Chicago’s far West Side neighborhood of Austin is bound by the I-290 expressway to the south, Austin Boulevard to the west, the Metra Line train tracks to the north and Cicero Avenue to the east. The community is divided into North and South Austin at Division Street. North Austin, the smaller of the two neighborhoods, has a mix of residential blocks, industrial parks and green public parks. The South end is also dotted with little community recreation spots, plus Columbus Park—a sprawling 144-acre Jens Jensen-designed city park with athletic fields and courts, a fieldhouse and swimming pool, walking paths and a 9-hole golf course. Construction of the Eisenhower Expressway in the 1960s cut into Columbus Park’s territory, however the new highway made the neighborhood even more accessible and the park ended up getting a renovation in the early 1990s that refurbished the grounds and added modern-day amenities.
The Austin neighborhood was named for land developer Henry Austin who purchased the area and founded an early settlement there in 1865. Through his influence, the sparse community grew into a beautiful residential haven with lots of trees, wide parkways and a sense of social kinship that became the basis for a fast-growing township. In less than ten years, the population of Austin pushed upwards of a thousand people. The rate of expansion escalated with the extension of rail service to suburban Chicago villages. By the 1890s, Austin had more than 4,000 inhabitants and was annexed to the city at the end of the decade. It continued to flourish as better transit lines were imstalled and in the year 1920 Austin was considered to be one of the best-served commuter districts in Chicago.
Ease of transportation made this outer West Side neighborhood attractive to many immigrant workers and families. As a result, Austin saw an influx of residents from a number of different European countries who built several churches to practice their religions, which included the Roman Catholic and Assumption Greek Orthodox faiths. A town hall was erected in 1929 that was modeled after Independence Hall in Philadelphia. A year later, Austin’s population count was up to 130,000. This massive population escalation was accompanied by intense development of the housing stock and an obvious evolution from small town village to urban neighborhood. Since then, its populace has shrunk down to around 117,500 (according to the 2000 Census).
Austin is bordered to the west by the well-known suburb of Oak Park. Actually, the neighborhood’s founder (Henry Austin) lived in Oak Park and was actively involved in its cultivation as well. Many of the public transportation lines that head out to Austin take passengers on to Oak Park or other suburban destinations. The Green Line L has three stops in South Austin before crossing the city limits into Oak Park, home of Frank Lloyd Wright’s Home and Studio and other prominent works by the famous architect. The Metra train runs through North Austin, connecting it with Chicago’s downtown Loop in just two stops. Quick commutes to the city center, a large inventory of single-family homes and plenty of green space make this sizeable neighborhood an important part of Chicago’s community patchwork.