History of the Austin Area


c. 9000 BCE –
The waters of the retreating Lake Michigan leave a sandy shore-line ridge running from about Austin High School north to about Division and Long. If Austin High School had been built at this time, it could have been called Lake View High School!!??

1818 –
Illinois becomes 21 st state admitted to the Union.

1832 –
The first European visitors to the Austin area find a flat marshy area as far as the eye can see, punctuated only by the ridge. They call the area Sand Ridge or Sandy Ridge.

1833 –
Chicago incorporates as a town; population about 350; its borders are today’s Kinzie, Madison, State, and Desplaines Streets. The first newspaper is published – a weekly named the Chicago Democrat.

1835 –
Henry L. DeKoven obtains title from the government to 280 acres immediately west of Sand Ridge, bounded by today’s Central, Austin, Lake, and Augusta. The first state road from Chicago to Galena is built; it becomes an important route for wagon trains bearing lead ore from Galena and furs from Iowa and Wisconsin. This will later become Plank Road, then Lake Street and then a portion of US-20.

1836 –
A charter is granted to build a railroad from Chicago to Galena.

1837 –
Chicago incorporates as a city on March 4. Population over 4000. Ten square miles – bordered by today’s North Avenue, Cermak Road, Wood Street (1800 West), and Lake Michigan. William B. Ogden becomes the first mayor.

1842 –
John Pierson builds the Six Mile House, a two-story tavern, on an old Indian trail, at a point that will become the northwest corner of Pine and Lake. It is one of the first buildings in Austin.

1847 –
The Chicago Tribune prints its first newspaper.

1848 –
The Chicago-Galena road is planked as far west as Oak Ridge (now Oak Park), and is now named Plank Road. The first railroad tracks in Chicago are laid and five miles of the Chicago Galena Union Railroad are opened parallel to Plank Road. One of its stops is the Six Mile House. The CGUR will later become part of the Chicago and Northwestern Railroad and then the Union Pacific.

1850 –
Plank Road becomes a toll road with the first toll house at Sand Ridge (approx Lake and Central). This is over a hundred years before the Northwest Tollway!!

1857 –
The township of Cicero is organized, and named by Augustus Porter after his hometown of Cicero, New York. It’s a six-mile square township bordered by today’s North Avenue, 39 th Street, Western Avenue, and Harlem Avenue.

1859 –
Cicero Township establishes roads on section lines, naming them Kedzie, Fortieth, Forty-eighth, Fifty-sixth, Sixty-fourth, and Seventy-second. Later, as Chicago annexes areas of the township, these numeric avenues are renamed – Crawford (start of “K” avenues), Cicero (“L”), Central (“M”), Ridgeland (“N”), and Harlem (“O”). The town of Cicero keeps its numeric avenues.

1860 –
Henry W. Austin comes to Chicago as a salesman for jack screws, which are used for raising buildings. This work was decreed in 1855 by Chicago’s engineers, to raise the ground level up to twelve feet in the central part of the city, in order to solve a drainage problem.

1865 –
Henry W. Austin purchases DeKoven’s land, lays out streets, plants shade trees, and calls it Austinville. Five families live in Austinville.

1869 –
Two villages of eastern Cicero Township are annexed by Chicago - the western boundary of Chicago (between North and Pershing) is now Crawford Avenue. At this time, the village of Austin is bounded by North Ave, 12 th Street, Austin Blvd, and Laramie Avenue (south of Madison Street, the eastern boundary is Cicero Avenue); and the village of Moreland is bounded by North, Madison, Kenton, and Laramie. But Oak Park, Austin, and Moreland are still a part of Cicero Township.

1871 –
The Township of Cicero builds its town hall on a five-acre tract near Lake Street and Central Avenue. This land is donated by Henry Austin with the provision that it only be used for community functions.

The Great Chicago Fire occurs on October 8-10.

1872 –
North School, a two-story red brick structure, is erected on Ohio Street, and remains until replaced by Key School in 1907. A second-floor room is the first Austin High School. After the death of the first principal, Luther Race, Ohio Street is later renamed to Race Street, causing much confusion since North School was earlier known as the Ohio Street School.

1876 –
Austin High School graduates its first class from North School – two students.

1879 –
South School – later known as Robert Emmet School – is built.

1889 –
A third annexation by Chicago prompts Oak Park residents to begin a campaign to separate from Cicero Township, in order to protect their village from annexation to Chicago, which now is adjacent to Austin on Laramie Avenue. An inter-village struggle between Oak Park, Austin(ville), and Cicero begins. The voters of Austin did not want Oak Park to leave, and blocked the separation twice. Austin further antagonizes Oak Park by voting to allow the Lake Street El to extend from Laramie Ave to Austin Blvd. Oak Park retaliates by voting to allow Austin to be annexed by Chicago. Legend has it that this was a one-vote win, done with the help of an Oak Park ambulance that delivered one of the village’s council members from the hospital, to cast the fateful vote. This annexation (which does not yet include Austin) gives Chicago a population of 1,100,00 and raises its area from 36 to 108 square miles. Chicago is now the Second City, and this fact is important in helping to validate Chicago’s claim to a world’s fair (the Columbian Exposition) in 1893.

