Edison Park became a part of the city of Chicago in 1910, but its history doesn’t start there.
Native Americans originally inhabited the then-wooded Edison Park area, taking advantage of its proximity to the North Branch of the Chicago River, less than a mile away, and to the old trail (now Milwaukee Avenue) that led north to Wisconsin. In 1834, the Ebinger family settled just west of the river between what are now Touhy and Devon avenues. The Ebingers were on their way to Milwaukee, Wisconsin, on the old trail, but legend has it that their horse received a fatal snake bite, stranding them in the area north of Chicago where they were destined to stay for years to come.
The spot soon became a popular stopping point for other pioneers, many of them German farmers, who traveled along the trail because it was drier and less swampy than surrounding land. In 1835, the Illinois and Wisconsin Railroad laid tracks in the area and land developers followed, laying out blocks and streets for a new railroad community.
After the 1871 Chicago Fire, Edison Park saw its first real growth spurt as Chicago residents fled both the disaster and the city’s congestion for a quieter life in the suburbs. Developers hoping to attract city dwellers built ornate suburban houses along Olmsted, Oliphant, and Oxford avenues and installed electric streetlights at major intersections—cutting-edge technology at the time. Promoting it as Chicago’s first electric suburb, they asked Thomas Alva Edison’s permission to name the community in his honor, and he couldn’t refuse. In 1890, the area was named Edison Park.
Soon after, a hotel was built nearby which attracted visitors in to town for the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition in downtown Chicago. After all, the exposition was only two short train rides away. Several churches were built at the time, too, but despite this mini building boom, the area remained primarily farmland for years.
After toying with the idea of remaining an independent village, Edison Park finally voted to become part of Chicago in 1893 to take advantage of the city’s infrastructure and utilities. Unfortunately, those promised services didn’t arrive until after World War I, so the community’s growth was sluggish. Soon after the arrival of the long-awaited city services, however, development skyrocketed. Blocks of houses were built, including bungalows, Dutch colonials, and four-squares. Apartment buildings with storefronts also appeared, although the area remained primarily residential. In the 1920s, dozens of elm trees were planted as part of a community beautification project, some of which still tower triumphantly over the streets and houses of Edison Park today.
The end of World War II meant another surge in construction, as blocks of starter homes were built to serve both returning war veterans and their families, and workers at the new Douglas Aircraft factory near Orchard Field (now O’Hare International Airport). Edison Park continued to grow over the next few decades, attracting middle- and upper-class families. Its parks expanded in the 1970s to accommodate the growing number of children in the area. Today, Edison Park remains a stable residential community, with successful shopping and restaurant districts, respected schools, and convenient access to rail lines and O’Hare International Airport.