The Grid: Exploring the Norwood Park neighborhood
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Welcome to the “The Grid,” the Chicago Sun-Times’ in-depth look at Chicago neighborhoods.
Today’s stop: Norwood Park
This neighborhood is about 11 miles northwest of downtown Chicago, just minutes from O’Hare. Norwood Park is one of the rare neighborhoods that doesn’t follow Chicago’s street grid pattern. Instead, here you’ll find curvilinear streets including winding and diagonal roads, plus one beautiful tree-lined oval-shaped street called the Circle.
Norwood Park boasts some of the oldest homes in the city, along with an incredible collection of early residential architecture, including Victorian homes, Chicago-style bungalows and at least four Sears and Roebuck catalog houses. Plus, there’s Superdawg, a family-owned restaurant and local institution for decades!
Our story includes:
- The history of Norwood Park
- Where to find the city’s oldest house
- Best places to eat and drink
- And much more!
This story on Norwood Park is one in a series by the Sun-Times focused on the interesting people and places in Chicago’s many neighborhoods, intended for locals and visitors alike in hopes that all will be inspired to explore our city. We have engaging videos and a comprehensive story – all curated by the Sun-Times audience team to help provide you with the most current and meaningful information about the important and best things to do in this and each neighborhood we visit.
We’re proud to welcome Baird & Warner as presenting sponsor of “The Grid.” Leading our video adventure is Sun-Times program host, Ji Suk Yi.
Ji visits Norwood Park
Norwood Park is known as a “suburb in the city.” As one of the oldest neighborhoods in Chicago, it’s not surprising that Chicago’s oldest home is in the neighborhood. Many city workers, including teachers, police officers and firefighters, call the neighborhood home. It has an idyllic, bucolic, family-first vibe accented with beautiful green space, parks, a variety of single-family homes and manicured lawns.
The Norwood Park community area is made up of smaller neighborhoods divided by the Kennedy Expressway. North of the highway are the neighborhoods of Norwood Park East, Norwood Park West and Old Norwood Park. South of the highway are the neighborhoods of Oriole Park and Union Ridge.
My visit will focus on Norwood Park north of the highway, including the Old Norwood Park that is on the National Register of Historic Places. As mentioned, this historic district is known for its curved streets, majestic trees and the oldest home in Chicago – the Noble-Seymour-Crippen House.
The history of Norwood Park
My first stop in Norwood Park was to head to the Norwood Park Historical Society and learn about the beginnings of the neighborhood. The historical society makes its home at The Noble-Seymour-Crippen House which was purchased in 1987. More on the home shortly.
The Norwood Park area’s first inhabitants were mainly the Potawatomi. In the 1833 Treaty of Chicago, Native American peoples, including the Potawatomi, sold land near the Great Lakes for paltry sums to the U.S. government and were relocated west of the Mississippi River, and European settlers headed to the area.
English, German and Scandinavian farmers were the predominant pioneers in the 1830s.
The homesteaders included English farmer Mark Noble, who would build the beautiful home now designated as the oldest in Chicago.
With Chicago’s growth in the 1840s, surrounding farming communities began to prosper and grow as the demand for goods, including food, increased. To expedite the transport of goods, more roads were built, and the Illinois & Wisconsin Railroad was constructed in 1853.
In the mid-1860s, a group of investors known as the Norwood Land and Building Association purchased a group of farms (860 acres) to be reimagined as a residential subdivision.
Inspired by renowned landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted’s work (The World’s Fair, the Washington and Jackson parks and the suburb of Riverside), the early developers eschewed the grid design most city planners followed and instead, favored curved, circular streets. The winding roads were to showcase the pockets of green space, spacious residential lots and the beautiful trees of the neighborhoods.
The crown jewel of the design was Circle Avenue in what is now Old Norwood Park. This historic district is gorgeous — full of homes from the 1860s to the 1940s.
