Burnside has a history founded in the sweat and toil of the railroads that converged in the area and provided early development. This strong work ethic has continued to grow steadily over the years as the community has created new job opportunities with the establishment of nearby Chicago State University. More recently, there has been some concern about the natural progression of the area's elderly population. But civic organizations are working to improve the neighborhood and attract young families and singles to Burnside. Sprawling parkland, a public swimming pool, plenty of intramural sports and clubs, outdoor concerts, and a penchant for fun, family-oriented activities keep this Chicago neighborhood lively and entertaining to residents of all ages and interests.
The Burnside neighborhood on the southwest side of Chicago was originally known as Burnside Triangle because of the three railroad tracks that circumscribed its boundaries. As a result of its location along the trade route, Burnside developed as an industrial area that, like much of the city, was raised out of swampy wetlands. When the Illinois Central Railroad opened a commuter rail station in the neighborhood in the early 1860s, the community was officially recognized and was named after Ambrose Burnside, a Civil War general who also conveniently served as the treasurer of the railroad company. Just a fun fact to store away for future use: Ambrose’s bushy side whiskers were dubbed 'Burnsides" by locals of the day, an expression that was later reversed and introduced to the American lexicon as "sideburns."
Soon after the turn of the century, the growing area saw an influx of settlement as Eastern European immigrants poured in, taking unskilled jobs with the railroad companies and related industries. In little time, the fabric of the Burnside community was distinctly formed, as many of the residents were of similar ethnic background and worked similar blue collar jobs. The close-knit society in Burnside subsequently constituted itself as a somewhat isolated yet pleasant working-class residential neighborhood. However, during the years spanning both world wars, much of Burnside’s population—composed largely of Hungarians, Ukrainians, Poles and Italians—gradually left the area and were replaced mostly by middle-class African American families that had recently migrated from the southeastern United States.
Like much of the south side of Chicago, the neighborhood experienced a downturn beginning in the 1970s. Though it took several decades to recover and although the face of the community is considerably altered from what it once was, Burnside has again reemerged, returning to its roots as a comfortable and humble middle-class neighborhood.