school system have continued to bring in tourists from all around the world. Recently, Oak Park demographics have shifted from long-term, more conservative residents, to younger, urban, more liberal residents. The division between old and new residents was demonstrated by a formal survey of residents taken in 2004, which found that more than half of its current residents had lived in Oak Park for less than ten years, and one-third had lived in the village fewer than five.

The village has attempted to balance historic preservation and economic development. For example, a pedestrian mall on Marion Street in the center of the village was opened to traffic, using brick pavers similar to the original early 20th century street and bluestone sidewalks, intended to highlight the historic character of the area. Even the lighting fixtures were chosen to evoke the look of streetlights that lined the street in the 1920s. The effort to remove the mall from downtown Oak Park has won acclaim throughout the region from urban planners and preservationists alike.

Oak Park is a popular tourist destination in the Chicago area, as many come to view the many Frank Lloyd Wright buildings found throughout the village. The largest collection of Wright-designed residential properties in the world is in Oak Park. Other attractions include Ernest Hemingway’s birthplace home and his boyhood home, the Ernest Hemingway Museum, and the three Oak Park homes of Tarzan creator Edgar Rice Burroughs.

Oak Park is known in the Chicago area and throughout Illinois for its Oak Park River Forest High School, which is also the public high school for the bordering village of River Forest. A comprehensive college preparatory school, OPRF has had a long history of not only turning out alumni who have made contributions in a wide variety of fields, but have consistently been eminently notable in their fields. Among these many contributors with which the school is associated are Pulitizer Prize winning author Ernest Hemingway, football hall-of-famer George Trafton, McDonalds founder Ray Kroc, city planner Walter Burley Griffin, comedian Kathy Griffin, and the voice of iconic cartoon character Homer Simpson, Dan Castellaneta.

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