Austin is Chicago's largest community area both by population and by land area. The Austin community area is made up of four neighborhoods; Galewood, The Island, North Austin and South Austin.
In 1835, Henry DeKoven purchased prairie land in the region. In 1857, a group of citizens formed the Town of Cicero, a ten-member local governing body that covered modern day Cicero, Oak Park, Berwyn and Austin. Eight years later, DeKoven’s land was bought by Henry W. Austin. Austin, a businessman and real estate speculator, developed the namesake Austinville subdivision. Its population grew exponentially as the area’s attractive amenities and access to suburban railroad service drew in population. In 1870, the Town of Cicero placed its town hall in Austin. However, by the 1890s, the heavily populated Austin area dominated town politics, but did not constitute a majority of voters. The Austin controlled township government allowed the Lake Street Elevated to extend into Oak Park. Outraged, the other residents of Cicero Township voted to allow Chicago to annex the Austin area in an 1899 referendum. The residents of Austin voted against the referendum.
Austin's eastern boundary is the Belt Railway located just east of Cicero Avenue. Its northernmost border is the Milwaukee District / West Line. Its southernmost border is at Roosevelt Road from the Belt Railway west to Austin Boulevard. The northernmost portion, north of North Avenue, extends west to Harlem Avenue, abutting Elmwood Park. In addition to Elmwood Park, Austin also borders the suburbs of Cicero and Oak Park.
Cicero Township voted to allow Chicago to annex the Austin area in an 1899 referendum. The residents of Austin voted against the referendum.
Austin Community's Neighborhoods
- Galewood is named for Abram Gale who bought a farm on the area in 1838. The neighborhood is bordered by the Milwaukee District / West Line to the north, Harlem Avenue to the west, North Avenue to the south and Central Avenue to the east. The area is a historically Italian-American community with a sizable population of Chicago city employees. Since the 1980s, it has seen an increase in African American and Latino residents, but this integration has occurred peacefully in contrast with other areas of Chicago. Galewood has two stations on the Milwaukee District West Line. The first station, Mars station functions as a stop for employees of the nearby Mars, Incorporated factory and Shriners Hospitals for Children, the latter of which is located in Belmont Cragin. The Mars station only stops during traditional commuting hours. The second, Galewood station is located west of Mars station and is a regular service station. The neighborhood has strong ties with neighboring Montclare, including sharing a namesake library in the Chicago Public Library system, and is sometimes considered as part of that neighborhood and not the Austin community.
- The Island neighborhood is located in the southwest corner of the Austin community. It has a population of approximately 1,700 residents. It encompasses roughly a square mile and its western and southern borders are to the suburbs of Oak Park and Cicero respectively. It is further isolated from the rest of Austin by an industrial corridor to its east and railroad tracks and Interstate 290 to the north. It is only accessible from Austin Boulevard & Roosevelt Road. The Island was the last of Austin’s neighborhoods to integrate. In the 1980s, when the rest of Austin was over 70% African-American, the Island did not have a single African-American family. In 1984, when an African-American family attempted to move in on Roosevelt Road, they were met with violent resistance and shortly moved out. Politically, the area went heavily for Jane Byrne in the Democratic primary and for Edward Vrdolyak against Harold Washington in the 1987 mayoral election that broke down on racial lines. Today, the Island is an integrated community. The area, once industrial, has a diverse economy. Chicago Studio City, the largest film studio in the Midwestern United States, is located here. The films Transformers: Dark of the Moon, The Dark Knight and Public Enemies were partially filmed in The Island as were episodes of Empire and Shameless.
- South Austin is the area’s largest neighborhood. It is bordered by Division Street to the north, Austin Boulevard to the west, Roosevelt Road to the south and Cicero Avenue to the east. During the Austin area’s transition from a predominantly white community to a predominantly African-American community, the South Austin neighborhood was the first neighborhood to become African-American majority. The neighborhood is characterized by its numerous historic buildings. The neighborhood is home to six landmarks on the National Register of Historic Places; Austin Historic District, Austin Town Hall Park Historic District, Columbus Park, First Congregational Church of Austin, Joseph J. Walser House and the Seth Warner House. Austin Town Hall Park, modeled after Philadelphia's Independence Hall, is also in this neighborhood. It is also home to an additional seven Chicago Landmarks not listed on the National Register of Historic Places; Beeson House and Coach House, Hitchcock House, Laramie State Bank Building, Schlect House, F. R. Schock House, Marie Schock House and the Third Unitarian Church. The United States Postal Service operates the Reverend Milton R. Brunson Station Post Office at 324 South Laramie Avenue. South Austin has five Chicago "L" stops; Austin, Central, Laramie, and Cicero on the Green Line, and Cicero on the Blue Line.