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The Earliest Aerial Photo of Western Springs

Seventy-four years ago, a biplane flew back and forth over Western Springs taking aerial photos. Here’s what they show.

Long before the Internet and Bing© maps were invented, the U.S. Department of Agriculture embarked on a nationwide aerial photo-mapping effort. In recent years, the State of Illinois digitized these photos to preserve them for future generations. To see the earliest aerial photo of our entire village, click on the following link and be patient while the photo loads. But, promise that, after you close the file, you’ll come back to read the rest of this article.

(The earliest aerial photo of Western Springs!)

Perhaps the most notable difference in the Western Springs of 1938 and today was the sheer number of vacant lots that still existed in Field Park, Ridge Acres, and Forest Hills, as well as the largely undeveloped property that today comprises Springdale, Commonwealth, Ridgewood, and Timber Trails. Remember, the Great Depression began in the late 1920’s, but new housing starts did not fully recover until after World War II. 

Using your scroll bars, scan down, as well as west to east. You’ll see vacant land that is today’s Illinois Tollway, a large number of Vaughan’s greenhouses near what is today’s swimming pool, a much smaller Spring Rock Park, and a downtown area that still had vacant lots between some buildings.

If you look REAL hard at the Burlington railroad tracks, you may even spot a westbound freight train being pulled by a steam locomotive (it’s at the extreme left and looks like a long black line; the engine is approaching the bridge at what was then the Hinsdale Sanitarium).

There are also many things you won’t see: Forest Preserve trees at the corner of Ogden & Wolf, the not-yet-built Village Hall and fire station, the Garden Market shopping center, Lyons Township’s South Campus, or any schools other than a much smaller McClure (on Wolf Road), a smaller Grand Avenue School, and the old Clark School at 46th & Franklin, which no longer stands.

See if you can spot the Ford Library at Chestnut & Wolf. It was just six years old when this aerial photo was taken and the building was much smaller than you’re accustomed to seeing. And, for those with extremely good eyesight, find 47th and Central and then look west.  You’ll see a sign at the bottom of Spring Rock Park that spells out “WESTERN SPRINGS”. This was made out of rocks that were painted white and used by early aviators to verify their location. 

If you spot something else of special interest, please submit a comment so others can enjoy it too!

Bob Baker February 15, 2012 at 01:19 PM
That is very cool, John. I actually found my house, which would've been 11 years old when this photo was taken. Thanks for posting this!
Peggy Linabury Gutzke February 15, 2012 at 07:47 PM
You can see the round circle just north of the tracks of the Old Water Tower. Then west 2 blocks and north 2 blocks is the Congregational Church. You can see the sanctuary is in the shape of a cross. I can also see our house with vacant lots to the south and west where the homes all look "new" (not old) now.
John Devona February 16, 2012 at 12:29 AM
Bob & Peggy, Our Field Park house was just a vacant lot in 1938. Only a half dozen houses had been built on our entire block by that time. Amazing!
Darren McRoy February 16, 2012 at 02:44 AM
This photo really amazes me. Forest Hills and Springdale are just pure farmland. Cool!

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