It was hard-ball politics, Chicago style.
On this October 24th in 1899, the City of Chicago took over the independent Town of Austin - and Austin didn't like it one bit.
The people of Austin had wanted to keep their community of 4,000 separate from the big, bad city. A referendum had been held, and a majority of Austin voters voted against joining Chicago. But now it was happening anyway. The whole thing was un-American!
The story begins in 1865, when the Austin subdivision was created in the open prairie along the Chicago & North Western railroad line, seven miles west on Lake Street from downtown Chicago. The area was part of Cicero Township. Besides Austin, the township included the settlements of Cicero, Berwyn, and Oak Park.
Austin grew fast. In 1870, the Cicero Township Hall was built in the community at Lake and Central. Everything remained peaceful until 1898, when the Lake Street Elevated Railroad arrived on the scene.
The 'L' company wanted to extend its line from Chicago west to Austin Boulevard. The Town of Austin favored the extension, but the rest of Cicero Township did not. Since Austin controlled township government, the extension was approved.
That did it.
The rest of Cicero Township was tired of being pushed around by those snobs at Lake and Central. So they hatched a plot to get rid of Austin.
The City of Chicago was already eager to add more territory. And Austin was a nice, semi-affluent community with an attractive tax base. Petitions were gathered, and a referendum on the annexation of Austin was held on April 5, 1899.
The law said a majority of a township's voters had to approve any take-over by Chicago. More than half the voters within Austin rejected the annexation. But the rest of Cicero Township voted to let Chicago take Austin, by a huge margin. That was just enough to tip the outcome.
The anti-annexation Austin group was furious. They went to court and filed appeals. The Illinois Supreme Court ruled the referendum was binding. Like it or not, Austin was going to become part of Chicago
And so it was. On the evening of October 24th, Cicero Township police were withdrawn from Austin, replaced by 21 Chicago cops. Meanwhile, five Chicago firemen settled into the local fire house and began playing checkers. No resistance was encountered.
Though more than a century has passed since annexation, the Austin community still calls its park field house the Town Hall. And the 'L' line that started the whole ruckus now runs all the way through the Village of Oak Park.
Previous post in John R. Schmidt