An Alsip starter

The Swap-O-Rama Flea Market is one of the most well-known spots in southwest suburban Alsip. (Warren Skalski/Photo for the Tribune / July 16, 2010)

On a recent sweltering day, the Aquatic Park in Alsip was packed with kids and adults splashing in the pool and soaking up the sun.

The inviting oasis, which includes the outdoor pool, mushroom fountain for youngsters, playground and tanning hill, is just one of several things that makes living in this village appealing to residents. Some locals say they moved here because of Alsip's affordable homes, low property taxes and decent schools but found a gem in the community pool.

The Aquatic Park is "relaxing and safe," said Maribella Bahena, a seven-year resident who often goes there with friends.

Harry Tannehill, also a fan of the pool, and his wife, Lora, moved to the village in 1999 after finding the perfect four-bedroom bi-level house that was within their price range and had many upgrades. The property taxes are "still lower than what a lot of other communities pay," he said.

Tannehill said he is pleased with the schools, which include Alsip, Hazelgreen and Oak Lawn Elementary School District 126, Atwood Heights District 125 for elementary through middle school students, Cook County District 130, for kindergarteners through fifth-graders and District 218's Alan B. Shepard High School in Palos Heights.

"(Students) get a lot more individual attention," said Tannehill, whose 9-year-old son Eric attends Hazelgreen Elementary School.

Measuring more than eight miles with a population of 19,000, Alsip offers an ample selection of homes. Most were built in the late 1950s through the early 1970s and include ranch styles without basements, raised bungalow-style ranches, split-levels, tri-levels, quad levels and Cape Cods, according to Jim Nealis, a broker associate with ReMax Team 2000 in Palos Heights. Newer homes are mostly split-levels and two-stories.

The village also has a smattering of apartment buildings and several town-home subdivisions, with the newest built in 2006 and 2008. Three condo developments were built at least a decade ago. The village owns two affordable senior citizen complexes for people 55 and older.

The highest selling home in the past six months was a two-story, built in 2003, for $285,000. A similar home sold for $348,000 in 2007, Nealis said.

"It's a good area to come into and begin homeownership," said Nealis, who has lived in the village 21 years. "It's convenient to a lot of things with I-294 expressway access, so you're not too far out in the cornfields like some communities are and within striking distance of where a lot of people work."

The 20-mile commute to Chicago is convenient on Interstates 294, 57 and 55. For train service to Chicago, residents drive to the Blue Island or Morgan Park stations to take the Rock Island District train or to Chicago Ridge for the Southwest Service train. Residents also can hop on a Pace bus to the Orange Line at Midway International Airport, which runs to Chicago.

For homebuilder John Gallagher, who owns JP Gallagher Building Corp. with his wife, Virginia, moving to Alsip from Oak Lawn four years ago made good economic sense. He was able to afford a larger lot for a tri-level home and saw his property taxes decline.. The Gallaghers have built a number of single-family homes in Alsip and Oak Lawn.

"We were able to get more land, more bang for the buck and be in a much better tax bracket," John Gallagher said. "I would classify Alsip as a real sleeper kind of village. It's got a lot to offer, but people seem to look at Alsip as the forgotten stepchild. The village has a great park district and wonderful services as far as snow plowing, street repair and tree pickup."

The area dates back several centuries to when Potawatomi Indians lived there. French explorers and missionaries visited, building a Catholic mission that burned down. The first European immigrants to settle in Alsip in the 1830s were mainly German and Dutch farmers. Frank Alsip opened a clay quarry and brick factory in 1885, and other industries followed. The village was incorporated in 1927, taking the former industrialist's name.

Today, Alsip is known for the huge Swap-O-Rama indoor/outdoor flea market, where vendors sell everything from produce to tools. The village also is home to two notable cemeteries: Restvale Cemetery, where Muddy Waters was laid to rest, and Burr Oak Cemetery, the burial spot for civil rights figure Emmett Till. Scandal hit Burr Oak in 2009 when four workers allegedly dug up several hundred graves, dumped the bodies in mass unmarked graves and resold the plots.

Although Alsip is primarily a residential community, it has a strong commercial and industrial base that includes a Coca-Cola bottling plant, Berry Plastics Corp., Griffith Laboratories and Crown Cork and Seal Co.

Mary Schmidt, executive director of the Alsip Chamber of Commerce, said the village has a large business community with more than 800 companies, including manufacturing, warehousing, distribution and retail.

"Retail has always been a struggle for this community but I'm seeing a renewed interest in phone calls from people looking at sites in town," Schmidt said.

Business strips along Cicero Avenue and Pulaski Road feature several popular restaurants, grocery stores, a Home Depot, LA Fitness and convenience stores. Many residents, though, tend to shop at surrounding malls for more variety.