History of Tinley Park, Illinois
The Potawatomi Indian tribe hunted and fished in the area where present-day Tinley Park draws its boundaries. Although other Native American tribes like the Kaskaskias (Illini), the Ojibwa (Chippewa), and the Ottawas occasionally roamed the area, it was the Potawatomi tribe that was most closely associated with this region before European settlers arrived. The forest-dwelling Potawatomis undoubtedly found game plentiful in this fertile region of trees and swamps, but another attraction was the availability of convenient transportation. The Kankakee River (roughly 15 miles southwest of the village) and the Des Plaines River (about 15 miles northwest) were important routes for both Native Americans and French fur trappers.
Although these people were primarily transient hunters, there is some archaeological evidence for long-term settlement by Native Americans before explorers from Europe began to move through the area. Excavations at one Native American site (on land owned by the Oak Forest Hospital) uncovered eight large dwellings that were estimated to have been occupied around 1680. Flint arrowheads, pottery fragments, bone tools, and a seashell pendant were found at the site, as well as the bones of some animals that are now extinct or rare in Illinois (passenger pigeons, river otters, sandhill cranes, and elk, for example).
As successive waves of European nations "discovered" North America, Spain, England, and France all claimed this part of the continent as their own before the ownership issue was finally settled by the Revolutionary War. Governmental jurisdiction continued to change, however. After 1776 this area became part of the state of Virginia. Congress established the Northwest Territory in 1787, which in turn was subdivided such that this region became part of the Indiana Territory in 1800. Illinois became a state in 1818, but it was only through the efforts of a territorial delegate named Nathaniel Pope that the land bordering southern Lake Michigan was included; otherwise, Tinley Park (and Chicago itself) might now belong to Wisconsin.
Shortly after the Blackhawk War of 1832, a treaty was signed with the Potawatomi, Chippewa, and Ottawa Indian tribes surrendering all territory in northern Illinois and Wisconsin. Several thousand Indians in the region were relocated to lands west of the Mississippi. Various Native American cultures had been bonded to this land for thousands of years; now people representing a very different culture moved in.
Permanent settlement in this area began in the late 1820s. Many of the first settlers were emigrants from the eastern United States. At the time, land in this area could be purchased directly from the U.S. government for $1.25 per acre. The earliest pioneers established two small farming settlements near dense timberlands north and northeast of the present village, known as Batchelor [sic] Grove and Cooper's Grove. Other settlers from Germany, Ireland, Scotland, England, and Canada soon joined them. Those of Germanic origin began to arrive in the late 1840s and would be the predominant nationality immigrating to this area for many years.
John Fulton and his family were typical of early settlers in this region. Emigrating from Belfast, Ireland in 1835, he lived in New York State for a time, finally settling in Bremen Township in 1844. He built a homestead on what is now Central Avenue, about one-half mile north of 167th Street (the location of his farm is part of Yankee Woods today). Fulton purchased a two-story house in 1858 or 1859, and it eventually became the home of his son, John Fulton, Jr. The house still stands at 16806 Oak Park Avenue.
Postal service began at Batchelor Grove in 1843, and at Cooper's Grove in 1848. After township governments were established in Cook County in 1850, the two Post Offices were renamed Bremen and New Bremen, respectively.
Immigration and the Railroad
From the 1840s through the 1890s, a large number of Germans immigrated to the United States to escape poverty and unrest in their own country. So many Europeans traveled through the seaport of Bremen to this region, in fact, that the naming of Bremen Township (and subsequently the two regional post offices) was an easy decision. A census taken in 1850 shows that, of approximately 250 inhabitants in Bremen Township, 96 had been born in Germany, 50 were Irish immigrants, and the rest were a mixture of Americans, Canadians, Scots, and English.
A large number of the immigrants had been farmers in Europe, where land had become scarce. For these adventurous, industrious people, Illinois offered plentiful and inexpensive farmland. They traveled here by boat, horse-drawn wagon or on foot – until a faster method of transportation arrived. From 1850 to 1851, the Chicago and Rock Island Rail Road Company bought the right-of-way to lay track from Chicago to Joliet. By October 1852, the railroad line to Joliet had been completed.
The community of Bremen (later to become Tinley Park) was officially established along the path of the railroad when Dr. Samuel Rush Haven filed a plat of subdivision in 1853. Some of the individuals who had lived at Batchelor Grove (located three miles north of Bremen) settled in the new village, along with new immigrants and others from the region. The population of Batchelor Grove began to dwindle as settlers moved toward the greater economic opportunities offered by the railroad or established communities such as Blue Island.
