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The land that today makes up Berwyn was originally fairly marshy and cold. As the glaciers receded at the end of the last ice age, a giant body of water known as Ancient Lake Chicago was created. Over time Lake Chicago grew smaller and became Lake Michigan, and the stream that connected the lake to Illinois River became a swamp known as Mud Lake. Mud Lake extended nearly to the Southern border of today's Berwyn.

In 1846, the first land in "Berwyn" was deeded to Theodore Doty who built the eight-foot wide Plank Road from Chicago to Ottawa. This thoroughfare became what is now Ogden Avenue in South Berwyn. In 1856, Thomas F. Baldwin purchased 347 acres (1.40 km2) of land, bordered by what is now Ogden Avenue, Ridgeland Avenue, 31st Street, and Harlem Avenue, in hopes of developing a rich and aristocratic community called "LaVergne." However, few people were interested in grassy marshland. Mud Lake extended nearly to the Southern border of today's Berwyn, and the land flooded regularly during heavy rains. Also the only mode of transportation to LaVergne was horse and buggy on the Plank Road.

To encourage people to move to LaVergne, Baldwin sold an 80-foot (24 m) wide strip of property to the Burlington and Quincy Railroad in 1862. The rail line opened in 1864, but the train did not stop regularly in the area. The railroad refused to build a station, so the residents of the area constructed LaVergne Station on Ridgeland Avenue in 1874.

However, the financial panic of 1873 and Baldwin's death in 1876 stunted the growth of LaVergne. Baldwin's daughter, Emma, inherited her father's estate, and in 1879 she sold most of the land to a group of realtors controlled by Marshall Field. The new development enacted building codes and stipulated the minimum building cost of each home. By the end of 1880, 12 new homes were built. By 1888, the settlement had grown so much that the Baldwin family donated the triangular piece of land bounded by Ogden Avenue, 34th Street, and Gunderson Avenue so that a school could be built. LaVergne School became the first public building in Berwyn.

In 1890 Charles E. Piper and Wilbur J. Andrews, two Chicago attorneys, purchased a 106-acre (0.43 km2) plot of land from the Field syndicate to develop. The land was bounded by Wesley, Kenilworth, 31st Street, and Ogden Avenues. By the following year, the two received approval from the Cicero Township to double their land holdings.

Piper and Andrews wanted the railroad to a build a station in their development, but the railroad already had stations at La Vergne and at Harlem Avenue. Piper and Andrews decided to build a station with the understanding that trains would stop regularly. They didn't know what to name their station so they consulted a Pennsylvania train timetable to a find a name. The name they chose was "Berwyn," a beautiful subdivision outside of Philadelphia. After 1901, all settlements in the area were known as Berwyn.

While Piper and Andrews were developing the Southern portion of present-day Berwyn, John Kelly was helping to develop the North part from 12th Street to 16th Street. This area was really a part of an Oak Park subdivision, and it even appeared on some maps as "South Oak Park." In fact, children who lived in this area went to school in Oak Park. John Kelly was known as "Mr. Everything" because he was a realtor, builder, insurance seller, and community servant.

In between the two settlements there was little except for a few farms. The area between 16th and 31st Streets was not settled. There were only two paths by which to travel between the two settlements, and today these paths are known as Oak Park Avenue and Ridgeland Avenue. Although Berwyn was chartered as a city in 1908, it was not until the 1920s that this middle portion of land was developed.

During this time Berwyn was known as being the area's fastest growing suburb. The city's stringent building codes resulted in block upon block of well-built brick two story bungalows. Many also contained elaborate design elements typically not seen, such as stained glass windows, clay tile roofs, terra cotta, and intricate brick patterns. Today, Berwyn is noted as having the most significant collection of Chicago-style bungalows in the nation.


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