The association named the subdivision after an idyllic village named Norwood in a Henry Ward Beecher novel. (If the name sounds familiar, Beecher’s sister was Harriet Beecher Stowe of novel Uncle Tom’s Cabin fame.)
Later, it was discovered another Norwood existed in Illinois, so Norwood became Norwood Park which seemed apropos since the neighborhood was full of so much green space.
The Norwood Park Hotel was built in 1872, hoping to draw city-dwellers to the neighborhood. The hotel, along with an artificial lake, was touted as a summer resort, but the idea never panned out and was eventually abandoned.
In 1874, Norwood Park Township was formed from portions of existing townships, including Jefferson Township, Leydon Township and Niles Township. The Village of Norwood Park became an independent village that same year, with the original boundaries of Nagle, Harlem, Bryn Mawr and St. Adalbert Cemetary.
The Village also had a moral conditions clause and was a “dry” village. A real estate book of the era stated: “The moral tone of Norwood is good. The people are of the better class, and the influences at work in the city, destroying the moral tone of the people and the community are entirely absent.” The Village had five churches and no saloons were permitted.
In 1893, Norwood Park was annexed into Chicago. The Norwood Park Union Pacific Northwest Metra station, designed by architects Frost & Granger in 1907, was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 2001.
Home to Chicago’s oldest home
The Noble-Seymour-Crippen House is the oldest house in Chicago. As mentioned, it’s the home of the Norwood Park Historical Society and — as suggested by its name — has had different owners over its 185-year history.
Mark Noble, mentioned earlier as one of the first European settlers in Norwood Park, established a 150-acre farm and built the first frame house in the neighborhood in 1833.
Noble and his son-in-law ran one of the first Chicago-area sawmills. Noble was a founding member of Chicago’s first Methodist church, now the First United Methodist Church at the Chicago Temple at Washington and Clark.
In 1868, Thomas Hartley Seymour purchased the home and built an Italianate addition to the farmhouse. Seymour was a member of the Chicago Board of Trade and joined the Norwood Land and Building Association. After Seymour’s death, the home was sold.
Then the Crippens entered the picture. Charlotte Crippen, an actress, and Stuart Crippen, a concert pianist, purchased the home in 1920 and added electricity and indoor plumbing to the home.
The Norwood Historical Society purchased the home from Crippen’s heirs in 1987. The house was designated a Chicago landmark on May 11, 1988, and the society completed a major renovation of the house in 2000.
There has been a long-standing friendly dispute between the Crippen House and the Henry B. Clarke house, located in the South Loop, about the designation of “oldest home in Chicago.”
The Clarke home (currently in the South Loop neighborhood) has been moved several times. It was originally built in the 1600 block of South Michigan Avenue in 1836, but was on property annexed by the city in 1837, and was moved twice and reassembled on new lots.
The Crippen home in Norwood Park wasn’t annexed by Chicago until 1893, but the house was built in 1833 (three years before the Clarke home) and was never relocated.
Advocates for the Clarke home like to point out that the Crippen home was significantly modified, modernized and altered. Crippen advocates like to indicate that the Clarke home doesn’t sit on its original foundation.
Who wins? The friendly war of words and facts continues to this day.
The Noble-Seymour-Crippen House and grounds can be rented for weddings and events. It also serves as a museum of Norwood Park history and houses rotating exhibits, hosts speakers and programs open to the public. The museum is open on Saturdays from noon to 4pm. Annual events include a giant yard sale and auction, Norwood Park birthday celebration, spring teas and holiday house tours. The next event is Stems and Steins on September 8, a wine and beer tasting fundraiser for the nonprofit.
“It’s a hidden secret; the grass, the trees, the curvy streets, the lots. It’s like nothing I’ve ever seen,” said Susan Bragg, a member of the historical society board. “It’s got a great mix of houses — all different styles. It’s close to the Blue Line. It’s close to the Metra. It’s close to the airport. It’s full of friendly people.”
