Although settled in the 1830’s, it took almost 60 years for the area that would eventually become Homewood to officially form a village government. That milestone was reached on Feb. 11, 1893, and so Homewood is celebrating its 125th birthday this year.
Although settled in the 1830’s, it took almost 60 years for the area that would eventually become Homewood to officially form a village government.
For years, residents had dealt with problems on their own or through public meetings. Some improvements were made by public subscription or through the generosity of leading citizens.
Many improvements, however, went undone. Homewood lacked paved streets, sidewalks and a water system. The town did not have police protection or an organized fire department. Homewood had long out grown this method of governance and the time had come for the community to have at least basic municipal services.
By the fall of 1892, local residents and businessmen Henry Gottschalk, Henry Moecker and August Steiner had become the prime movers behind the incorporation efforts.
They all agreed Homewood should have a village government, but they disagreed as to the territory the village should encompass.
Gottschalk and Moecker believed the village should include the area from 175th Street to 183rd Street and from Western to Ashland Avenues, including a small section bounded by what is now Dixie Highway on the east, the Illinois Central tracks on the west and Birch Road on the south.
Steiner, however, wanted the village to encompass all of the territory between 167th and 183rd Streets from Ashland to Western Avenues. Steiner pushed for inclusion of the area north of 175th Street, as he owned the 160 acres of land that comprises much of Calumet Country Club today.
Each side worked quickly to secure enough signatures on petitions to get their proposition on the ballot. The petitions filed first with the county would determine which proposal would be on a referendum ballot for the voters to decide.
Enough signatures were obtained by each group at about the same time but fate decided the ballot outcome. The Gottschalk-Moecker camp entrusted the U.S. mail to deliver their paperwork to the county clerk’s office.
In those days, mail sacks were picked up “on the fly” by trains passing through Homewood and the particular sack their petitions was in missed the train. Steiner, hearing word of this, took no chances and rushed to Chicago himself to deliver his petitions in person.
Through this twist of luck, Steiner’s proposition was the one that appeared on the ballot.
The referendum question was decided on Feb. 11, 1893, and a total of 72 men (women could not vote) cast ballots. By a vote of 43 “for” to 27 “against” with two spoiled ballots thrown out, the referendum passed.
Homewood would have a village government and the village limits would extend north to 167th Street. Despite the struggle to include this section in the village, residents in the area north of 175th Street, then known as South Harvey and now a part of Hazel Crest, petitioned the village board for approval to de-annex from the village in 1895.
The village board agreed to their request.
Six years later, in 1901, the residents of south Homewood, the area presently south of 183rd Street, north of Birch Road, west of Dixie Highway and east of the I.C. tracks successfully petitioned to be included in the village limits. In the end, the boundaries Gottschalk and Moecker envisioned became the actual limits of the village.
Election of the first village officers took place on April 18, 1893, and the Homewood Public Schoolhouse was the sole polling place.
August Steiner was elected Village President, Henry Guenther was elected to the village clerk’s position and the six trustees selected were Jabez Howe, George Mertens, Nelson Seymour, Carl Puhrmann, Samuel Black and Edmund Ball. William McClintock was elected to the position of police magistrate, a job alternately known as justice of the peace.
The first village board meeting was held in the old German schoolhouse and subsequent meetings were held in the homes of Fred Puhrmann (located near where St. Joseph’s Church parking lot now sits) and August Steiner until a decision was made on a new village hall.
Building a village hall was the first major project the new board would tackle. Potential sites were scouted and Henry Gottschalk even offered a vacant lot he owned in town for the building, provided it would be constructed of brick.
For reasons unknown, the board did not accept his offer. After months of discussion, a lot was purchased from Sidney Briggs for $225 in December 1893. This parcel was located on Clark Street (Chestnut Road) west of the Chicago-Vincennes Road (Dixie Highway) and is the site of the current village hall.
Bids were solicited for construction of a two-story frame building 26 feet wide, 40 feet long and 22 feet high.
Four bids were received and W.J. Parnell was awarded the contract for $1,485 in January 1894. Construction proceeded rapidly and the first village board meeting in the new building was held on April 30, 1894.
Parnell must have done a credible job as he was elected to a village trustee’s spot on April 17, 1894.
From these simple beginnings the village has grown to about 20,000 residents, and 2018 marks the 125th anniversary of its incorporation as a municipality. Events have been planned throughout the year to celebrate this occasion.
Jim Wright is a director with the Homewood Historical Society and author of several books about local history, including “Homewood Through the Years.” His latest book, “Homewood,” was published late last fall and is available at the historical society’s Dorband-Howe Museum, 2035183rd St., and at the Homewood Public Library, Homewood village hall and Suzie’s Hallmark, 18065 Harwood Ave.