Cicero: An American Town
–by John S. Kociolko
The Town of Cicero is one of the oldest and largest municipalities in the State of Illinois and the only incorporated town in Cook County. It bears the name of the great Roman statesman of the First Century B.C., Marcus Tullius Cicero.
Cicero was one of the greatest statesmen of Rome and an advocate of constitutional government. He died in the political turmoil which followed the assassination of Julius Caesar, but his writings and beliefs survived. Centuries later, the principles Cicero espoused would flourish again in a young republic with a new constitution, capitol and senate, the United States of America.
Illinois, part of the old Northwest Territory which the United States had acquired from Great Britain in 1783, joined the Union as the 21st state in 1818. Most of the early Illinoisans were from the South, where counties were the basis of local government and so the new state was divided into counties. Cook County was established in 1831, comprising what is today Cook, DuPage, Iroquois, Lake, McHenry and Will Counties.
Later settlers from the Northeast preferred their traditional township government and a new state constitution in 1848 authorized the creation of townships. In the following year, Cook County voters approved the new jurisdictions.
Among the townships created by the County Board in 1849 was a 36 square mile tract bounded by what are today Western, North and Harlem Avenues and Pershing Road. On June 23, 1857, 14 electors met to organize a local government for the district, which they named “The Town of Cicero.” Railroads, immigration and the Civil War contributed to economic growth in the new township, which by 1867 numbered 3,000 residents. In that year the state legislature incorporated the Town of Cicero as a municipality with a special charter, which was revised in 1869. Township and municipal functions have subsequently been discharged by a single board of elected officials.
Cicero’s rapid development in these early years now collided with the expanding political power of its neighbor, the City of Chicago. By 1889, Chicago had annexed more than half of the original Town. An 1899 referendum ceded the Austin neighborhood to the city and in the following year land containing a race track was transferred to Stickney Township.
On July 21, 1899, Ernest Hemingway, winner of both the Pulitzer and Nobel prizes, was born within the Town of Cicero, in what is today the Village of Oak Park. In 1901, the three remaining components of the Town- today’s Oak Park, Berwyn and Cicero-voted to separate. The surviving Town of Cicero retained less than six of the 36 square miles carved out in 1849. Immigrants and their families swelled the Town’s population, however, and housing construction boomed within its diminished territory.
In 1901, the three remaining components of the old township – today’s Oak Park, Berwyn and Cicero – voted to separate. The surviving Town of Cicero retained less than six of the 36 square miles carved out in 1849. Immigrants and their families swelled the Town’s population, however, and housing construction boomed within its diminished territory.
Served by the Burlington, Illinois Central, Belt Line, and other railroads, Cicero attracted many industries in the Twentieth Century and became the largest manufacturing center in the state after Chicago. It was also the site of an early airfield in 1911. W. Edwards Deming began his pioneering work on management techniques in the 1920’s at the Western Electric Hawthorne Works, an industrial colossus which employed more than 40,000 people during World War II and was the dominant business in Town for eight decades.
From the early townsmen who fought in the Union Army during the Civil War, Ciceronians have proudly served in the armed forces. Their bravery is exemplified by Boatswain’s Mate Joseph P. Steffan, who died abroad the USS Arizona in the attack on Pearl Harbor, and Capt. Edward C. Krzyzowski, who was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor for heroism in Korea.
Cicero is composed of eight neighborhoods, with their own district names and characteristics. Two were named for businesses-Grant Works after an 1890 locomotive factory and Hawthorne for an 1850’s quarry, the first Cicero industry. Two bear the family names of local landowners, Warren Park and Drezel, while two more were christened by prominent residents, Clyde, recalling a river in Scotland and Morton Park honoring Julius Sterling Morton, a Nebraskan who served as Agriculture Secretary to President Cleveland. Morton also gave his name to the local high school and college, yet he never lived in the town. Boulevard Manor derives its name from Austin Boulevard. The origin of the title of Parkholme is unknown.
The Town of Cicero has a colorful history, which forms a part of the larger stories of the county, state and nation. Three Presidents-Eisenhower, Reagan, and Bush- visited Cicero on their roads to the White House. We can better understand the present and plan for the future, if we know the achievements of the past.
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|Coordinates: Coordinates: |
|Incorporated||February 28, 1867|
|• President||Larry Dominick|
|• Total||5.87 sq mi (15.19 km2)|
|• Land||5.87 sq mi (15.19 km2)|
|• Water||0.00 sq mi (0.00 km2) 0%|
|Elevation||607 ft (185 m)|
| • Estimate
|• Density||13,775.96/sq mi (5,318.89/km2)|
|Up 0.3% from 2010|
|Standard of living (2011)|
|• Per capita income||$14,539|
|• Median home value||$157,500|
Cicero (originally known as Hawthorne) is a suburb of Chicago and an incorporated town in Cook County, Illinois, United States. The population was 83,891 at the 2010 census. As of 2019, the town had a total population of 80,796, making it the 11th largest municipality in Illinois. The town of Cicero is named after Marcus Tullius Cicero, a Roman statesman and orator.
