Oak Lawn, in images

Library’s history coordinator pens book about village

By Whitney Way

A new book featuring photos from as long ago as the 1800s tell the history and secrets of Oak Lawn using few words.

“Images of America: Oak Lawn,” with photographs compiled by Oak Lawn Public Library history coordinator Kevin Korst, is scheduled to be released Aug. 6. The book chronicles, using images, the history and development of the village and its residents over the past 170 years.

“The best way to convey history is through photographs,” Korst said. “You make history come alive.”

The book is part of a series published by Arcadia Publishing that chronicles the development of small towns across America. Korst approached Arcadia with hope the company would consider Oak Lawn for inclusion in the series, and after receiving approval took more than a year to complete the work.

Korst, of Romeoville, created the book to give Oak Lawn residents a sense of self, to inspire younger generations to learn about their history, he said.

“Knowing where you come from is fascinating,” he said.” I wanted to use it to garner village information and make it possible for people to learn about the town, and for longtime residents to reminisce about events they were there for.”

All of the photographs and research came from the Oak Lawn Library’s archives, Korst said. Most of the pictures had been donated to the library by residents or organizations. The book chronicles the beginning of the Oak Lawn in the 1830s through the 1970s. The oldest picture dates back to the 1880s.

“It’s hard to believe, especially for residents who’ve only been here for five to 10 years, that Oak Lawn started out as farmland with just 300 residents,” Korst said. “There was just so much, we couldn’t cover it all.”

Oak Lawn, which officially adopted the name in 1882, was settled in the 1830s when landowners and businesses first arrived in the area. Black-and-white photographs show dirt roads and farmlands, which testify to the quick progression of the community, Korst said. The area began rapidly expanding in the 1950s with the creation of new village departments, and schools to accommodate the book about villagepopulation growth.

Each chapter of the book covers a different aspect of Oak Lawn history. Korst chose to include events such as the deadly tornado of 1967 and the Round-up Festival because he learned from such history facts he never knew about the village. The tornado swept through the area after touching down in Palos Hills, and left 600 Oak Lawn residents homeless while killing 33. The village received aid from volunteers and organizations throughout the Midwest. Korst never realized the severity of the storm, which had a funnel cloud estimated to be several hundred feet wide and packed winds of 200 mph.

Oak Lawn’s quick recovery from the storm — it was about a year before the village was back to what it used to be — set the tone for the village’s reputation as a bustling suburb, Korst said.

“When communities come together in or after times of hardship, it builds community ties,” he said.

The Round-up Festival, meanwhile, attracted more than 75,000 people from the Midwest, Korst said. The village held the fest to attract new people and businesses to town. Many pictures and information in the book are from festivals such as the Round-up, Golden Jubilee and parades because those events established a sentiment of unity in the community, Korst explained.

Korst has been passionate about history since grade school, he said. He received his bachelor’s degree in American history from the University of St. Francis and a master’s degree in American history from Eastern Illinois University. Prior Lawnto coming to the Oak Lawn Library worked at the Joliet Area Historical Museum and the Elk Grove Historical Museum.

“I’ve always been interested in history,” he said. “From grade school to high school to college, I though why not make a career of it.”

He had wanted to get started on a project like the book since he began working in the area four years ago, but because of time constraints and lack of research had to postpone his plan, he said. He wants the book to leave readers with a better sense of “how Oak Lawn became Oak Lawn.”

“If there’s one thing I want a reader to leave with it’s a sense of community and how it was developed by its people,” he said. “Hopefully newer generations will learn something they didn’t know.”