“A lot of city employees like to live here,” said Bragg. “We have great schools, including Taft High School. The guy (Jim Jacobs) that wrote Grease went there and it’s based on Taft. The Pink Ladies were based on people he knew. Taft is now an International Baccalaureate school.”
In fact, a lot of city employees live in Norwood Park. It’s a way for city workers to meet the job requirements to live in the city but yet have the suburban feel they desire in a neighborhood.
Kevin Doherty, a firefighter for 28 years, moved to Norwood Park because he and his wife “were looking for a place to raise a family.” Doherty is also one of the owners of the Iron Horse Ale House. His family has been in the neighborhood for 17 years.
“Being a city worker, you have to live within the city limits and Norwood Park just fits the bill,” said Doherty. “It’s very family oriented. You drive through the neighborhood and it’s all tree-lined streets, the circles, beautiful big old homes and you always see people outside walking with buggies, riding bikes, walking the dog. It’s the quintessential neighborhood!”
Doherty said Norwood Park is like “the modern version of Mayberry.” It’s really about family and the community is very devoted to raising the next generation. “Everyone knows each other and helps each other out, and it’s a nice place to raise a family.”
My five favorite things by Amara Rozgus
Amara Rozgus is a native Chicagoan and has lived in Norwood Park for 18 years.
- The neighborhood restaurants and bars are just that … neighborhood places with a fun, friendly neighborly feel. Great food and drink make them terrific spots to stop for locals and visitors.
- The Circle! There is no other place in Chicago quite like it. The East/West Circle, typical of a Fredrick Law Olmsted design of the 1860s, is unique in Chicago. It’s picturesque, has great homes and parks, and is a lovely walking area. Plus, anyone NOT from Norwood Park gets lost, making it fun to visit more of this cool area.
- The Norwood Park Historical Society, housed in the Noble-Seymour-Crippen House, is the oldest home in the city. It’s a majestic home on a hill that hosts private events, educational sessions, wine and beer tastings, holiday craft shows, and a whole lot more. It’s a gem tucked just a half-block from the Kennedy Expressway and Blue Line and is just waiting to be found.
- People in the neighborhood are quite friendly and are always willing to lend a hand or an ear. It’s what Chicago neighborhoods are all about, with a sprinkle of historic charm thrown in.
- Norwood Park is pretty much close to everything: O’Hare, Metra, the CTA, and several expressways. For those of us who travel to work or to play, it’s a perfect place to start (or end) a trip.
Where to eat and drink
Norwood Park has two business districts. There are businesses and restaurants along Milwaukee Avenue, and then another concentration of businesses along Northwest Highway, near the Metra train station.
As mentioned in the history of Norwood Park, downtown was “dry” until 2006, when residents voted to allow establishments that serve alcohol in two precincts. Zoning laws and alcohol restrictions make it difficult to open taverns or liquor stores in the area.
Along Northwest Highway, my recommendation for places to visit would include Highway House (adorable restaurant with patio where you can get home cooking, cocktails and wine), Trinity Pub (Irish-American sports bar where you can get a pint of Guinness) and Little Bar (is just that, a small bar that locals love) to have a pint.
On the Northwest Highway closer to the Metra train station, there is Bangkok Belly (BYOB restaurant serving Asian fusion cuisine and sushi) and Sapori Napoletani Pizzeria (authentic Neapolitan style pizza hand crafted by a native of Naples).
My recommendation for a “must visit” is Iron Horse Ale House. A former post office, it was rehabbed by Kevin Doherty (mentioned earlier) and his co-owners. It’s truly a family place, so feel free to bring the kids, with a large patio. This isn’t a place to visit if you don’t like dining with children, but it’s large enough that you can tuck yourself into a corner of the expansive bar away from the hustle and bustle.
