Just 13 miles west of the Chicago Loop is the 2.4-square-mile town of Bellwood, IL, which is home to just over 19,000 people. Although the boundaries include the yards of the Union Pacific Railroad Proviso and the Eisenhower Expressway, life is far from the bustling activity of the city. With the motto “Your family is our future”, this town prides itself on its traditional values.
The beginnings of Bellwood, IL
The flat prairie created the perfect conditions for the farmland, which occupied this territory until the early 1890s. After the initial subdivision was established, several businesses were built. The owners of the first taverns lobbied to incorporate the village to avoid annexation by the dry town of Maywood. Incorporation occurred in 1900, and the town took the name from its second subdivision.
More people soon arrived, and the population doubled between 1910 and 1920. Many of the early residents were of Russian or German descent. The land west of Mannheim Road was annexed in 1926 and the migration continued, causing the population to increase to nearly 5,000 in 1930. Large industries settled in the eastern part after World War II. Residential development within other sections was encouraged by the local passenger rail service.
Bellwood, IL becomes a commuter’s paradise
Completed during the 1950s, the Eisenhower Expressway made Bellwood very attractive to commuters. The population more than doubled between 1950 and 1960, increasing to approximately 20,730. With little vacant land remaining, construction slowed and the population increased only slightly until 1970. This town received worldwide notoriety in the early 1970s when native Eugene Cernan traveled to space and then to the moon. Cernan left the last traces on the lunar surface and in his autobiography he paid tribute to his hometown.
During the same decade, the village received a different kind of publicity when it became involved in a United States Supreme Court case protesting the racial leadership of a local real estate company. In a landmark ruling, the Supreme Court granted municipalities legal rights regarding the use of testers and the ability to sue for discrimination. Between 1970 and 1990, Bellwood’s African-American population increased from 1.1 percent to 70 percent.
Although this town has changed in many ways, it is still a residential suburb with Georgian houses, ranches, and brick bungalows. Since the turn of the century, economic development has been given high priority. Located just minutes from Chicago and at the crossroads of various modes of transportation, access to and from this town is extremely convenient.