Pleasantly wedged between the Calumet River and Lake Calumet, South Deering is a culturally diverse Chicago neighborhood that features cozy residential homes as well as an important center for industrial development. Single-family houses dominate the South Deering blocks with characteristic brick bungalows, spacious two-story abodes, mid-century ranches, and standard split-levels. Real estate prices in this part of Chicago are very affordable. However, as redevelopment takes hold here, some property values are expected to increase in the area. A smattering of quick bite eateries and a few local grocers are the bulk of South Deering commercial establishments and a handful of preschool and elementary schools cover the neighborhood's educational needs.
South Deering is a modest neighborhood of working class folks. It got its start in 1875 when the Joseph H. Brown Iron and Steel Company built a steel mill near the Calumet Lake. Irish, Welsh, English, Swedish, and German immigrant laborers flocked to the factory for jobs, and the ensuing settlement was known as 'Irondale.' It wasn’t until 1903 that community leaders renamed the small township South Deering as a cozy reminder of the wildlife in the area.
Just before the name change, the Brown Iron and Steel Company was bought out by International Harvester, an agricultural machinery manufacturer that was big business in the south side of Chicago. In terms of the local economy, it was an economically positive buyout that brought more jobs prosperity to the neighborhood. Throughout the early 1900s, other large manufacturers set up shop in the area. Wisconsin Steel, Gold Medal Flour Company, Illinois Slag and Ballast Company, and Federal Furnace Company all opened plants in South Deering, giving Chicago a social and financial boost by creating thousands of jobs and pumping money into the oft-ignored south side region.
Due to its manufacturing boom, the industrially wealthy area welcomed a surge of immigrant workers who came to call South Deering home throughout the early 20th century. During the 1920s Mexicans began to appear in South Deering’s strong job market and the 1940s brought African Americans looking for good wages and cheap rents as well. As the century progressed these new groups became the predominant ethnicities of South Deering neighborhood.
During 1938 and into the ‘40s, the Public Works Administration built Trumbull Park Homes, leasing it to the Chicago Housing Authority to accommodate low-income to lower-middle class families. As these homes were filled, World War II began and the male labor force was sent off to war. The women of South Deering took up the slack, filling the jobs at the industrial plants that had been abandoned by their husbands and sons. As the world rolled on after the effects of the war faded away, women maintained their role in the workforce and in positions at South Deering plants.
By the time the 1980s rolled around, South Deering was feeling the effects of a slowing manufacturing industry. The Wisconsin Steel plant closed in 1980, leaving many South Deering folks jobless and pension-less. Over $85 million in liabilities and pensions were weaseled out of by Wisconsin Steel when they sold out to the EDC Holding Company. However, as the neighborhood lagged in economic growth, it grew in community spirit. South Deering neighbors organized through churches, local politicians, and union officials, gaining power and a voice. As the job crisis continued, folks began to speak out against the unfair loss of retirement funds. In 1998, their efforts paid off. Locals sued the Harvester Corporation, who owned the Wisconsin Steel Company, for their rightful amount of pension and benefits and won over $14 million. Though the suit helped brighten the overall mindset of South Deering residents, the neighborhood is still recovering from the hard-felt economic decline that followed a healthy industrial livelihood.