In 1830 an energetic and determined settler named John J. Monell purchased 320 acres of Illinois prairie and forest. Later in 1839 he expanded this to 640 acres. This beautiful land, with gently rolling hills mixed with open fields situated 18 miles south-west of the growing city of Chicago, would eventually become the village of Clarendon Hills that we know today.
However, it wasn’t until the railroad arrived in Clarendon Hills that the village really began to take shape, and the legacy and culture of one of Chicago’s premier suburbs was cemented. When built in 186, the Chicago Burlington & Quincy Railroad (now the Burlington Northern Railroad) brought commerce, tourism, and new life to the quiet unassuming prairie that was Clarendon Hills.
In fact, James M. Walker, attorney and president of the Chicago Burlington & Quincy Railroad, was so enamored with Clarendon Hills that he purchased all the land south of the tracks, while Henry C. Middaugh took control of the land north of the tracks. In 1870, due to the increase in population, the village’s first school house was built with room enough for one teacher and twenty pupils.
It was during these burgeoning years that Frederick Law Olmsted, prominent landscape architect and city planner of the mid 1800s, influenced the design of Clarendon Hills’ most unique features: its curved streets. Unlike other contemporary cities and villages at the time – which relied on the grid system of roads – the village planners felt that a street system that contoured the land would be both visually appealing and convenient. Thus the famed curved streets of Clarendon Hills were born, many of them bearing the name of prominent original Clarendon Hills residents such as Middaugh, Walker, Holmes, Cook, and McIntosh.
In the early 1900s, Clarendon Hills hit a rough patch as land speculation increased, but buyers for the property were few and far between. However, the first permanent store and post office were built in 1916. The building that housed both establishments still stands today and is one of the oldest buildings in the village. Fortunately, the village of Clarendon Hills began growing again in the 1920s, thanks again in part due to the railroad. During this time the Hinsdale Golf Club was established inside village limits and Ogden Avenue was transformed from a small Indian trail into a major thoroughfare that ran all the way into the city of Chicago. In 1924 Clarendon Hills was finally incorporated as a village, and Mr. Orrin Goode became the first president.
Clarendon Hills became known as “the volunteer community” as many village services, including the village parks, fire department, and public library were run, and continue to be so, extensively by volunteers. Although run almost exclusively by volunteers, the Clarendon Hills Public Library continues to garner top numbers in circulation rates and total book quantity for a village of its size. This spirit of volunteerism continued through the first two world wars as Clarendon Hills lent many of its fine young men and women to help fight evil and oppression abroad. A monument to those who perished during World War II stands outside Village Hall to this day.
Over the years, people of many unique and diverse religious faiths have made Clarendon Hills their home. The first church to be organized became the Community Presbyterian Church. The Roman Catholics established their first church in Clarendon Hills in 1954; The Notre Dame Parish, and shortly thereafter the first Episcopal church, the Church of the Holy Nativity, was founded. Finally, in 1951, a Lutheran congregation also began to settle in Clarendon Hills and their first permanent home was established in 1955. Many of these churches remain to this day, and are still prominent institutions in the village life of Clarendon Hills, and continue to draw members from both within the community and from the surrounding area.
The 1950s also saw the introduction of many clubs to Clarendon Hills. The most prominent of which was The Lions Club, which built the village’s first swimming pool on land donated by one of Clarendon Hills’ wealthy initial settlers. Two women’s clubs also began, as well as a civic club and a popular garden club, all of which have had a major impact on the development of Clarendon Hills by contributing to the beautification of the village and by increasing public services such as parks and recreation. These programs and groups helped nurture the village and by the 1970s the population of Clarendon Hills had reached 8,000.
Throughout the 1980s Clarendon Hills continued to grow. Many unique village events took shape during this decade including Daisy Days, a community celebration in June named after the village’s humble beginnings as a daisy field; Dancin’ in the Streets, an eight week concert series for all ages during the summer months; Oktoberfest, sponsored by the Lions Club; and the annual Christmas Walk and Holiday Tree Lighting, complete with carriage rides and an appearance by Santa Claus himself. These evens continue to contribute immensely to the cultural specialness of Clarendon Hills.
In the 1990s Clarendon Hills embarked on massive renovation and improvement projects. The first of which, the Road Improvement Program, was aimed at renovating the villages aging road system with contributions from both residents and the village government. In 1998 Clarendon Hills embarked on a Downtown Beautification Program, using a Downtown Master Plan and a design review committee, with an extensive street-scape plan that included wider sidewalks, new landscaping, flower beds, wrought iron fences, decorative cobblestone, and a gazebo in the village center. Additionally, a TIF district was established along the Ogden Ave. corridor to help revitalize the area and to bring in more revenue to help the community.
During the 1990s and early 2000s, Clarendon Hills also became a mecca for the “tear-down phenomenon,” which is the replacement of smaller, older homes with newer, larger ones. By the early 2000s, approximately 25% of the villages older, single-family homes were replaced with new ones. However, many historic and more intimate houses still exist in Clarendon Hills, vigorously defended by residents against the encroachment of larger homes. A brand new middle school, the Clarendon Hills Middle School, and a rebuild of a local elementary school, Prospect School, and the construction of a brand new police station all took place during this vibrant period of growth.
Unfortunately, in 2004 the Middaugh Mansion, long a cultural and historic symbol of Clarendon Hills, and the only such structure from the village in the National Register of Historic Places, was torn down to make room for a sanctuary for the Notre Dame Church and a larger parking lot. A grass roots movement by village members managed to save many of the artifacts contained within the mansion, many of which are now being protected by the Clarendon Hills Historical Society.
To this day, Clarendon Hills continues its renewal and growth with top rated schools, new housing and business developments, and expanding community events all while staying true to its small, friendly volunteer community roots and character.
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