Homewood: a bustling town grows along a former Indian trail
Following a path worn by buffalo, Native Americans traveled the length of the eastern border of Illinois. French fur trapper-traders utilized the same trail. Gurdon Saltonstall Hubbard, a fur trader for John Jacob Astor's American Fur Trading Company, became legendary as "Swiftwalker" and established trading posts between Chicago and Vincennes, Indiana. The route was identified as "Hubbard's Trail" on early maps. Suspecting the Winnebagos were going to attack Fort Dearborn in July 1827, Hubbard rode 140 miles to Danville, Illinois in 20 hours to recruit a company of Vermillion County Rangers. In 1835, the Illinois General Assembly ordered a state road to be established and Hubbard's Trail was selected as the most favorable route - Route 1 - and mile markers were placed along it. Hubbard was a close friend of Abraham Lincoln's and constructed the "Wigwam" in Chicago where Lincoln was nominated for president.
Settlements developed along the route with the first residents arriving in this area in the 1830s and 1840s to farm the fertile soil. James Hart platted Hartford as the first subdivision in 1853 the same year the first Illinois Central Railroad train came through. The railroad designated the stop as Thornton Station. Thornton Flour Mill Company (1856), general stores and taverns opened to serve the residents. As the settlement's importance increased, the US Post Office changed the name to Homewood in 1869. Homewood was incorporated in 1893.
By 1915 automobile travel became increasingly popular for business, agricultural, and recreational uses. Citizens demanded that the government provide better roads, which at this time consisted primarily of dirt and were passible in fair weather, yet quickly became muddy and impassible after a few hours of rain. Governors from several states met to consider an improved road from Indianapolis to Florida. States lobbied for inclusion, so instead of a single route, two major divisions were designated. Carl Fisher, a civic booster, an auto enthusiast instrumental in developing the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, a Florida land developer, and called the "Father of the Lincoln Highway," convinced the governors that Chicago should be the northern terminus. The great Dixie Highway was born.
By the turn of the century, golf courses sprouted in Homewood's countryside, and wealthy Chicago golfers developed two golf courses in Homewood: Ravisloe Country Club in 1901, and Calumet Country Club relocated here from Chicago in 1917. In the 1920s, Amalfi Gardens, a restaurant at 175th and Dixie Highway, drew visitors from as far away as Chicago. After several different owners, it became Surma's Restaurant (1946-2003) and still operates as a restaurant today.
Dixie Highway became Homewood's main thoroughfare. A white frame two-room school built in 1880 now houses businesses and apartments just north of this sign. Next to the building is a Dixie Highway mileage sign post. On this site known as Independence Park, a four-room, two-story brick building named Standard School was built in 1904. An underpass was constructed under Dixie Highway so students could cross the highway safely. The Homewood village Hall, at Dixie Highway and Chestnut Road, was built with the aid of PWA funds and was dedicated in September 1939. It is considered an architectural gem.
In 1998 the Village of Homewood Heritage Committee sought the cooperation of the Illinois Dixie Communities to promote the heritage of the highway. The result was Dixie Highway signs, street pole banners, an Illinois State Historical Society marker and starting in 2002 the "Drivin' the Dixie," a vintage and collector car tour, supported by A's R US Model A Ford Car Club and Tri-Town Radio Amateur Club. For more information visit, homesweethomewood.com.