Originally, Cicero Township occupied an area six times the size of its current territory. Weak political leadership and town services resulted in cities such as Oak Park and Berwyn voting to split off from Cicero, and other portions, such as Austin, were annexed into the city of Chicago.
By 1911, an aerodrome called the Cicero Flying Field had been established as the town's first aircraft facility of any type, located on a roughly square plot of land about 800 meters (1/2-mile) per side, on then-open ground at by the Aero Club of Illinois, founded on February 10, 1910. Famous pilots like Hans-Joachim Buddecke, Lincoln Beachey, Chance M. Vought and others flew from there at various times during the "pioneer era" of aviation in the United States shortly before the nation's involvement in World War I, before the field closed in mid-April 1916.
Al Capone built his criminal empire in Chicago before moving to Cicero to escape the reach of Chicago police. The 1924 Cicero municipal elections were particularly violent due to gang-related efforts to secure a favorable election result.
On July 11–12, 1951, a race riot erupted in Cicero when a white mob of around 4,000 attacked and burned an apartment building at 6139 W. 19th Street that housed the African-American family of Harvey Clark Jr., a Chicago Transit Authority bus driver who had relocated to the all-white city. Governor Adlai E. Stevenson was forced to call out the Illinois National Guard. The Clarks moved away and the building had to be boarded up. The Cicero riot received worldwide condemnation.
Cicero was taken up and abandoned several times as site for a civil rights march in the mid-1960s. Cicero had a sundown town policy prohibiting African Americans from living in the city. The American Friends Service Committee, Martin Luther King Jr., and many affiliated organizations, including churches, were conducting marches against housing and school de facto segregation and inequality in Chicago and several suburbs, but the leaders feared too violent a response in Chicago Lawn and Cicero. Eventually, a substantial march (met by catcalls, flying bottles and bricks) was conducted in Chicago Lawn, but only a splinter group, led by Jesse Jackson, marched in Cicero. The marches in the Chicago suburbs helped galvanize support for the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1968, extending federal prohibitions against discrimination to private housing. The act also created the United States Department of Housing and Urban Development's Office of Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity, which enforces the law.
The 1980s and 1990s saw a heavy influx of Hispanic (mostly Mexican and Central American) residents to Cicero. Once considered mainly a Czech or Bohemian town, most of the European-style restaurants and shops on 22nd Street (now Cermak Road) have been replaced by Spanish-titled businesses. In addition, Cicero has a small black community.
Cicero has seen a revival in its commercial sector, with many new mini-malls and large retail stores. New condominiums are also being built in the city.
Cicero has long had a reputation of government scandal. By 2002, Republican Town President Betty Loren-Maltese was sent to federal prison in California, for misappropriating $12 million in funds.
According to the 2010 census, Cicero has a total area of 5.86 square miles (15.18 km2), all land. Cicero formerly ran from Harlem Avenue to Western Avenue and Pershing Road to North Avenue; however, much of this area was annexed by Chicago.
- St. Mary of Czestochowa, a Neo-Gothic church built in the Polish Cathedral style along with the sculpture of Christ the King by famed sculptor Professor Czesław Dźwigaj, who also cast the monumental bronze doors at St. Hyacinth's Basilica in Chicago. The church's other claim to fame is as the site of Al Capone's sister Mafalda's wedding in 1930.
- J. Sterling Morton High School, East Campus, also known as Morton East High School, was built in 1894. The original school was destroyed by fire in 1924, and the current building was constructed. Located at 2423 S. Austin Blvd, Morton East serves residents of Cicero.
- Chodl Auditorium, located inside Morton East High School, was built in 1924 (completed 1927) to replace the 1,200-seat auditorium which was destroyed by fire. The auditorium was originally a dual-purpose room, serving as a gymnasium for students, and was originally built for this purpose. In 1967 the school stopped using the auditorium as a gymnasium. Chodl Auditorium is among the largest non-commercial proscenium theatres in the Chicago Metropolitan Area and is listed with the National Register of Historic Places.
- Hawthorne Works Tower, one of the original towers of the enormous Western Electric manufacturing plant that once stood east of Cicero Avenue, is still located behind the Hawthorne Works Shopping Center near the corner of Cermak Road (22nd Street) and Cicero Avenue.
- Chicagoland Sports Hall of Fame.
