What do Frank Lloyd Wright, Ernest Hemingway, and the Continental Divide have in common?
Most Chicagoans know this suburb lays claim to the Frank Lloyd Wright Home and Studio and it was the birthplace of Ernest Hemingway. What’s not as commonly known is that the Continental Divide runs smack through Oak Park. Stand at the northwest corner of Taylor Park and you’re right on top of it. Oak Park was founded because the Divide created an easy portage between the Mississippi River and the water systems to the east.
Oak Park (originally named Oak Ridge, but that was already taken so it was renamed Oak Park) was a tiny community that benefited from the first train west of Chicago in 1848. This access make the relocation of many residents from the city after the 1871 fire easy and the population increased tenfold by 1890.
Part of the draw may also have been the number of churches built during the 1870s. Nicknamed “Saints Rest”, Oak Park offered a haven from the corruption and grime of the city.
The Village has fought for over a century to maintain its identity as a “city on a hill”, separate from the Goliath next door. Instead of just being a bedroom community it encourages the residents to view it as a home and actively promotes tourism.
One of the main draws is the heritage left by Frank Lloyd Wright. His twenty-five buildings (amazing in a town that’s only four and a half square miles) and Unity Temple draw thousands of tourists annually. Oak Park is a living museum of his “Prairie School” style of architecture.
Then there’s the birthplace and museum of Ernest Hemingway. Two separate buildings, they’re just down the street from each other. Visitors learn about his beginnings, then trot down the block to see rare photos, diary entries, and early writings.