The railroad has been called the "single greatest economic factor in the history of the community" of Tinley Park. During the 1850s, almost the entire population worked for the railroad, either directly or indirectly. By 1854, the Rock Island railroad had been extended to the Mississippi River, and Samuel Tinley, Sr., was hired as station agent for the Bremen depot. When the New Bremen Post Office was moved to the village in 1854, the town became known popularly as New Bremen. Dr. Moses R. Ballard became the first postmaster—and the first physician—in the new village.
New Bremen became a natural center for commerce in the area. The railroad brought ever more settlers, so that by 1861 the community could boast a hotel, three carpenters, a blacksmith, a cobbler (shoemaker), a wagon maker, two merchants, and a pair of saloons.
One of the most popular Tinley Park landmarks, the "Saenger Halle" (Singer's Hall), was constructed as an addition to an existing building that had been built by Carl F. Vogt around 1858. The original two-story frame building included a saloon and general store, as well as residential space upstairs. Carl sold the business to his younger brother Henry Vogt, Sr., who focused more on the mercantile side of business while leasing the tavern to other saloonkeepers. Eventually Henry built a larger general merchandise store, the "Bremen Cash Store," across the street from the saloon. In 1903 he expanded the saloon with the addition of a large banquet room.
In the late 1800s, German singing societies were quite popular, and regular singing competitions were held between clubs in neighboring communities; among them, Blue Island, Frankfort, and Joliet. Although Henry Vogt, Sr. called his new banquet room the Saenger Hall, no record of a Tinley Park singing club has been found.
To the south and east of the building (where the Ameritech/Illinois Bell facilities are now located) was a picnic grove with linden trees, known as the Linden Garden. The Linden Garden, in conjunction with the saloon and hall, was a popular site for picnics, parties, rallies, wedding receptions, Harvest Festivals, dances, plays and musicals (many performed by the local school children), bowling, roller skating and ice skating, and movies.
The Saenger Hall was acquired by the American Legion in 1961. Sadly, on August 30, 1962 this local landmark was destroyed by a fire that started accidentally during renovations. The present American Legion Hall stands on the south end of the building site. Saenger Hall was one of the most popular gathering places in Tinley Park and served as the social and festive heart of the town for over a hundred years.
The first public school was constructed in 1863. It was replaced with a larger building in 1880, which was eventually used as the first village hall.
As the Civil War began in 1861, New Bremen had roughly 100 inhabitants. A number of men from Bremen and Orland Township volunteered for service with the North, despite the fact that many were recent immigrants.
In 1868 a German immigrant named Christian Goesel settled along Bachelor Grove Road (now called Oak Park Avenue), near the current intersection with 147th Street, and built a general store. The Goeselville Post Office was established in 1884, and it operated as a satellite of the New Bremen/Tinley Park Post Office until 1903, when it closed due to a decline in the population served. At its peak, the small community was home to approximately thirty people, and the store supplied groceries, dry goods, clothing, and hardware to farmers of the area. Eventually absorbed by Oak Forest (and Cook County Forest Preserve land), Goeselville is now little more than a memory. The name still appears on some maps (primarily because of the former post office), roughly marking the vicinity of the original Batchelor Grove settlement.
The community of New Bremen continued to grow rapidly after the war. A huge wind-powered gristmill was built in 1872 to help supply the needs of local farmers. Grain from surrounding farms was brought to the windmill and ground into flour. The towering mill, which stood at what is now the corner of Oak Park Avenue and 171st Street, was greatly admired by artists of the time; but wind energy is too unreliable for regular operation, and the mill became too costly to run. The windmill ceased operation in the 1890s. Until its demolition in 1911, it was a prominent local landmark and the subject of a number of photographs and artists’ renderings.
By 1884 New Bremen included two general stores, two wagon shops, two blacksmith shops, a cheese factory, and a grain elevator (to supplement the gristmill). The Zion Lutheran Church was dedicated that year, and it still stands at 6727 W. 174th Street, Known locally as the "Old Zion Landmark Church," it is the oldest church building in the community and home to the Tinley Park Historical Society and Museum.
Incorporation of the Village
By the early 1890s, New Bremen counted over 200 citizens. The local Post Office had already changed its name from New Bremen to Tinley Park in October 1890, although contemporary newspaper accounts suggest that the name was not universally approved by the community. Samuel Tinley, Sr., who had served as the local railroad station agent from 1854 to 1880, was an important figure in the community and possibly the longest continuous resident of the town, so it was natural that his name should be suggested in connection with naming the village.
Both economic and political factors drove the inhabitants to look favorably toward incorporation. At the time, Chicago was annexing a number of unincorporated communities, partly to boost population to meet the requirements for hosting a World’s Fair (the Columbian Exposition of 1892-93). There was some concern that local citizens would lose their ability to control local issues should Chicago decide to extend its reach further. Economics also entered into the equation since, as an incorporated Village, a local government could levy property taxes and raise other revenues to better the community. Some of the first activities of the Village Board were to improve the existing roads and build bridges, so roadway maintenance was probably a factor advancing the decision to incorporate.
