In Oak Park there is a ridge which runs just west of Ridgeland Avenue through Taylor park, to near Scoville Park, and then west to Downtown Oak Park. This ridge, called the "Oak Park Spit" is an ancient beach. The beach was formed in glacial times, 12,000 years ago, when the whole area to the east and north was covered with ancient Lake Chicago. The lake was formed by the melting glaciers. The outlet to the north was blocked by ice and the lake rose until it found a point where it could flow over the low divide and into the valley of the Des Plaines and Illinois Rivers 1.

Ancient Lake Chicago
(12,000 years ago)
The terrain in our Village is so flat that the slopes are difficult to perceive. The best place to see a distinct drop off in both directions is at the northwest corner of Taylor Park, at the intersection of Berkshire and Elmwood. There you will be standing on the continental divide. At the time this area was first settled, the land east of Oak Park, being an old lake bottom, was mostly swamp. Our low ridge was the first high land west of the Lake and was a desirable place to build. Thus Oak Park's first settler, Joseph Kettlestrings, in 1837 chose to build west of Oak Park Avenue, on top of the ridge. The oak trees, growing on the sandy ridge, gave Oak Park its name 2.

The fact of the divide is more than a mere geographical curiosity. Along the entire length of the divide, there is a point just five miles south of Oak Park which provides the most desirable point of crossing.3 Here, near Summit, and near the Village of Lyons, the low height of the divide and the short distance between streams on either side made it relatively easy to portage canoes from one water system to the other, facilitating travel from the east coast to the Mississippi River. Thus an important trade route was established, the very reason for founding a city here.


< Previous Page

Next Page >