|Lost Towns of Illinois - Village of Harlem, Illinois (1884-1907)|
In 1839 a French-Indian trader, Leon Bourassa, received a land grant from President Martin Van Buren of 160 acres along the Des Plaines River north of what is now Roosevelt Road. By this time, the Indians had been banished to west of the Mississippi River, but one Indian maiden remained to tend the graves of her ancestors. According to legend, she married Leon and they settled here on land which is now part of Forest Home Cemetery. The deed for the government land Bourassa purchased was personally signed by President Martin Van Buren.
Two prominent families arrived in the 1850s and became the first subdividers of the area. The Henry Quick family arrived in Noyesville from Harlem, New York. Quick soon became a prominent landholder and lent his original hometown's name (Harlem) to the eastern portion of Noyesville as well as to Harlem Avenue. The David Thatcher family settled to the west of Harlem Avenue and named their portion of the community Thatcher.
The railroad came in 1856 bringing with it a workforce who settled here thus claiming the date of the community’s first settlement as 1856.
A German immigrant, Ferdinand Haase, purchased a 40-acre tract of land in 1851 which he eventually enlarged to 240 acres and turned into a popular park for residents and city dwellers, mostly from Bourassa. Haase built a home styled after the manors of New Orleans that he had seen. When he buried three members of his family near the homestead, they became the first white settlers to be interred here.
When the Chicago and Galena Union Railroad, (now the Northwestern) established a division where Des Plaines Avenue now approaches the track in 1856, it marked the beginning of public transportation in the area. Soon after the railroad arrived, a nearby landowner, John Henry Quick, purchased a farm on the site of what is now River Forest and built a two-story boarding house. At the same time, Mr. Israel Heller erected a store building nearby. There being no municipal control, Mr. Quick named everything that needed a name Harlem, after his hometown in New York City.
In 1856, the Chicago & Galena Union Railroad opened a shop and roundhouse at today's Des Plaines Avenue and Lake Street, bringing 25 men and their families to settle there.
In the aftermath of the Chicago Fire in 1871, many refugees came to this community to build their homes.
In 1881 a small railway called The Dummy Line was built from Chicago’s west side to the cemeteries.
For several decades after 1880, a small excursion boat called the White Fawn took sightseers up and down the Des Plaines River. Docking facilities were at Haase Park, a popular picnic grove of the time.
The Village of Harlem, which was comprised of the vast area which later became River Forest and a portion of Oak Park, was incorporated in 1884. Twenty gas streetlights were installed throughout town in 1886. They came complete with a lamplighter who received a salary of $12 per month. A sausage factory started in 1890 by Karl Lau became the areas the first industry. The Metropolitan Westside 'L' began electrified rapid transit service in 1895. Because it ran through Garfield Park, it became known as the Garfield Line.
In 1897, the installation of electric lighting for "whomever desired this service," was available to those living on or doing business on Madison Street. The telephone came in 1898.
When the village applied for its own Post Office, they were informed this was not possible since there already was a Harlem, Illinois with a Post Office on the northern fringe of Rockford. Hence, a new name for the Village had to be selected. A contest was held and the last portions of the name of the town North and East were joined in a clever manner - namely Forest Park. At a village hall meeting August 12, 1907, a resolution was passed changing the name of the Village of Harlem to the Village of Forest Park.
The Forest Park Amusement Park opened at Desplaines Avenue and Harrison Street in Forest Park in 1907. It was one of the most spectacular amusement parks in its day, featuring a roller coaster superstructure. Read about the entire life of Forest Park Amusement Park IN DETAIL, and view over 25 amazing images.
Compiled by Neil Gale, Ph.D.