|The Austin Town Hall, now in Chicago, Illinois.|
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 Cicero Township police were withdrawn, replaced by 21 Chicago police officers.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.