Norwood Park

Norwood Park, Community Area 10, is one of Chicago’s railroad communities.  The original settlement was planned around the Chicago & North Western commuter line.  But that’s not the beginning of our story.

In 1833 Mark Noble filed claim to 150 acres of land in the area.  He built a frame house on a glacial ridge and lived the life of a gentleman farmer.  Today his home, at 5634 North Newark Avenue, is the oldest building in Chicago.

Norwood Park Map.jpg

Other farmers followed Noble.  Then in 1868, a group of Chicago investors purchased 860 acres near the railroad for real estate development.  Taking their name from a popular novel, they called their community Norwood Park.  A town hall and shops were built across from the C&NW station.

The new town featured wide lots with expansive front lawns.  Instead of following the rigid Chicago grid, the streets were pleasantly curved—one of them even formed a circle.  Three small parks were laid out and hundreds of shade trees planted.

To promote development, frequent ads were run in the Chicago newspapers.  It’s worth quoting one of them—

“Only 11 miles from the Court House on the Chicago & North Western, 30 minutes ride.  Eighty feet above the lake on beautiful, rolling ground, perfect drainage.  No malaria, no saloons, no nuisances of any kind.  Good society, churches, graded schools, stores.”

New settlers arrived.  They built large Victorian homes on the high ground near the ridge.  But as Norwood Park grew, the residents saw the need for city services.  In 1893 they voted to become part of Chicago.  Today the historic heart of the original town is called Old Norwood.

Former Norwood Park Village Hall

The eastern part of the community was not developed until after annexation.  Though closer to the city, the land here was marsh.  New sewers solved that problem, and bungalows began going up.

By 1930 Norwood Park was home to 14,000 people.  A shopping district had developed near Northwest Highway and Raven, and a string of small factories along the railroad.  Then came the Depression and World War II.  Building stopped, with large areas to the south and west still prairie.

The war ended in 1945, and development resumed.  Now the families of the Baby Boom were buying cars and looking for ranch homes.  The outer portions of Norwood Park—-Big Oaks, Union Ridge, Oriole Park—-were filling up.  The population reached 27,000 in 1950, and 41,000 ten years later.

Still, it took awhile to tie Norwood Park to the city.  The railroad was fast, but expensive.  Most residents who wanted to get downtown faced a long, slow journey, driving on surface streets or riding the Milwaukee Avenue streetcar.

The Northwest (Kennedy) Expressway was completed in 1960.  The community now had convenient auto access to other areas, though traffic grows heavier each year.  The O’Hare branch of the CTA Blue Line has been an alternative since 1983.

Drawing a map of Community Area 10 should not be attempted by amateurs.  That’s because the boundaries are so complicated.  Politics is the reason, of course.

Postwar homes in Big Oaks

During the 1950s Chicago wanted to establish a land connection to the new O’Hare Airport, and began claiming large swaths of territory.  The boundaries of Community Area 10 were stretched west to Cumberland Avenue.  But in the middle of all this Chicago land, there are several blocks that refused to join the city, and remain unincorporated.  They are known as Norwood Park Township.

Today the Chicago community of Norwood Park is a stable, middle-class area.  The population is largely European American.  Like other neighborhoods on the edge of the city, many of the residents are teachers, police officers, and fire fighters.

The area’s #1 landmark remains Mark Noble’s farm house, current headquarters of the Norwood Park Historical Society.  The 1854 Wingert House has been restored as a private residence.  Gone but not forgotten is the historic Rinckner House, which was illegally destroyed.

Locals will tell you that Taft High School was the inspiration for Rydell High in the musical “Grease.”  Just north of Taft is one of Chicago’s tiniest streets, 110-foot-long Somerset Avenue.  Make your way to Milwaukee and Devon and you’ll find Superdawg Drive-in, featured in 1,000 Places To See Before You Die.

And Norwood Park also has a street whose name resonates with any historian.  You’ll find it near Canfield and Foster—-“Memory Lane.”


3 Responses to “Norwood Park”

  1. 1 Kirk Mellish May 5, 2020 at 10:03 am

    Great info. Grew up in Jeff park so know the area well but didn’t know this stuff. Thanks.

  2. 2 Marge May 5, 2020 at 12:00 pm

    So would the huge T-shaped Whalen (sp?) outdoor swimming pool we frequented in 1950s summers (except when closed because of polio) have been (and perhaps still is) in Norwood Park? It was the best outdoor pool we knew of—3 high diving boards, 6 low, never crowded (at least on weekdays), very clean and well-supervised—and worth a long trip on CTA buses to get there (from Austin, roughly Chicago Ave. & Central, or Laramie). We didn’t know in what neighborhood it was in, just how to get there. As I recall, the last bus we took was the Devon bus, to the western end of the line, then walked. Perhaps the pool wasn’t even in the city but just beyond the city boundary? It turned out that some of my high school classmates (at Luther HS North, 5700 W. Berteau, which opened in Sept. 1953 and, sadly, closed a few years ago) lived in Norwood Park, where the post-WWII houses they lived in looked a lot like those around LHN, which I guess was in the Portage Park neighborhood. Portage Park, about 2 blocks from LHN, was a nice park and a lot quicker to get to but unfortunately had only an indoor pool.

    • 3 J.R. Schmidt May 5, 2020 at 2:00 pm

      Whealan Pool is still there, on Devon Avenue just east of Milwaukee. I grew up a few blocks from Luther North in the 1960s, and by then Portage Park already had a fine outdoor swimming pool—it was built for something called the Pan-American Games. I’m sorry you missed it.

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