The Story of Oak Lawn:
Among the oldest communities in Worth Township, it is during the early part of the 19th Century that the story of Oak Lawn takes shape. Beginning in 1835, several individuals obtained large sections of land that would one day encompass the village. Much of northeastern Illinois was available for purchase after the last of its Native American inhabitants, including the Potawatomi, were forcibly removed by the federal and state governments. In the 1840s and 1850s, permanent settlers began to make their way into what was then known as Black Oaks. Some of the earliest families to arrive include the Simpsons and Chamberlains, both of whom figured prominently into the village’s early history.
Arriving in the early 1860s, the Harnew Family are among the earliest settlers in Oak Lawn. Pictured around 1888, the family’s home was located near 98th Street and Central Avenue.
After the Civil War concluded in 1865, a new wave of immigrants, many of them German, reached Illinois and settled in Black Oaks and surrounding communities. Carrying the traditions and beliefs from their previous homes, the new settlers started Lutheran services in 1867, and seven years later Trinity Evangelical Lutheran Church became the first organized congregation in Black Oaks. Despite a worldwide depression that began in 1873, new commercial structures, such as the first Brandt Tavern, were built along 95th Street during the 1870s. In addition, the Wabash Railroad connected the community, now known as Oak Lawn, to the rapidly growing City of Chicago in 1881. Consisting of only a few hundred residents, Oak Lawn experienced further growth in the late 19th Century with the founding of the First Congregational Church in 1891, construction of several small subdivisions, and the completion of Oak Lawn Lake.
Oak Lawn as it appeared around 1912. Larsen’s Hall, the site of Oak Lawn’s founding, is located on the left.
On February 4th, 1909, residents gathered in Larsen’s Hall on 95th Street to decide on the issue of incorporation. Due to the development of neighboring communities like Evergreen Park, the need for municipal services, and the perceived threat of an expanding Chicago, many supported the creation of a local government. By a count of fifty-nine in favor to four opposed, the vote for incorporation prevailed, and the Village of Oak Lawn was born. Soon after, Frank O’Brien was hired as the first Village Marshall, while the following years witnessed numerous improvements such as the laying of concrete sidewalks, grading of 95thStreet, introduction of gas and electric service, and construction of a village hall near 95th Street and Cook Avenue.