The History of Bellwood
Consisting primarily of level prairie, the area now known as Bellwood was mainly farmland until the early 1890s when the first two subdivisions were established. The first subdivision attracted a handful of businesses, including several taverns. Tavern owners were the first to push for incorporation in response to dry Maywood’s attempt to annex the subdivision. The village of Bellwood was incorporated on May 21, 1900, taking the name of a second early subdivision, Bellewood.
Bellwood’s population grew steadily between 1900 and 1930. The 1910 population of 943 doubled by 1920 as more people, many of German and Russian descent, moved to the village. The 1926 annexation of land west of Mannheim Road, plus continued migration, accounted for the jump to 4,991 residents in 1930.
After World War II, large industries, several of which became major employers in the near western suburbs, located in the eastern part of the village along the Indiana Harbor Belt tracks. Rail passenger service, available via the Chicago, Aurora & Elgin Railway and the Chicago & North Western Railway, encouraged residential development in other parts of Bellwood.
The completion of the Eisenhower Expressway in the 1950s made Bellwood’s location even more attractive for prospective commuters. The population jumped to 8,746 in 1950, then more than doubled to 20,729 in 1960, and included people of Italian, Serbian and Polish descent. Construction slowed considerably as little vacant land remained, and the population rose in 1970 to 22,096 residents.
In the 1960s, Bellwood took great pride in the race to the moon by watching native son and astronaut Eugene Cernan travel to space several times before his spectacular landing on the moon in the early ‘70s. His footprints are the last ones left on the lunar surface. Cernan was raised on the 900 block of Marshall Avenue. In his autobiography, “Last Man on the Moon,” he described his affection for Bellwood and noted that the small size of his family home provided excellent training for the cramped quarters of a lunar module.
The 1970s brought racial change and involvement in a U.S. Supreme Court case. In 1975, Bellwood filed a lawsuit accusing a local real estate firm of racial steering. Four years later, a landmark ruling by the Supreme Court granted municipalities the legal right to use testers and to sue when discrimination occurred. Bellwood’s black population grew from 1.1 percent in 1970 to 35 percent in 1980 and to 70 percent in 1990.
Today, Bellwood, with its many brick bungalows and ranch and Georgian homes, has matured. But in many respects it remains the largely residential suburb that it has been for many years.