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Evergreen Park

Joseph Higgins
Most Holy Redeemer School, Evergreen Park

In 1828 Blasius Schwer built a farm in what is now Evergreen Park, a Chicago suburb. Evergreen Park got its name in the 1870s because of a group of evergreen trees located in the geographic center of the community. (Today this same point is a lovely park known as Klein Park.) Evergreen Park is younger than its two neighbors, Chicago (1837) and Oak Lawn (1882). Evergreen Park was incorporated as a village in 1893. The village was a collection of dairy and vegetable farms that sold farm products in nearby Chicago.

Chicago borders Evergreen Park on three sides. In the early days Chicago was a market for Evergreen Park's farm produce. Today, the three-and-a-half square-mile village of Evergreen Park has many residents who work in Chicago.

Many Indian tribes once lived in what is now Evergreen Park. The last known one was the Potawatomi. The Dutch and Germans were the first whites to settle in Evergreen Park. Today, Evergreen Park is a community with a variety of nationalities.

Railroads played an important and interesting part in Evergreen Park's history and development. On July 4, 1910, a big fire broke out in Evergreen Park. The Grand Trunk Railroad, which passed through Evergreen Park, brought water to fight the fire. However, when the water train arrived it was discovered the hoses could not stretch from the train to the fire. The chief of police and the fire marshal had volunteers form a bucket brigade. The fire was put out but not before two factories, a hotel, and several houses were destroyed.

On February 25, 1927, a train was robbed in Evergreen Park. (Locally this has come to be known as the "Great Train Robbery.") Every week the First National Bank of Chicago sent a huge amount of money to Harvey, Illinois, to pay industrial workers in that nearby suburb. Nobody was supposed to know about this money transfer, but thieves found out. When the train stopped in Evergreen Park the day of the robbery, one man went into the mail car and was quickly joined by two other companions. They threatened the clerks with guns. The safe was opened, and $133,000 was taken. The criminals were apprehended two and a half years later.

In the late nineteenth century, Chicagoans traveled regularly to Evergreen Park on the Grand Trunk Railroad to attend funerals at St. Mary's and later Evergreen Cemeteries. The Grand Trunk Railroad traveled through Evergreen Park before Evergreen was even incorporated. The Chicago, Danville, and Vincennes Railroad went through Evergreen Park originally. Later it joined with the Grand Trunk Railroad. In 1899 it took fifty-one minutes to travel from Evergreen Park to the Chicago Loop on the Grand Trunk Railroad.

Evergreen Park steadily increased in population. In 1920 Evergreen Park had a population of 800. By 1933 the population had reached 2,703, and in March 1953 the population had reached 15,746. In 1967, the community's population peaked with a total of 26,280 people. By 1990 the population had declined to 20,874. Between 1946 and 1953 a total of 2,023 homes were built in the community. This post-World-War-II growth was typical of suburbs nationwide.

In 1952 a large shopping mall opened in Evergreen Park. It is called Evergreen Plaza. A shopping mall with many stores and plenty of parking was the idea of the late Arthur Rubloff, a famous real estate developer in Chicago. The Plaza has grown and is now enclosed. It creates about 96 percent of the tax base for the community. The Plaza was the first such shopping mall in the Midwest.

A unique event in Evergreen Park's history occurred in medicine at the Little Company of Mary Hospital on June 17, 1950. Dr. Richard M. Lawler performed a kidney transplant.

Evergreen Park is a small yet important community for its inhabitants. It is also representative of important trends in American history.[From Shelagh Donoghue, "Oak Lawn 'big small town' knows how to adapt," Chicago Sun Times (Dec. 1987); "An Evergreen Chronology," The Centennial of the Incorporation of the Village of Evergreen Park, Illinois; Bob Janis, "Village History, Sharing, Caring," Chicago Sun Times (Dec. 1987); William and Stephanie Leeder, The Village of Evergreen Park 75th Anniversary Album; Gary S. Meyers and Michael Carroll, "Evergreen Park at a Glance," Chicago Sun Times (Dec. 1987); Elmer Mezera, Evergreen Park: A Melting Pot of Memories; Jack McQuinn, "They 'Come Home' to Evergreen Park," Chicago Sun Times (Dec. 1987); Jim Sulski, "Evergreen Park Now 100 Years Young," Chicago Tribune (July 14, 1933).]

ILLINOIS HISTORY / DECEMBER 1995 9


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