WGN Radio’s Your Hometown series profiles Downers Grove on Thursday, April 28.
Named as one of “America’s Friendliest Towns” by Forbes magazine in 2012, Downers Grove is located in DuPage county, about 20 miles west of the Loop. The village borders Oak Brook, Westmont, Darien, Lombard, Woodridge, and Lisle.
Downers Grove was named after Pierce Downer, a farmer who came to the area from New York by way of Vermont in 1832. Most settlers were migrants like Downer from the northeastern United States or from northern Europe. The first schoolhouse was built in 1844. A railroad laid in 1864 spurred further growth, resulting in town incorporation in March 1873. Expressways laid after World War II in close proximity to Downers Grove led to increased expansion in the 20th century and its three Metra stations provide additional convenience to commuters.
Downers Grove is home to several historical treasures, including homes, a movie theatre, a golf course, cemetery, and nature preserves.
Built in 1928, the Tivoli Theatre (5021 Highland Ave.) was the second in the nation constructed specifically for “talkies”, or sound motion pictures. Fully restored, the theatre continues to show movies and host special events, including WGN Radio’s live show featuring John Williams with Clay Jenkinson as Teddy Roosevelt (scheduled for Oct. 22, 2022).
Now located in Wandschneider Park as part of the Downers Grove Museum Campus is the Blodgett House. One of the oldest homes in the village built in 1846, the frame Blodgett House reflects early pioneer style and was an active stopover on the Underground Railroad. The house can be visited through the Downers Grove Museum.
Main Street Cemetery in Downers Grove downtown, 5158 Main Street, is one of two in the nation still located in a central business district. Now a landmark, graves date as far back to 1856 with the earliest settlers of the village to 1939 when the last person was interred.
Downers Grove has one of the largest concentrations of existing mail-order houses sold by Sears, Roebuck & Co. in the world. Sold between 1908 and 1940, the Sears homes could be erected by the owners (the company estimated 90 days in good weather), or by a contractor. The village of Downers Grove offers a self-guided walking and driving tour to see these homes.
Golf lovers may want to play a round at Downers Grove Golf Club (2420 Haddow Avenue) which claims two “firsts” in its history. Established in 1892 as the Chicago Golf Club with nine holes, it was the first golf course west of the Allegheny Mountains. Nine more holes were added in 1893 which made it the first 18-hole golf course in the United States.
Outdoor recreational opportunities are plentiful in Downers Grove with downtown Fishel Park as well as nature and forest preserves including:
- Maple Grove Forest Preserve is one of the oldest in DuPage county and its 81 acres contains remnant from the original stand of trees that was Downers Grove. Native peoples used the maple trees here as a sweetener, boiling sap into sugar, a practice later settlers adopted.
- Belmont Prairie, one of the last original prairies in Illinois.
- Lyman Woods Forest Preserve with 138 acres of oak woods, prairie, and marsh.
- Hidden Lake Forest Preserve with 390 acres for trails, fishing, boating and remnant woodland. The “hidden lake” is a glacier-dug pond.
Notable people with connections to Downers Grove include:
- Major General Arthur Charles Ducat, an officer in the Union Army, the first captain of the Chicago Fire Brigade, and the first commander of the Illinois National Guard who was also instrumental in its formation.
- Lottie Holman O’Neill, the first female legislator to serve in the Illinois General Assembly. Elected in 1922, her 40-year tenure made her the longest-serving female elected official in the United States at the time.
- Cammi Granato, captain for the U.S. women’s hockey team in the 1998 (Gold) and 2002 (Silver) Olympic Winter Games. In 2010, Cammi became the first woman inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame.
- Tony Granato, former pro hockey player and current head coach of the Wisconsin Badgers men’s ice hockey team.
- Don Granato, head coach of the Buffalo Sabres
- Bob Bryar, drummer for band My Chemical Romance, 2004-2010
- Nick Burdi, pitcher for San Diego Padres
- Andy Dunn, entrepreneur and co-founder of Bonobos
- David Edwards, football player for Los Angeles Rams
- Joe Principe, co-founder of band Rise Against
- Comedian Emo Philips
- Actress and model Denise Richards
- Randy “Macho Man” Savage, former pro wrestler and actor
- Luther Ely Smith, founder of the Gateway Arch National Park in St. Louis
Have your say in our “Your Hometown” series! Submit your suggestions on which town you think we should feature here. Hear a different “Your Hometown” featured every month.