The Maywood Public Library is one of the oldest public libraries in the state. It is almost 139 years old, as it was founded December 29, 1874. This was two years after the Illinois General Assembly passed a law authorizing the foundation of municipal libraries.
In fact, the Maywood Public Library (MPL) is older than the suburb’s government as the Village of Maywood incorporated in 1881. Maywood is an inner-ring suburb, eleven miles west of the Loop and five-and-a-half miles outside the Chicago city limits.
Maywood is south and southeast of Melrose Park; west of River Forest and Forest Park (and thus Oak Park); north of Broadview (and thus Brookfield); northeast of Westchester; and east of Bellwood. The famous Maywood Park Racetrack is actually in Melrose Park.
Maywood is separated from River Forest and Forest Park by the Des Plaines River. An unincorporated area separates Maywood from North Riverside to the south.
This is the Millers Meadows forest preserve of the Cook County Forest Preserve District east of 1st Avenue and the large hospital campus west of 1st Avenue and east of 8th Avenue. The latter includes the Loyola University Health Science Campus, Loyola University Stritch School of Medicine, Loyola University Medical Center, Loyola University Medical Center Pediatrics, John J. Madden Mental Health Center, and Edward Hines, Junior V.A. Hospital.
The first farmers in the area purchased land from the U.S. Government after the Blackhawk War (1832). They were mostly of English or German descent.
In 1850, they formed Taylor Township. Residents changed the township name to the more familiar Proviso in honor of the Wilmot Proviso (1846), introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives by Congressman David Wilmot (1814-1868), which, if passed, would have outlawed slavery in any lands acquired at the expense of Mexico in the Mexican-American War (1846-48).
Colonel William T. Nichols, who had fought with the Vermont Volunteers during the Civil War and served in both houses of the Vermont state legislature, founded Maywood in 1869 with a group of six other men from Vermont who formed the Maywood Company. They named the community and the company after the colonel’s late daughter.
After they purchased the tract of land, they had $75,000 in capital. The State of Illinois chartered the company on April 6, 1869. Col. Nichols served as president until his death in 1882. He also lived in Maywood until his death.
The Maywood Company purchased homes along the bank of the Des Plaines River. The farm south of the Chicago Northwestern Railroad came from M.C. Niles, who sold the Maywood Company his farmland at $100 per acre. His farmhouse at 104 Oak Street is now The Way Back Inn, a rehab center.
In 1869, the Chicago and North Western Railway Company agree to build a depot in Maywood with side tracks for freight. Two years later, the Chicago Scraper & Ditch Company built a two-story wood structure along these side tracks between 6th and 7th Avenues.
In 1872, the Maywood Company built more than 100 homes. Two years later, the Maywood Company built a three-story brick multi-use building one block west to house the Chicago Scraper & Ditch Company’s plant and administrative offices, as well as stores on the 1st floor and a public hall that could accommodate 800 people on the 3rd floor.
The Chicago Scraper & Ditch Company was so successful that in 1878 the Maywood Company sold $531,000 in bonds (using real estate holdings as collateral) to purchase the Chicago Scraper & Ditch Company. As many Maywood residents were employed at the factory, Maywood effectively became a company town.
By 1881, Maywood had just under 1,000 residents. In 1885, the Maywood Company the multi-use brick building to the Norton Bros. Can Company, of which Maywood resident Henry Norton served as first president.
In 1901, the Norton Brothers Can Company merged into the American Can Company. Nine years later, the American Can Company began to build additional facilities along both sides of St. Charles Road.
By 1930, the American Can Company had multiple buildings between 6th and 14th Streets. It was the largest employer in town, employing thousands of people even during the Great Depression. The American Can Company was a powerful force in town until it closed operations there in 1975.
The Village of Maywood built a new Maywood Village Hall and also formed the Maywood Fire Department in 1895. The Maywood Fire Department Building at 511 St. Charles Road is on the National Park Service’s National Register of Historic Places.
The Maywood Fire Department began to have paid firemen work beside the volunteers in 1928. It became a service comprised exclusively of paid, full-time firefighters in 1932.
Southern Maywood became more attractive when the Chicago, Aurora and Elgin electric railway added service to Maywood in 1902. As a result, the Maywood Company sold lots that ended with 225 houses being built in 1903 and ’04.
This helped spur the Village of Maywood to pave ten miles of brick streets. The Proviso Land Association built and sold single-family homes and two flats in a variety of styles.