Berwyn’s Rich History
On June 6, 1908, Berwyn became a city, receiving its official charter from the State of Illinois. Over the first two decades of the twentieth century, Berwyn developed in much the same way as other Chicago suburbs. It was a place in which, as The WPA Guide to Illinois states, “harried commuters relaxed in the evening, weeded gardens, set hens, and mowed their lawns.” In 1921, the central portion of the city began its rapid development, attracting large numbers of Czech families from the Pilsen area on Chicago’s near West Side to Berwyn and its neighbor to the east, Cicero. Literally, thousands of new homes were built each year. Berwyn has changed and grown over the years and continues to be an important suburb of Chicago.
The demographics of Berwyn is one thing that has changed. Berwyn is now over 60% Hispanic or Latinx. Berwyn prides itself on being a diverse and welcoming community that promotes diversity, inclusion, and a sense of community for everyone who chooses to call Berwyn home. With its history of development, connection to the original Route 66, and changing demographics, Berwyn has been and continues to be a beautiful microcosm of the United States. We believe Berwyn has the potential to lead the way in creating a diverse, inclusive, and thriving community that truly embodies the American dream. It is a city where small business owners, families, immigrants, and people from all walks of life can thrive. Below is a quick look at the characteristics of Berwyn by the numbers.
Berwyn is very proud of our Czech history. We have been known as the center of Czech life and culture in the Chicago area. At one time, Berwyn’s population was approximately 60% Czech. Through the decades, the heart of town, from a retail standpoint, has been 22nd Street, more commonly known as Cermak Road. The road honors the legacy of Anton J. Cermak, a famous Czech statesman and former mayor of Chicago. For a period Cermak Road earned the nickname “The Bohemian Wall Street” due to a large number of savings and loans that served the famously-frugal Czech residents of the area. In 1991, the Chicago Sun-Times reported that “Berwyn has the highest concentration of financial institutions in the world – a tribute to the frugality of its forebears.”
Families with Czech and Bohemian roots, together with many Italian-Americans, Greeks, Lithuanians, Poles, Yugoslavians, and Ukrainians, have been joined in recent years by Latino, African and Asian Americans who now call Berwyn home. As Berwyn grows in the 21st century, its traditionally hard-working, middle-class, mostly blue-collar families, who were admittedly conservative in their outlook, are joined by young, professional families and a growing population of LGBTQ residents.
When you tell someone that you are from Berwyn, they likely reply to you with an intense “BERRRWYN!” Maybe you recognize the tune or maybe you don’t. Rich Koz, Svengoolie, the horror show icon is known for poking fun of Berwyn on his show. As Svengoolie, he has helped put Berwyn on the pop culture map for many of his horror movie lovers.
Learn more about Svengoolie here.
BERWYN’S UBIQUITOUS BUNGALOW
Born in a rich history, Berwyn has the most significant collection of Chicago-style bungalows in the nation today and recently inspired Bungalow Appreciation Week within the State of Illinois. The Berwyn bungalow has also been honored as “Chicagoland’s Greatest Treasure” by American Bungalow magazine, and This Old House magazine named Berwyn “Best Neighborhood for Bungalows” nationally. Be sure to save the date for the Berwyn Historical Society’s annual Historic Berwyn Bungalow Tour in September for a taste of what we have to offer. Berwyn has also made it into the National Register’s list of Historic Places for the seventh time for its Central Berwyn Bungalow Historic District.
Residents of Berwyn enjoy some of the finest and most affordable housing available in the Chicagoland area. Predominantly single-family homes, the residential neighborhoods present a pleasant blend of old and new, situated along quiet tree-lined streets with meticulously maintained lawns and gardens. In addition, there are handsome multi-unit apartment complexes constructed in the early 1900s. A wonderful place to live, work and raise a family, generation after generation continues to call Berwyn their home.
BERWYN’S CONNECTION TO ROUTE 66
Berwyn’s Route 66 history is rich. The City’s development began in 1856 when the south side of town began to be acquired and divided into lots. At that time, the only mode of transportation between this community and the City of Chicago was by horse and buggy along Old Plank Road. After a short period, the planks became warped and worn.
In 1872, the Plank Road was renamed Ogden Avenue in honor of Chicago’s first mayor, William Butler Ogden. Portions of the road were bricked over by 1900 to accommodate the increasing traffic. In 1920, it was paved for smooth car travel. From 1926 to 1976, Ogden Avenue was designated as U.S. Route 66, connecting Chicagoans to Los Angeles.
Ogden Avenue was designed for automobiles when the car was king of American culture. A wide street lined with drive-through businesses and convenient parking served both travelers and residents. Drive-in restaurants, service stations, and auto dealerships sprang up on Ogden to cater to a mobile society. In its heyday, the strip boasted over a dozen car dealerships.
Today, Berwyn continues to celebrate its car culture with events like the Berwyn Rt66 Car Show held annually. Learn more about Berwyn’s Rt 66 car show.