In any case, the leading citizens of New Bremen decided that it was time to be officially recognized as a village by the state of Illinois. On June 27, 1892, the settlers met in the depot of the Rock Island and Pacific Railroad, and voted 34 to 24 to seek incorporation as a new village within Cook County. Judge Frank Scales approved incorporation the next day. The first Tinley Park village board was elected a month later, and consisted of the following:
Village President . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Henry Vogt
Village Clerk . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Henry C. Andres
Trustees . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Jacob Funk
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . John Klepper
. . . . . . .. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . William Lawerenz
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Henry Mohr
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Henry Sipple
Keeper of the Calaboose (Jail) . . . . . Henry Boldt
Needless to say, it appears that anyone named "Henry" was a strong candidate for the election.
In 1894 Mr. Fred Schmeidenicht was appointed as the combined Village Marshal and “Lamplighter” (an occupation seldom seen in modern times). The first Village Engineer, P.R. Fletcher, was chosen in 1895. Any village trustee who missed a board meeting was fined $1.50—a considerable sum of money at the time.
In 1898, telephone communication arrived in Tinley Park when the Chicago Telephone Company, a predecessor to SBC Ameritech, set up a single instrument in Henry Andres' general store. After John Funk took over the store in 1901, the local switchboard was kept in his home (directly above the store) and the equipment was staffed 24 hours a day. Viola Wilke was the first switchboard manager and operator.
The village purchased a lot on Andres Avenue (now 173rd Place) in order to dig a municipal well, and the first water tower was built directly above it in 1899. Villagers who tapped into the water main were assessed $3.00 per faucet. Both the Village Hall and the jail (known as the "calaboose") were later moved to the same property, adjacent to the water tower.
A municipal water system was considered a sign of a progressive community, but it also improved its fire protection capabilities. Most of the buildings in town were wooden structures, and the Great Chicago Fire of 1871 was undoubtedly still a vivid memory for older adults. The Tinley Park Volunteer Fire Department was organized in 1901 with 20 fire fighters. By this time, the village had a population of nearly 300.
By 1900, the board voted to have the Village clerk notify citizens who kept horses or cattle hitched to posts along the street not to do so. Mrs. Martha E. Bettenhausen was one of the first to run afoul of the ordinance. She was asked not to tie her cow up on the streets of the village, and that she "would be held liable for all damages that might occur if it continued.”
Industry arrived in Tinley Park when the first factory was built on the southeast edge of town in 1904. The Diamond Spiral Manufacturing Company made washing machines and butter churns. A second factory, constructed in 1907, was involved in the manufacture of "Ironite," a compound used to make waterproof cement. Both businesses centered on the innovations of local inventor and entrepreneur John M. Rauhoff.
Electric lights were turned on for the first time in 1909 when the Tinley Park Electric Light and Power Company began to generate electricity. As electric streetlights were installed, the occupation of “Lamplighter” became a thing of the past.
Organized in 1912, the Bremen State Bank was the only financial institution in the village for many years. It was owned and operated by local townspeople.
The I.N.R. Beatty Lumber Company opened a local lumberyard in 1915.
The Roaring Twenties Through the Wartime Forties
By 1922 Tinley Park approved its first automobile ordinance, requiring a registration fee of $2.00 for each vehicle operating within the village. The popularity of motorcars came with a penalty, however. At the September 10, 1923 Village Board meeting, another ordinance was approved “relative to speed limits of motor driven cars: 15 miles per hour on straight roads, and 10 miles per hour on turns or curves.” Those who disobeyed the speed limits could be fined from $5.00 to $20.00.
Heavily dependent on farming, Tinley Park was not immediately affected by the stock market crash of 1929. During the early 1930s, however, regional bank assets plummeted as the Great Depression took its toll. Like others across the nation, local storeowners like Henry Vogt and John Funk offered more liberal credit terms and payment plans to area families. Cash was scarce, so some residents paid their bills with farm produce (the barter of produce was not uncommon at the time, however). Bremen State Bank, which had opened in 1912, was one of the few banks in the area that did not close other than when required to do so during the Depression.
About 250 men and women from the village served in World War II—roughly 15 percent of the population at that time.
The village boundaries were enlarged greatly after the war, particularly with respect to the Parkside Subdivision. With the increase in land area came rapid population increases, as these decennial census figures show.
