Austin has a long history as a residential community near Chicago, as its own development, as a part of Cicero township and finally as a Chicago neighborhood. Austin’s history can be seen in the buildings, infrastructure and people who live here today.
Henry Austin bought 470 acres of marshland in 1865, and between 1870 and 1920, “Austinville” became “Austin”. An extension of the Lake Street train line made Austin reachable from downtown Chicago, and it began to thrive. Thus began Austin’s heyday, and for the next 50 years, it experienced a social and economic evolution from small town to bustling borough of Chicago. During this time Columbus Park, Austin Town Hall, and mansions of west-central Austin were envisioned, planned, and built. Austin continued to grow and flourish for the next 45 years. The prosperity began to attract families of all ethnicities and races, including middle class black families looking for better neighborhoods than those segregation had sequestered them to. (“Share Stories about Austin’s Early Years”)
As these families moved to Austin, a dramatic change occurred that reflected the struggles of America, and changed Austin in the eyes of many residents, practically overnight. As racial tensions reached a new climax in the mid-1960’s, whites flew at the sight of upwardly mobile black families moving into their neighborhoods. Austin became a victim of the times, a fate that Austin is still struggling to escape today. Racist and predatory housing speculators, banks, and elected officials used such practices as “blockbusting” and “red lining” to drive down real estate value and systematically turn Austin from a thriving social and industrial hub to a depressed economic area. (“Share Stories about Austin during the 60’s & 70’s”)
Austin residents are proud to be from the Westside of Chicago and are deeply connected to their families, neighbors, churches, and other community institutions. During the past 30 years, Austin’s history is marked by battles between Austin civic groups and broader economic, political, and social forces that have challenged community development. (“Share Stories about Austin from the 80’s til Now”)