Chicago Invades a Suburb (10-25-1899)

Today the residents of the Town of Austin woke up and found they had become part of the City of Chicago.  And they didn’t like it.

They’d wanted to keep their community of 4,000 people a separate town.  A referendum had been held, and a majority of Austin voters had been against joining Chicago.  But it had happened anyway.  The whole thing was un-American!

Austin Town Hall

Austin Town Hall

The story began in 1865, when the Austin subdivision was created along the C&NW railroad line, seven miles out Lake Street from downtown Chicago.  The area was part of Cicero Township.  Besides Austin, the township included the settlements of Cicero, Berwyn, and Oak Park.

Austin grew fast.  In 1870 the Cicero Township Hall was built in the community at Lake and Central.  Everything remained peaceful until 1898, when the Lake Street Elevated Railroad arrived on the scene.

The ‘L’ company wanted to extend its line from Chicago west to Austin Boulevard.  The Town of Austin favored the extension, the rest of Cicero Township did not.  But since Austin controlled township government, the extension was approved.

That did it.  The rest of Cicero Township was tired of being pushed around by those snobs at Lake and Central.  So they hatched a plan to get rid of Austin.

The City of Chicago was eager to add more territory.  Austin was a nice, semi-affluent community with an attractive tax base.  Petitions were gathered, and a referendum on the annexation of Austin was held April 5, 1899.

The law said a majority of a township’s voters had to approve any take-over by Chicago.  More than half the voters within Austin rejected the annexation.  But the rest of Cicero Township voted to let Chicago have Austin, by a huge margin.  That was just enough to tip the outcome.

The anti-annexation Austin group was furious.  They went to court and filed appeals.  The Illinois Supreme Court ruled the referendum was binding.  Austin was to become part of Chicago.

October 24, 1899 was the last day for an independent Austin.  Cicero Township police were withdrawn, replaced by 21 Chicago cops.  Five Chicago firemen settled into the Austin fire house and began playing checkers.  No local resistance was encountered.

Though over a century has gone by since annexation, the Austin community still calls its park field house the Town Hall.  And the ‘L’ line that started the ruckus now runs all the way through the Village of Oak Park.



4 Responses to “Chicago Invades a Suburb (10-25-1899)”

  1. 1 benson October 27, 2015 at 1:45 pm

    I grew up in Austin, on Long Ave., a block from Howe School. (your former school, John) I don’t remember ever learning the history of Austin. A very interesting, very “Chicago” type story. Austin was a great place to grow up in the 60’s. I remember the Town Hall, the library, the YMCA was also over there. Seemed like everything was within walking (or biking) distance. I’m miss the little snack stores, Dan’s on Lockwood and Marie’s on Ohio, at the alley between Long and Lorel; bought a lifetime of baseball cards there. Thanks to Google Earth, I see that Marie’s is still a “food mart”. Also, the Y is no longer that. Thanks, John, fun to reminisce.

    • 2 J.R. Schmidt October 27, 2015 at 3:41 pm

      While I never lived in Austin, as a junior-high-age kid I played a lot of golf with my friends at Columbus Park. Weekday junior rate was 25 cents for 9 holes–which was cheap even in the early ’60s–so we’d go around 2 or 3 times. Because there was usually a wait between rounds, we’d often walk over to a snack shop at Madison and Menard, next to the movie theater. I must have eaten close to a hundred lunches in that place during those years.

  2. 3 spudart October 29, 2015 at 4:14 pm

    As I got married this year, I moved into my wife’s condo four blocks west of Austin. This article was written almost exactly on the 116th anniversary of Austin joining Chicago!

  3. 4 Debra Schaal September 6, 2020 at 9:50 am

    I grew Austin. I lived on Parkside & went to Francis Scott Key. Jim & Frans pizza place was across from the school.It was the best of times for a kid growing up their in the 60s. I loved the castle like houses.The community was close everyone knew everybody. it was a time when going outside was fun. playing ball in the streets or playground. Swimming at the mudhole. Going to the mom & pop stores.It saddens me this neighborhood is falling to pieces , Historical homes falling apart and no one takes any pride in restoring HISTORY. I hope it will be saved.

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