Tune-in Thursday, November 17 as WGN Radio features Oak Park in the monthly Your Hometown series.
Oak Park is immediately west of Chicago and about 10 miles from the Loop. The Eisenhower Expressway (I-290) offers residents an easy link to the city, as do the Green and Blue CTA “L” trains and METRA.
Once covered in oak trees and home to Native American tribes including the Potawatomi, the first white settlers were English immigrants Joseph and Betty Kettlestrings who established a farm, house and tavern near Lake Street and Harlem Avenue in Oak Park in 1835. The land was named Oak Ridge, Harlem and Kettlestrings Grove. Ridgeland Avenue, cutting through eastern Oak Park, helped bring about the moniker “Oak Ridge” but also marks the shoreline of the ancient Lake Chicago and the location of one of four continental divides in North America.
The Chicago Fire of 1871 led to a population increase in Oak Park, and later it was railroads and streetcars that spurred further development, connecting the village and the city. The village’s first post office in 1872 also came with a new official name for the village: Oak Park. Once part of Cicero, Oak Park separated from its neighbor to the south with incorporation in 1902.
In the 1870s, an abundance of churches built in Oak Park gave the village the nickname “Saints’ Rest” and with them, more than a century of alcohol prohibition. Liquor laws were first relaxed in 1973 and further loosened in 2002.
Known as “The World’s Largest Village”, Oak Park boasts the world’s largest collection of residential properties designed by Frank Lloyd Wright. The architect and his family lived in Oak Park from 1899 through 1911. The most famous of his buildings is Wright’s personal home, the Frank Llloyd Wright Home and Studio (951 Chicago Avenue), open to the public for tours. Walk through Oak Park to see the evolution of Wright’s work, including the Arthur B. Heurtley House (318 Forest Avenue), Laura Gale House (6 Elizabeth Court), William G. Fricke House (540 Fair Oaks Avenue), Harry S. Adams House (710 Augusta Street), Oscar B. Balch House (611 North Kenilworth Avenue), and the Unity Temple (875 Lake Street), a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Oak Park is also the birthplace of Ernest Hemingway. The author was born in 1899 in a Queen Anne home at 339 N. Oak Park Avenue which is now managed by The Ernest Hemingway Foundation of Oak Park and open to the public for tours. Built in 1890 by Hemingway’s maternal grandparents, it was the first home in town to have electricity.
Other prominent names with Oak Park connections include Edgar Rice Burroughs, the writer and creator of the character “Tarzan”, dancer Doris Humphrey, one of the founding members of the dance department at Julliard School of Music, McDonald’s founder Ray Kroc, Sears founder Richard Sears, actor Johnny Galecki, comedian and actress Kathy Griffin, and the late Betty White and Judy Tenuta.