The Town Of Chicago Southland, Illinois
All of life’s many satisfactions can be found in the 69 communities of Chicago Southland, a vast region encompassing Chicago’s south and southwest suburbs. More than 1,000,000 people make the area home. Many of them work in Chicago Southland business and industry, many more in retail and services.
The small cities, towns, and villages of Chicago Southland range widely in size and economic strength. Populations vary from Oak Lawn’s 56,000 to Bedford Park’s 566. A few communities are purely residential, some with homes whose values range into the seven figures. Several are industrial centers, with Fortune 500 companies and other large firms represented. Others are retail centers, drawing shoppers from a wide radius. Some communities rub shoulders with busy neighbors, while others have a rural setting where cattle graze at village boundaries. Chicago Southland residents enjoy near-endless opportunities for recreation in thousands of acres of forest preserves, in parklands owned by park districts and municipalities, and in a variety of privately operated facilities.
Communities with convenient proximity to Chicago share its many cultural amenities and sports-and-entertainment attractions. However, Chicago Southland has developed its own cultural style with museums and libraries, art galleries, two area symphony orchestras, a nationally famous outdoor music theater, a big-band ballroom, and many annual family-oriented festivals. Chicago Southland’s 69 communities are served by 65 public school districts, numerous private and parochial schools, several excellent two-year colleges, and a regional university. Nine major hospitals provide quality health care for Chicago Southland residents. These are augmented by women’s health centers, clinics and immediate care centers, and the offices of hundreds of doctors and dentists located throughout the Chicago Southland area.
Together, the 69 communities of the Chicago Southland are 69 ways to enjoy life, whether working and raising a family, or retired and making the most of each day. A determination to grow is shared by the communities of Chicago Southland and they work in harmony to achieve their goals. The result is that several regional organizations exist to coordinate efforts.
The Chicago Southland Chamber of Commerce is a regional Chamber, both serving and representing the business community. Its mission is to create a favorable business environment and image in its 69 communities. The South Suburban Mayors and Managers Association and the Southwest Conference of local Governments discuss problems and opportunities of mutual concern and maps appropriate plans and actions. The Chicago Southland Development Inc., encourages and assists in relocations and expansions of the area’s business and industrial areas. The Chicago Southland Convention and Visitors Bureau works to promote the numerous appealing attractions of Chicago Southland. It responds to queries with a colorful collection of informative brochures. The Chicago Southland Housing Coalition strives to assure fair housing opportunities for all residents of the area. The several colleges and universities of Chicago Southland share in the cooperative effort by providing career training and retraining programs tailored for area business and industry. This emphasis on regional cooperation assures that the 69 communities of Chicago Southland will continue to grow and prosper as they enter the 21st Century.
When land on the Illinois Prairie opened for settlement in the early 1800s, rugged pioneers from the east and eager immigrants from Europe came in a flood. Thus began the creation of what is today the Chicago Southland. Orland Park was the first of many settlements established in those early years. But in 1834 it was called York Precinct. Back then, Oak Lawn was called Black Oaks Grove and Glenwood was named Hickory Bend. By the mid-1800s, there were settlements at Beecher, Frankfort, Flossmoor, Homewood, Lemont, and South Holland. At that point in history the railroad arrived, starting a continuous flow of people to the area. In 1890, Samuel Tinley, Sr., one of the area’s first station masters, was honored when residents of Bremen changed the name to Tinley Park. In 1893 Lansing was founded. A friend of Abraham Lincoln first settled in what is now Olympia Fields, but construction of the Olympia Fields Country Club in 1915 gave rise to a community.
Many Chicago Southland communities were born and grew up in the 20th century. University Park is typical. Originated in 1967 as a planned unit development named Park Forest South, it became University Park after Governors State University opened there. Today, the communities of Chicago Southland continue to grow, attracting business, industry, and homes by virtue of their setting, their proximity to transportation, land availability, and the strength of the potential work force.
There is always something to see, hear, and do in Chicago Southland and residents of the 69 communities make the most of it. They enjoy the year-round activities offered by thousands of acres of forest preserves and nearly 40 local park districts. The forest preserves provide nature trails for hiking and cross country skiing, picnic groves, water sports, golf, and a variety of special events. Local park districts maintain dozens of parks, swimming pools, tennis courts, picnic areas and play grounds, and other facilities for outdoor fun. These districts conduct year-round recreation programs, competitive sports, and other activities for residents of all ages. There also are special programs designed exclusively for senior citizens. Residents of Chicago Southland communities live in a veritable golfer’s paradise. There are some 33 top-notch golf courses in the area. Among them is Lemont’s Cog Hill, ranked as one of the nation’s “top fifty“ courses. It has four 18-hole courses, including the famed “Dubsdread,” home of the Western Open. Families find fun in the area’s miniature golf courses and several privately-owned family entertainment centers. They go on camping trips to the forest preserves and private campgrounds in the area, or cross into Indiana for a stay at nearby Indiana Dunes State Park.
Horse racing fans flock to Crete’s “Balmoral Park” and “Hawthorne Park” in the Stickney-Cicero area. Of course, Chicago’s professional football, basketball, baseball, and hockey are conveniently near. For those who take pleasure in games of chance, the 1,000 passenger riverboat casinos at Joliet are unexcelled this side of Las Vegas. Dining out is a genuine joy in Chicago Southland. Almost every one of the 69 communities has its favorite restaurant or pub where distinctive cuisine is offered.
From Tinley Park’s “Tweeter Center” (formerly the World Music Theater), which presents internationally-known artists, to members of the Chicago Heights Drama Group, with 60 years of performances behind it, Chicago Southland offers the full scope of arts and entertainment. The area is home to the professional Illinois Philharmonic, the Southwest Symphony, and the oft-praised Governors State University String Quartet. Governors State University’s Regional Center for Technology and the Performing Arts opened in 1996. A state-of the-art videoconferencing and performing arts facility, the center features seats and a balcony, an orchestra pit on a lift, a fully-rigged and lighted fly loft, together with the latest in television technologies. The 1,200-seat center attracts nationally-famed artists and area ensembles, orchestras, and theatrical groups to an elegant home. In addition, it is available to the corporate and professional community of Chicago Southland. Also on the campus of Governors State is the Nathan Manilow Sculpture Park. Highly praised, its collection of 22 outdoor sculptures is regarded as among the finest in the world.
Tinley Park’s Tweeter Center is the world’s largest outdoor music theater, accommodating an audience of 27,000. The theater books only the top stars of popular music. Many of Chicago Southland’s park districts sponsor summertime concerts in the park by community bands, locally and regionally known artists, and occasionally a national recording artist. Summertime also brings out the festivals and every one of Chicago.
Southland’s 69 communities celebrates on at least one occasion. Most often foods, rides for kids, and free entertainment are part of festival activities. Park Forest is the home of the Conservatory of Music and Dance, and Richton Park takes pride in its American Dance Center Ballet Company. Professional theatrical performances are presented by the Illinois Theatre Center, in Park Forest. It is the only Equity Theatre in the Chicago Southland region. Additionally, for more than 60 years the Chicago Heights Drama Group has been presenting community theater with practiced expertise. Summit’s Candlelight Dinner Playhouse is the nation’s first and oldest dinner theatre. Summit is also the home of the Forum Theatre, the area’s singular comedy theatre. Several area park districts also sponsor drama groups whose performances delight local audiences.