1950 – 2,326
1960 – 6,392
1970 – 12,382
1980 – 26,171
1990 – 37,121
2000 – 48,401
In 1956 a major tornado smashed the west end of town, leaving 75 people homeless and $250,000 in damage. Another twister did extensive damage in 1963. Fortunately, no lives were lost in either natural disaster.
The Tinley Park Mental Health Center was opened in 1958, Located at 183rd and Harlem Avenue, the state facility primarily served the southern half of Cook County, plus Will and Grundy counties. It was officially closed on July 2, 2012.
Another major employer, Panduit Corporation, moved to Tinley Park in 1960. Panduit manufactures wiring components and communication products.
Every town is built on the strength of individuals. In addition to the personages mentioned above, Tinley Park is proud to be the birthplace of five renowned Indy 500 drivers: Tony Bettenhausen, his sons Gary, Merle, and Tony Jr., and their cousin Emil Andres; all of whom were natives of Tinley Park.
Several inventors called the village home, as well, including John M. Rauhoff, who invented both the Diamond Spiral washing machine and the “Ironite” additive for waterproofing cement mentioned above, among other items; and John Poorman, who invented a popular, inexpensive chicken brooder that kept eggs warm the natural way—with feathers. Poorman is also credited with inventing other poultry-related products.
More information about the history of Tinley Park may be found by researching the records at the Tinley Park Public Library, or by visiting the Tinley Park Historical Society Museum (open Wednesdays from 10:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m.).
Glenn Kersten, Reference Librarian,
Tinley Park Public Library
Brad L. Bettenhausen, President,
Tinley Park Historical Society
1 This price was well established and well known to new settlers. Even if purchased from real estate brokers, new settlers typically paid the $1.25 per acre price, since many of the real estate brokers, and some settlers, were purchasing land using Land Warrants issued by the U.S. to individuals for military service. The warrants entitled them to a certain number of acres of the warrant in areas designated as “military tracts,” which included all of Northern Illinois. Many individuals who received these warrants did not wish to move from their settled lives in the Eastern states to the unknown of the “new West,” and sold them at discounted prices from the equivalent cash value of the warrant acres multiplied by the $1.25 per acre price. As a result, real estate speculators could purchase land warrants at substantial discounted per acre prices, and then resell to settlers at the well known and established $1.25 per acre price, assuring themselves a handsome profit in the process. The warrants were even openly traded like stocks and bonds in the New York exchange (then located in Albany NY), frequently at prices equivalent to 75 cents per acre.—Brad L. Bettenhausen]
2 From Tinley Park 125 Anniversary, 1845 – 1970, page 15.
3 The Goeselville Post Office replaced the East Orland Post Office, which had operated in the vicinity from 1878 to 1884.
4 One of the “leading citizens” of the community, Dr. Charles W. Bishop, was involved in a real estate development southeast of the village, from which lots were to be sold at the Columbian Exposition. It is possible that the name change was proposed to improve the marketability of the project by selecting a name that was less German sounding than New Bremen. Samuel Tinley, Sr. was born in England, and you could not get a name less German in a mostly German town than "Tinley." “Park” was a popular suffix in the time because of the positive, pastoral images it evokes, as evidenced by the number of other communities similarly named – Oak Lawn, Oak Park, Orland Park, Evergreen Park, Park Forest, Morgan Park, Gage Park, etc.—Brad L. Bettenhausen
5 The Parkside Subdivision was planned and developed by A.A. Lewis in 1947, and consisted of approximately 160 acres bounded by 167th Street on the north, Oak Park Avenue on the west, Ridgeland Avenue on the east, and 171st Street on the south. Parkside was the largest single housing development in the Village to that point. Modeled loosely on the famous Levittown, New York, development, it provided modest and economical housing to returning servicemen and others. Many of these new residents commuted to work in downtown Chicago on the Rock Island Railroad (now called Metra Rock Island District Railroad). This subdivision marked the beginning of the evolution of Tinley Park from a rural farm town to a dynamic Chicago suburb.—Brad L. Bettenhausen
A Brief History of Tinley Park, by Brad L. Bettenhausen, for the Tinley Park Historical Society. One-page essay.
Collection of Historical Information Regarding Bremen Township and the Village of Midlothian. Bremen High School. 1976.
History of Cook County, Illinois, from the Earliest Period to the Present Time, by A.T. Andreas. 1884.
The Orland Story: From Prairie to Pavement. Orland Heritage Book Association. 1991.
Southern Cook County and History of Blue Island Before the Civil War. Schapper, Ferdinand. 1917.
Tinley Park 125 Anniversary, 1845 – 1970. Tinley Park Chamber of Commerce. 1970.
Tinley Park, Illinois Comprehensive Plan: A World Class Community. (Chapter V: History; pp. 24-30.) Tinley Park Long Range Plan Commission. 2000.