Finally there is a book about the history of Forest Park. The author, Kenneth Knack, discussed his research into local history at Centuries and Sleuths Book Store on Sunday, January 16, 2011.
Knack has long-standing ties to the area. He is currently an auxiliary police officer in Forest Park, grew up in the town, and attended school at St. Bernadine’s and Proviso East High School. He admits to always having had an interest in the past and had been collecting post cards for a long time when he contacted Arcadia Publishing about doing the book. They said he needed about 50 post cards and he had about 30, so he put the idea aside but continued to have an interest in local history. He was later contacted by the publisher and told that he could use old photographs as well as post cards. He decided to take on the project. Because of the difficulty of accessing the local historical society archives, Knack had to contact older businesses and residents for the book.
There is a fascinating history to the area. For one thing, the name has changed several times, becoming Forest Park only about 100 years ago. Prior to that it was known as Harlem and before that, Oak Ridge. Bars and cemeteries often come to mind when people think of Forest Park, but there were many other unique businesses that have now passed into history. The Forest Park Mall used to be a torpedo factory which made munitions during WWII, Korea and the Vietnam wars. At one point it employed 6000 people.
There was an amusement park in the area too, with an 18 hole golf course and a mile long race track. They are all long gone, some due to the building of the Eisenhower expressway and others to downturns in the economy.
Forest Park has been the scrappy blue collar neighbor to the snootier Oak Park and there has been rivalry between the two towns for a long time. At one time there was a bar for every 30 residents. It was also home concert halls and summer gardens, which apparently gave it a reputation as a rough place. Now with the trendy boutiques and restaurants that have moved out of Oak Park to the friendlier business climate of this small town it’s hard to believe that it was ever rowdy.
The book is fascinating if you like local history with a section of pictures that show the town years ago compared to the way it looks today. It is available from Centuries and Sleuths.