Homewood is a village in Cook County, Illinois, United States. The population was 19,543 at the 2000 census. Homewood is a sister city to Homewood, Alabama. In 2007, Forbes Magazine rated Homewood as one of the three most "livable" suburbs in the Chicago Metropolitan Area.
Homewood sits on the edge of prehistoric Lake Chicago, which was formed by retreating glaciers long before Lake Michigan. One of the main east-west roads through the town, Ridge Road, runs along the old sandy shoreline of that lake. The area is rich in limestone deposits, and neighbors Thornton Quarry. In its beginning, the area featured excellent topsoil making it an appealing place for farmers to settle.
James and Sally Hart were the first confirmed settlers in the area in 1834. They were New Englanders, as were the families that immediately followed them; the Butterfields, the Campbells, the Clarks, and the Hoods. In 1839, German and Dutch families began to move into the area as well. The town began to use the name of Hartford.
The first store in Homewood was Hasting's General Store; Dr. William Doepp was its first doctor. Attracted by the country life after his Chicago practice was burned down, he moved to the area in 1851. His practice extended from Crown Point, Indiana to New Lenox, Illinois, and he was required to keep two teams of horses in order to make all his calls.
In 1853, the Illinois Central Railroad (IC) established a station in Hartford, calling it Thornton Station, as most of the passengers came from nearby Thornton. This began a serious period of confusion, as mail for the two separate towns was regularly mixed up. In 1869, settlers petitioned the post office to be renamed as Homewood, after the woods that the residents lived among.
The 1870s brought a new era to Homewood, ushered in by trains and by the crowded conditions of the city. country clubs such as the Homewood Country Club (later changed to Flossmoor Country Club), Dixmoor, Ravisloe, Idlewild and Calumet brought in trains just for golfers. The IC established the Calumet station specifically for their convenience. Wealthy families impressed by the area, and ease of getting to the city, established residences in the area, as permanent or summer homes.
At the beginning of the twentieth century, it was determined that the small two-room schoolhouse that had been built in the 1880s was inadequate. The Standard school was built in 1904 on Dixie Highway and Hickory for a cost of fourteen thousand dollars. It had four classrooms, two cloakrooms, a tiny office, attic and basement storage. It provided the community with a variety of entertainments in the form of spelling bees, box socials, school entertainment, and a play festival. As many of the children were expected to become farmers, garden and corn clubs were established. Nearby land was turned into gardening plots, but a dry season kept the project from being successful. However, one student, Elizabeth Szanyi made a total of fifty-nine dollars from her produce patch.
Enrollment for the schools continued to grow, and in 1914 the school was forced to convert the cloakrooms into classrooms. In 1918, a nearby residence, the Zimmer house, was rented to house primary grades. In 1923, construction on Central school began. The new school had three more classrooms, an assembly hall, a teacher's room, and a room for health services. By 1928, there were enough students in the district to make a kindergarten class feasible, and extensive additions were made to the school. These renovations included eight new classrooms and a gymnasium-auditorium.
In the 1920s, Homewood became an important railroad depot, and many IC workers and their families moved to the area. Automobiles became a common sight on the streets of downtown. As traffic in the area continued to increase, village officials decided to install the town's first manually operated traffic signal at the corner of Ridge Road and Dixie Highway. This period marks the change from Homewood as a farming community to Homewood as a suburb, as families began to use stores and businesses to supply their needs. The population of town increased from seven hundred and thirteen (713) to fifteen hundred and ninety-three (1593). Thirteen housing developments were recorded in Homewood from 1905 to 1930.
With the crash of the stock market in 1929, life in Homewood changed dramatically. People who worked in factories in Harvey and Chicago Heights lost their jobs, and many almost lost their homes. The Homewood State Bank was closed in the spring of 1932. Optimistic residents who had invested money in the bank until the day before it closed lost everything they had. The flood of trains to and from the city trickled down to three or four trains daily. Those people trying to make an income by were raided, and shut down. Transients were common, and the police officers gave them a place to stay at night, a cup of coffee and a donut before they left in the morning. In 1932 alone, the jail housed twelve hundred and twenty-four people (1224). The schools, which had already been operating in the red, scraped through by cutting programs and by the determined efforts of the PTA, which opened a thrift shop as a fundraiser. The village was reduced to issuing scrip notes to its employees that could not be honored by local business; however, a rental of a large parcel of land by the Illinois Jockey Association ended this problem.
As the factories slowly began to reopen, the city began to tear down old buildings and replace them with new businesses. The most important of these was the Homewood Theater. At its "typical Hollywood opening" it was said, "bright lights will flood the sky, bands will blare, and the theatre will be officially presented to Mayor Fred Borgwordt of the town of Homewood." The opening picture was Double or Nothing with Bing Crosby and Martha Raye. The theater seemed to symbolize the return of hope to the city, and remained an important landmark for many years. In 1983, Richard Haas painted a mural on the backs of several buildings in the business district, matching their fronts to their backs. Most famous among these was on the back of the Homewood Theater, depicting it with three young women waiting to view It's a Wonderful Life. It was demolished in 1992, despite the comparison made by a local student of "throwing away the Mona Lisa just because the frame is broken."