The History of the Independence Park Neighborhood
The beginning of the Independence Park neighborhood starts with the cutting of a deal between the railroads and some land developers in 1869.
Several New York investors moved to Chicago and bought up land around what is now Irving Park Road and the Kennedy Expressway. At that time, as now, transportation was critical to the value of a community, so the developers made an agreement with the Chicago and Northwestern Railroad to build a train station if the trains would stop. The deal was made and the first settlers who developed the land built new homes along with the train station to establish the new city of Irving Park.
The area in 1869 was primarily truck farms. The roads were either dirt or plank, but were adequate for delivering produce to the then faraway city of Chicago. However, with the new railroad station, the community became an upscale suburb where businessmen working in Chicago could escape from the city to the quiet surroundings of a rural setting. The railroad made transportation easy from the train station to the city, but commuters still had to wear hip boots to the train station, which were left until their return in the evening for the muddy walk home.
This vital link to the Chicago business district attracted more residents to the area. After the Chicago fire in 1871, a mini building boom brought new residents drawn to the community by the train station, a good drainage system, and an artesian well that supplied plenty of water. By 1875 there were sixty homes in the area.
In 1889 Chicago annexed the Irving Park community, along with all of Jefferson Township. This brought another advance in transportation, as new electric trolleys were added along Irving Park Road to the east and new rail cars along Milwaukee Avenue to the south.
Drawn by good transportation, population in the area grew rapidly. Germans, Swedes, and Norwegians made up the initial wave in the 1890s. As different immigrants settled the central urban areas, more established groups moved further out to areas like Irving Park. By 1930 the population was made up of mainly Germans, Scandinavians, Poles, and Russians; by 1960 the major nationalities were Germans, Poles, and Italians; and in 1980 German, Irish, and Polish families predominated.
The next significant improvement in transportation arrived in 1960, when the Kennedy Expressway was built. Though homes were lost as it sliced through the community, the Irving Park area gained quick access to what is still the best expressway in Chicago. In addition, a new CTA subway line was constructed from the Loop to Jefferson Park in 1970 and extended to O'Hare International Airport in 1984. With ready access to an expressway, the newest subway, and several railroad train stations, the community now enjoys quick access to both the Loop and to O'Hare airport, making it once again an attractive location for commuters, especially cross-commuters and business fliers.