Community Profile: Chicago
Ashburn thriving on a strong sense of community
Homes along the 3300 block of West 83rd Street. Bungalows, split-levels, ranches and two-stories add diversity to Ashburn's residential streets. (Chris Salata/ Photo for the Chicago Tribune / November 13, 2010)
Lis, vice president of Americorp Real Estate Services in Chicago, said baseball is still a slice of life here, but today it's typically organized ball at school or a community park.
Recreational opportunities, much less green space, were scant in the early years of Ashburn. As the name suggests, the community served as a dumping ground in the 1800s and turn of the last century for ashes collected from Chicagoans' fireplaces and coal-fired furnaces.
The Irish, Dutch and Swedes were among the first immigrants to put down roots here in the 1890s. In 1916, Chicago's first airport, the Ashburn Flying Field, was established in the neighborhood. But the airfield's location prevented more than 60 acres on the west side of Ashburn (now the neighborhood of Scottsdale) from being developed for homes until the 1950s.
The airfield closed in 1939, overshadowed by the emergence nearby of what is now Midway International Airport. The ash heaps disappeared, too, leaving only the occasional cinder to work its way to the surface as a vestige of the community's past or to skin the leg of a kid sliding into home plate.
Ashburn's growth skyrocketed during the post- World War II economic and baby boom, resulting in changes in the demographic makeup.
In the 1960s, an influx of African-Americans and Hispanics moved in, but the transition to a blended community wasn't easy. Racial conflict erupted over school desegregation. After years of strife, the area evolved into a stable, middle-class community that is ethnically and racially diverse.
In 1988, Chicago journalist Vernon Jarrett wrote a series of newspaper articles about the Wrightwood community in Ashburn, touting it as a "model for racial harmony." And in 1999, The New York Times published a story using Ashburn as a case study in the difficulties of neighborhood integration in Chicago, citing Ashburn as an example of "successful neighborhood integration."
Scottsdale, a subdivision in Ashburn, has its roots in a residential development project and shopping center planned by Raymond Lutgert. The real estate developer paved the way for about 1,000 homes on the site of the vacant Ashburn Flying Field in 1952 and named the development after his son, Scott.
The history of Ashburn's rise from the ashes can be found in the stacks at the Wrightwood-Ashburn Library on South Kedzie Avenue. The Chicago Public Library branch houses more than 40,000 volumes, including an African-American Heritage collection. The Scottsdale Branch is on 79th Street.
Long overlooked as a place for residential development, Ashburn is now an official community area of 38,000 about 14 miles southwest of the Loop.
CTA bus routes and the Orange Line connect residents to and beyond the Loop or to Midway. Metra's Southwest Service line at the Ashburn and Wrightwood rail stations provides quick access to downtown Chicago Monday through Saturday.
The main thoroughfares are dissected by tree-lined streets of single-family, brick homes boasting tidy yards, brick garages and side driveways.
A side driveway was on Erin Horath's wish list when she and her husband were looking for their second home in Ashburn.
"I grew up in St. Denis Parish," the Chicago native said. The couple now live in St. Bede Parish.
"Referring to your parish is a South Sider thing," she said, explaining that the custom of referring to neighborhoods in terms of parishes evolved because of the location of the Catholic schools. Where you attended school indicated where your family lived.
At one time, St. Denis, St. Bede and St. Thomas More parishes all had schools. Today, only St. Bede the Venerable preschool through 8th grade remains.
Schools still draw families to Ashburn. Elementary schools include three magnet schools, one charter school, one arts school and two parochial schools. One high school and two elementary schools are part of the Chicago Public Schools, and there is a private high school. Richard J. Daley College, one of the City Colleges of Chicago, is on the northern end of Ashburn at Pulaski Road and 75th Street.
The Chicago Park District maintains four parks and two play lots within Ashburn. Lis said families organize weekends around their children's activities. That could be anything from baseball to traditional Irish dance lessons.