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A working-class neighborhood near Midway International Airport, Archer Heights has seen an increase in the number of manufacturing and transportation facilities within its borders over the years. The community has recently grown in popularity as Midway Airport has undergone major renovations, becoming a welcome alternative to busy O'Hare International Airport. The changes have prompted fresh interest in Archer Heights, and an influx of new residents is giving this family-oriented neighborhood a much more cosmopolitan feel. Corner delis and markets, a smattering of bars and restaurants, and a couple big box shopping outlets along 47th Street, Pulaski Road and Archer Avenue provide all the conveniences of city living. Still, backyard barbecues and neighborly chats over the fence are commonplace here, and are one of the reasons Archer Heights residents stick around for years.
Archer Heights is a stable neighborhood of classic bungalows, raised ranches and brick two- and four-flats. Many of the single-family homes have small yards in front and back, and some also include garages—ah, the luxury. Although there are occasional condominium conversions, the area has not experienced the explosion in new condo and loft construction that other parts of the city have seen in recent years.
Residents of Archer Heights tend to be family-focused, and those who move here often stay for several years. In a survey given to neighborhood locals in 2005, almost 35 percent responded that they had lived in the community for five years or more. It’s no wonder, the tree-lined side streets, well-maintained sidewalks, and social neighbors provide a welcoming atmosphere for families with young children, newly married couples, retirees, and singles alike. We can picture it now… You’re out grilling steaks for dinner and old Mr. Jones from next door pops over the fence to chat about the weather. Sounds like a 1950s TV sitcom, but around here, it’s all reality.
Archer Avenue, like its diagonal cousin to the north Ogden Avenue, was an old Native American trail that was a frequented route to the bustling markets in the trade port of Chicago. The road was named for Colonel William Beatty Archer (1793-1870), a commissioner for the Illinois and Michigan Canal, which paralleled the road in the 1800s. Despite his claim to fame as a civil engineer, the land around his namesake avenue remained soggy prairie and sparsely used farmland until well into the 1900s. Neither the three railroads that encircled it in the 1880s
(Belt, Santa Fe and Indiana Harbor) nor annexation to Chicago in 1889 changed much of the district’s character or economic role.
Things began to change for Archer Heights when advancements in city transit made this southwest side neighborhood more accessible. Horse-pulled trolleys were introduced in the 1890s and later gave way to new electric streetcars in the first decade of the twentieth century. Connecting the neighborhood to the rest of the city, the incorporation of streetcars into Archer Heights prompted many thousands of immigrant laborers from Western Europe to settle in the neighborhood. Archer Avenue developed into a major thoroughfare, as did Pulaski Road, and they became the primary arteries that connected the neighborhood to the nearby stockyards and the business district downtown.
Early in the 20th century, land developers started to turn the south side of Archer Heights into a more residential area. 'Heights' was a crafty developer’s designation meant to impart a sense of prestige, even though the region sat no higher than any of the territory around it. Meanwhile, the land to the north was being eyed by industrial developers for manufacturing corporations. This split personality remains today with more then 60 percent of the Archer Heights’ area devoted to the manufacturing or transportation industries. After an initial post-World War II population boom, when manufacturing in the region attracted many people to move to the neighborhood for jobs at nearby factories and Midway Airport, the numbers waned in the 1960s as many residents left for the nearby southwestern suburbs.
Over the years, though, the neighborhood has remained steadfastly family-oriented, proud of its heritage and steeped in tradition. The permanence of the modest, well-kept housing combined with the large manufacturing presence has firmly embedded the character of Archer Heights and established it as a stable, self-sufficient community that continues to be a sought-after setting for many Chicagoans.
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