On the south side of Cicero, there were two racetracks. Hawthorne Race Course, located in Cicero and Stickney, is a horse racing track still in operation. Just north of it was Chicago Motor Speedway at Sportsman's Park, which was formerly Sportsman's Park Racetrack (for horse racing) for many years. This Sportsman's Park facility is now closed, acquired by the Town of Cicero, and has since been demolished. Facilities of the Wirtz Beverage Group have been built on the west half and a Walmart built on the east half.
|U.S. Census Bureau|
As of the 2010 census, 83,891 people, 22,101 households, and 17,752 families resided in the town. The population density was 14,315.9 people per square mile (5,527.4/km2). There were 24,329 housing units at an average density of 4,151.7 per square mile (1,600.6/km2). The racial makeup of the town was 51.9% White (9.2% Non-Hispanic white), 3.8% African American, 0.8% Native American, 0.6% Asian, 0.1% Pacific Islander American, 39.3% some other race, and 3.5% from two or more races. 89.6% of the population were Hispanic or Latino of any race, with 80.2% of Mexican descent.
There were 22,101 households, out of which 57.9% had children under the age of 18 living with them, 52.3% were headed by married couples living together, 17.6% had a female householder with no husband present, and 19.7% were non-families. 15.5% of all households were made up of individuals, and 5.5% were someone living alone who was 65 years of age or older. The average household size was 3.79, and the average family size was 4.19.
The age distribution at the 2010 census was 33.8% under the age of 18, 11.6% from 18 to 24, 30.9% from 25 to 44, 17.7% from 45 to 64, and 5.9% who were 65 years of age or older. The median age was 27.8 years. For every 100 females, there were 103.7 males. For every 100 females age 18 and over, there were 103.9 males. Of the total population, 50.9% are male and 49.1% are female.
As of the 2011 American Community Survey, the median income for a household in the town was $39,557, and the median income for a family was $42,235. Male full-time workers had a median income of $31,603 versus $31,117 for females. The per capita income for the town was $14,339. About 15.6% of families and 18.3% of the population were below the poverty line, including 22.9% of those under age 18 and 16.2% of those age 65 or over.
As of 2011, 52.5% of occupied housing units were owned properties, and 47.5% were rentals. There were 4,667 vacant housing units. The average age of home properties was greater than 66 years.
Cicero is a factory town. As of 1999, about a quarter of the city contained one of the greatest industrial concentrations in the world. There were more than 150 factories in 1.7 mi (2.8 km), producing communications and electronic equipment, sugar, printing presses, steel castings, tool and die makers' supplies, forging and rubber goods.
Cicero is served by Cicero Elementary School District 99 and comprises 16 schools, making it one of the largest public school districts outside of Chicago. Elementary students attend the following schools, depending on residency: Burnham (K-6), Cicero East (4-6), Cicero West (PK-4), Columbus East (4-6), Columbus West (PK-4), Drexel (K-6), Early Childhood Center (PK), Goodwin (PK-6), Liberty (K-3), Lincoln (PK-6), Roosevelt (5-6), Sherlock (PK-6), Warren Park (PK-6), Wilson (K-6), and Unity Junior High (7-8), which is separated into East/West sections. East side being held for eighth graders & seventh graders on the West side. Unity is the second largest middle school in the country. High school students entering their freshman year attend the Freshman Center and then continue high school at Morton East of the J. Sterling Morton High School District 201. The McKinley Educational Center serves as an alternative school for 5th-8th graders and the Morton Alternative School serves as an alternative school for 9th-12th graders
The Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Chicago operates two PK-8 schools in Cicero:
From 1927 until 1972, Cicero was the home of Timothy Christian School.
Cicero is also home to Morton College.
Cicero is served by two major railroad lines, the BNSF Railway and the Belt Line Railroad. Public Transportation is provided by Metra BNSF Railway Line between Aurora and Chicago's Union Station with a stop at the Cicero station near Cicero Avenue and 26th Street. Currently, this station is undergoing a much needed reconstruction and expansion by Metra. Also, the CTA Pink Line provides daily service from the 54th/Cermak terminal to the Loop. Its Cicero station is also located in Cicero. Multiple Pace and CTA bus routes cover portions of Cicero.
Cicero is served by the Cicero Fire Department (CFD), with a staff of 68 professional firefighters and 24 paramedics. The CFD operates out of three fire stations.
- Felix Biestek (1912–1994), American priest and professor
- Al Capone (born 1899), Nickname "Scarface", was an American gangster and businessman and the co-founder and boss of the Chicago Outfit.
- JoBe Cerny (born 1947), an actor from Cicero, is the voice of the Pillsbury Doughboy.
- John Edward Robinson (born 1943), American serial killer
In popular culture
- In the show “Chicago PD” Cicero is the hometown of the main character Sargent Hank Voight.
- In the HBO series Boardwalk Empire, Cicero is the home of Al Capone. Many of the episode plots are based in Cicero.
- Cicero is mentioned as the hometown of Jimmy McGill/Saul Goodman and his brother Chuck McGill in Better Call Saul.
- In the musical Chicago Velma Kelly mentions Cicero in the number "Cell Block Tango" as the location of the hotel where she murdered her husband Charlie and sister Veronica.
- In Walker Percy's novel Love in the Ruins, the schismatic American Catholic church establishes Cicero, Illinois as its "new Rome."
- In Bertolt Brecht's