In addition to wings, burgers and pastas, it has a brick pizza oven. Some creative favorites include the mac n’ cheese pizza and the buffalo chicken pizza. You can also design your own custom flavored pizza at Iron Horse. If you’re looking for a bit of entertainment for the kids, you can head over to a bar near the pizza oven where the chef will distribute pizza dough for kids to try their hand at kneading their own pie.
Along the Milwaukee Avenue corridor of restaurants, you can create a foodie crawl that includes cuisine from around the world. My selection for “must try” restaurants include Red Apple, with an all-you-can-eat buffet of Polish food, and Pasta D’Arte Trattoria, which offers a regional Italian menu specializing in homemade pastas and also features Abruzzese-inspired meat dishes, as well as Barese-influenced fish entrees.
NOK is on the edge of Norwood Park’s border with Jefferson Park, and some would say it is in Gladstone Park (a newer, micro neighborhood). NOK is a sister restaurant to Noon O Kabab in east Albany Park. This is a more casual Persian restaurant with counter service but still serves up delicious kabobs and falafel.
Amitabul serves Korean vegan cuisine and is unlike any restaurant I’ve been to. Besides the curative soup (Dr. K’s Cure All), there’s an array of flavorful entrees incorporating tofu, vegetables and noodes. Chef Bill Choi was inspired by his mother’s cooking and the rave reviews he received for the food he cooked for the monks at his Buddhist temple. Amitabul means “awakening” and opened in 1995.
Superdawg has earned a cult following since opening in May 1948. Maurie and Florence Berman were high school sweethearts that wanted a business they could run during the summers. It was supposed to be temporary, but it’s still operating under family ownership. The Berman children took over when their parents passed. They are dedicated to preserving the original charming characteristics of the business. The drive-in concept hasn’t changed, and the 12-foot-tall hot dog figures named after Maurie and Flaurie still wink at each other on the roof.
Things to do in Norwood Park
Norwood Park boasts 14 acres and includes the Chicago Park District’s only outdoor swimming pool with a water slide on the North Side. The park includes a fitness center, running track, baseball fields, inline skating area, dog park and four tennis courts. There is also a senior center that offers classes ranging from computer skills to fitness.
Caldwell Woods is part of the Forest Preserves of Cook County and borders the neighborhood. There are picnic groves, activity areas, a sledding hill during winter and has access to the North Branch trail which is great for biking.
There are also plenty of community events in Norwood Park. One of the most popular is the Memorial Day Parade that winds it way through town as it has every year since 1922. In September, the Norwood Park train station is home to Fall Fest with live music, food trucks and more.
I hope you’ve enjoyed following me on my visit to Norwood Park. It truly embodies a “suburb within the city.” The neighborhoods are maintained with utmost care. Old Norwood Park is especially breathtaking. The houses are impeccably maintained with beautiful lawns and sit on tree-lined streets that curve and create oddly shaped lots that create a romantic, bucolic feel.
Around every bend, there is something new to discover. The breadth of architecture is spectacular. There are Victorian homes, bungalows, ranch-style, Tudor, craftsman and the list goes on. Parks and green space are abundant. If you’re looking to raise a family away from the hustle and bustle of the city but want or need to still be in the city, Norwood Park is the perfect hidden gem of a neighborhood.
See you next time on The Grid!
This new Sun-Times video series showcases the best of Chicago’s neighborhoods (and suburbs!) by turning a spotlight on the people, places and things that make our city one-of-a-kind. Look for a new video episode each Wednesday on the Chicago Sun-Times website. #thegrid.
We hope you will watch, read and share all of The Grid stories!
The Grid neighborhood guides
- Episode 1: Logan Square
- Episode 2: Andersonville
- Episode 3: Pilsen
- Episode 4: Hyde Park
- Episode 5: Ravenswood
- Episode 6: Printers Row
- Episode 7: Roscoe Village
- Episode 8: Bronzeville
- Episode 9: Rogers Park
- Episode 10: Chinatown
- Episode 11: South Shore
- Episode 12: Boystown