Recently, we took a look at the lesser-known history behind a few famous places in the city of Chicago. Now, let’s do the same, but out in the ‘burbs.
Chicagoans can take pride in the fact that suburban Woodstock was the filming location of the movie Groundhog Day.
Not so happy about that was Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania, the actual home of the famous groundhog and the town that Woodstock plays in the movie. So unhappy, in fact, that local officials refused to let the producers film with the real Punxsutawney Phil.
The movie used a series of unaffiliated groundhogs that were all named Scooter. They bit lead actor Bill Murray twice, who received precautionary rabies treatment after.
Is this Oxford? No, but it is Wheaton, Illinois. We’re talking about Blanchard Hall, the most prominent building on the campus of Wheaton College. The small, Christian liberal arts school was founded in its current form in 1860 by Jonathan Blanchard. Inspired by a trip he had taken to Oxford, Blanchard’s eponymous hall was designed very similarly to Oxford halls. It would soon become a stop on the Underground Railroad. Although the first part opened in 1853, the building would not be fully completed until 1927.
Ravinia Park, the music venue in Highland Park which hosts dozens of exquisite acts throughout the summer, is a unique and iconic cultural hub on the North Shore. It’s also situated on a tiny plot of land surrounded by residential homes and small streets. Why would you put a concert venue there?
Turns out it was originally an amusement park built 115 years ago as a deliberate sideshow, and it very nearly disappeared entirely in 1911. Looking to increase usage of the adjacent passenger rail line, thereby making the entire area more legitimized and attractive, the A.C. Frost Company built a baseball field, casino, dining rooms, and a dance floor.
The park failed when the railroad when bankrupt just a few years later, but a group of locals purchased the park to convert it into a music venue. To this day, Metra remains a relatively hassle-free way to access these concerts.
Some things have changed in south suburban Joliet, like the fact that Amazon is now its biggest employer. Others haven’t, like the fact that while the early McDonald’s in Des Plaines always got more attention, the first Dairy Queen was right in downtown Joliet, at 501 N Chicago St. It hasn’t been open for decades, but the original building still stands.
Elk Grove Village
The story of how Chicago has remained a world-class city by economic relevance is one of evolving industries and adapting with the times. This can apply to the suburbs too, and the story of Elk Grove Village is a prime example.
Once a sleepy farm town, a new planned suburban community in the 1950s wisely devoted significant areas for both residential and industrial areas, with the appropriate infrastructure to leverage its access to the new O’Hare Airport and multiple major railroads. Now, Elk Grove Village is home to the largest business park in North America, with the biggest concentration of manufacturers in the Midwest, and the biggest concentration of freight logistics firms.
It also could have become the home of the Chicago Bears. The last undeveloped piece of farmland was held for this purpose for some time before the decision was made to renovate Soldier Field. Although this part didn’t come to fruition, the story of Elk Grove Village in many ways embodies the resilience of Chicago.