Thursday, October 25, 2018

The Town of Austin, Illinois, was Annexed to Chicago against the towns wishes in 1899.

On October 25, 1899, the residents of the Town of Austin, Illinois, awoke and found their town had been annexed to the City of Chicago at 12:01 AM. And they didn’t like it. The residence wanted their community of about 4,000 people to remain a separate Illinois town. A referendum had been held, and the majority of Austin voters had been against joining Chicago. But it had happened anyway. The whole thing was called un-American. 
The Austin Town Hall, now in Chicago, Illinois.
The story began in 1865, when the Austin subdivision was created along the C&NW railroad line, seven miles due west of 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, the rest of Cicero Township did not. But since Austin controlled township government, the extension was approved.

That did it. The rest of Cicero Township was tired of being pushed around by the Austin minority. So they hatched a plan to get rid of Austin.

The City of Chicago was eager to add more territory. 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 April 5, 1899. The law stated that 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 have 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. Austin was to become part of Chicago.

October 24, 1899 was the last day for an independent Austin. Cicero Township police were withdrawn, replaced by 21 Chicago police officers. Five Chicago firemen settled into the Austin fire house. No local resistance was encountered.

Though over a century has gone by since annexation, The Austin community still calls its park fieldhouse "The Town Hall," nearly 120 years later, and... the ‘L’ line that started the ruckus now runs all the way through the Village of Oak Park. 

Compiled by Neil Gale, Ph.D. 

2 comments:

  1. A similar “land grab” happen in Jefferson Township

    In December of 1888, the town of Jefferson and Henry Wulff, County Clerk, found themselves on opposite end of a lawsuit filed in Superior Court of Cook County. The plaintiff, the town of Jefferson, alleged that Jefferson had been illegally annexed to the city of Chicago.

    E. J. Bronson, town Clerk, stated that the County Board ordered a vote by the people in the spring election for the annexation of Jefferson Township to Chicago. The plaintiff stated that none of the ballots cast in the spring election were printed with the question of annexation. However, in three out of seven precincts, some voters wrote out ballots for annexation. A total of 24 write-in votes were cast, which was only 2% of all the votes!
    The petitioner said that most of the voters in Jefferson were opposed to annexation to Chicago, but they did not understand that they were voting on this issue, as it was not printed on the ballots. Mr. Bronson believed that these few individuals were part of a conspiracy to vote in favor of annexation without the knowledge of the other voters.

    The township was officially annexed in 1889.

    ReplyDelete

The Digital Research Library of Illinois History Journal™ is rated PG-13. Please comment accordingly. Comments not on the article's topic will be deleted, along with advertisements.