Chicago's Norwood Park Inspired by a 1868 Novel

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Chicago's Norwood Park Inspired by a 1868 Novel
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Norwood Park Historical Society, Chicago. (Photo courtesy of Robert Levy.)

Located in Chicago's far northwest side is a lovely, mostly residential neighborhood filled with a rich history, Victorian-style homes, and a local diner made famous not only for their all-American breakfast entrees, but also for hosting a former U.S. president.

A Novel Inspires a Community

The quaint Norwood Park community, which is located between Harlem Avenue to the west, Devon to the north, the Kennedy Expressway to the south, and Nagle Avenue to the east, was originally named simply Norwood after a town in Henry Ward Beecher's 1868 novel "Norwood, Or, Village Life in New England." When it was soon discovered that another town in Illinois had that name, the Norwood neighborhood was renamed Norwood Park.

Settlers such as Mark Noble and Henry Rincker first came to what was known as Jefferson Township in 1833, but after frustration with the services offered by that community, residents of the village and surrounding areas formed Norwood Park Township, which was incorporated in 1874. Chicago annexed the township in 1893.

Stunning Piece of History

One of the neighborhood's most impressive buildings, Norwood Park Historical Society, is a stunning piece of architecture, and the historic structure is filled with exhibits, a museum, and details of the fascinating history of Norwood Park.

In 1988, the Noble-Seymour-Crippen House at 5622-24 N. Newark Ave., headquarters for the Norwood Park Historical Society and the oldest surviving home in Chicago, received Landmark Status from the City of Chicago. The house was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in August 2000.

A 1907 real estate sales brochure described Norwood Park as a place with "proper living conditions, fresh air and sunshine, good surroundings, a healthy religious activity, … [and], no saloons," according to the NPHS website.

A 'Dream Location'

Upon a recent visit to the area, I talked to lifelong resident Kathryn Thompson, 53, who called Norwood Park her "dream location." She raised five children and now cares for her elderly mother.

"Norwood Park is my home, and my neighbors are like family to me. I watched their children grow up; we all walk our dogs around the area and look out for one another. I can't imagine living anywhere else," said Thompson.

Thompson's favorite place in her community is the park that bears the same name as the neighborhood. Norwood Park is a beautiful, 14-acre property that includes a pool with the north side's only outdoor water slide, a fitness center, sports programs, and cultural activities.

"For me, the park is the anchor of Norwood Park. Me and my kids spent a lot of quality hours playing there, and I have happy memories. This area is like living in the suburbs, but we have all the conveniences of the city. I take the train in to work every day and then walk home. I love it here."

The 'W' diner

Residents and visitors still like to talk about the "George W. Bush diner," Norwood Family Restaurant at 6101 N. Northwest Highway. The former president joined then-Mayor Richard M. Daley for lunch here during Bush's first term. To this day, regardless of political affiliation, customers enjoy visiting the Presidential Booth and share in a piece of national history.

Over a century since its formation, the neighborhood of Norwood Park still has retained much of its idyllic charm, with beautifully maintained homes and park area.

Robert Levy has a diverse background in the arts and has had the pleasure of interviewing professional actors, musicians, producers, and civic leaders. In addition, Robert is a Chicago-based musician and artist who has produced several CDs and been featured and interviewed on "Chicago Acoustic Underground," "Chic-A-Go-Go," and WLUW.

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