1890 –
The first class of four-year high school students graduates from North School – a class of three. The first Austin High School building (the Old Building) is built on the corner of Frink and Willow (later Long and Fulton), and opens with 72 students.

1891 –
Electric street cars are introduced to Austin – on Madison Street.

1894 –
Lake St El opens to Laramie Avenue (the city line).

1895 –
Garfield Park El opens to Cicero Avenue (the city line).

1898 –
The first addition to Austin High School is to handle an enrollment of 370 students.

1899 –
Lake St El extends from Laramie Avenue to Austin Blvd. on February 12. In another flurry of annexations, Austin becomes part of Chicago, and Austin High becomes a Chicago school. Chicago’s population is now almost 1.7 million.

1902 –
Garfield Park El extends from Cicero Ave to Laramie Ave. on August 25. Concurrently, the Aurora Elgin & Chicago (“the Roarin’ Elgin”) begins service west from the Laramie Avenue terminal.

1915 –
The 160-acre Warren Woods is purchased with a $1,000,000 bond issue and transformed into Columbus Park. Terms of the purchase result in the closing of Harrison Street at Central Avenue.

1920’s –
Austin High School in the 20’s was the site of a band, The Blue Friars, whose members have been credited with the development of a unique jazz style known as “Chicago-Style Jazz.” [from a plaque presented by the National Music Council and the Illinois Music Educators Association, which is mounted in the small auditorium -- the 7:45 room]

1927 –
Chicago’s smallest schoolhouse is built – a 5-room bungalow-type structure currently serving about 130 students, in the Austin district. [It’s still in existence in 2005!] What’s its name? What’s its story? The first classmate with the correct answers gets a free drink at the Friday nite social.

1929 –
The new Austin Town Hall is dedicated on April 5 at a cost of $427,000. It is not the site of any governmental operations, but merely a community building, in keeping with the terms of the Henry Austin donation. Lafollette Park is dedicated on the same day, and opening celebrations include a parade between the two parks. Both parks have an indoor swimming pool, a very unusual feature.

1930 –
The New (West) Building is built; it was started in 1928. The Green Grill opens.

1931 –
Enrollment in Austin High School is 6,815.

193x –
Enrollment hits its peak of about 8,000, making it the largest co-ed high school in the world. Students are in two buildings, a branch at Hay School, and are on double shifts. An article in Life/Seventeen/??? magazine details Austin High and its status.

1936 –
Bill Heiland becomes the football coach. In his first season, not one game is lost.

1937 –
115,000 people (the largest attendance at any sporting event at Soldier Field) watch Austin whitewash St Leo 26-0, in the first Prep Bowl for the city football championship. The team captain is Bill DeCorrevont.

1950 –
Chicago’s population reaches an all-time high of 3,620,962. The population of the six-county metropolitan area is 5,177,868.

1951 –
Most of us walk thru the doors of AHS for the first time.

1955 –
Austin’s Golden Era ends with our graduation??

1957 –
Chicago Aurora & Elgin Railroad ceases all operations at noon on July 3. Many Loop commuters were unaware and caught downtown with no transportation home.

1959 –
The Old Building is demolished. Built in 1890, additions had been made in 1898, 1906, and 1915.

1962 –
Lake St El raises from ground level to the C&NW roadbed, eliminating 22 grade crossings for the El, and the Austin Station (at Central) of the C&NW. The closing of this station ends Austin’s 114-year railroad connection.

1965 –
Austin High School’s 75 th Jubilee is held at McCormick Place on November 20th. A guest of honor is a member of the first AHS graduating class of 1890 (which only had three members). One of our class members – Suzanne Johnson – sings the Star Spangled Banner.

Compiled by Chuck Meyer from sources such as --

Chicago History Timeline by the Chicago Historical Society http://www.chicagohistory.org/mychicago/pdf/intro.pdf

Danegger, Anne. Early Austin, Austin Friends of the Library, 1944 (at CHS)

Blair, Richard. Here’s Austin, 1836-1951, Austinite, May 9, 1951 (at Illinois Historical Society) This was a single-issue compilation of an earlier series What is This Thing Called Austin? (Feb. 14, 1951 thru Feb. 28, 1951).

Kraig, Bruce. Austin, section of Xxxxxx Yyyyyyy

Your House Has a History, booklet from Commission on Chicago Landmarks, 2003

Larson, Erik. The Devil in the White City, 2003, Vintage Books



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