Next time I ride the South Shore from my Hegewisch neighborhood to downtown Chicago, I will take a closer look at the Van Buren Street station.
I recently heard that it was an original station on the Illinois Central line and has been used by South Shore passengers since the rail line’s beginning.
I learned this and other history nuggets during my recent chat with Cynthia Ogorek, a public historian and published author of area history books. I contacted her when I found out she is working on a book about the history of Hegewisch.
Ogorek said she has been researching the book by interviewing Hegewisch natives and current residents. She’s also on the lookout for old city directories, phone books, church cookbooks and other local artifacts.
She said anyone with a story or photos of historical significance in Hegewisch can contact her at (708) 862-8662 or Cynthia@CenterofKnownHistory.com.
Ogorek herself was born with Hegewisch in her blood. She lived here until she was 4 years old, both of her parents grew up here and all of her relatives lived here.
“One of my grandfathers owned a tavern on Baltimore and 133rd Street so they were tied into the business district of the town. Everything I ever heard about Hegewisch from my relatives made it sound like a really great place to live.”
Ogorek has already had three of her books about local history get published. These are "The Lincoln Highway around Chicago,” “Along the Calumet River,” and “Along the Chicago South Shore and South Bend Rail Line.”
The South Shore book is her most recent and came out in November and Ogorek said feedback has been good.
“I won an award (for the book) at the end of April at the Illinois State Historical Society in Springfield.” On May 18, she received another award from the Illinois Women’s Press Association.
“It’s the non-rail fan’s guide to the South Shore,” she said. Everyone can find something to enjoy.
“It’s another historical photo essay with a brief history of the railroad. A lot of the photos and descriptions are devoted to what you see from the train along the corridor from Randolph Street all the way out to South Bend.”
Ogorek told me about the Stephen A. Douglas monument near 35th Street, just one of the interesting sites you can spot from your South Shore car.
Douglas, who famously debated Abraham Lincoln during their presidential race, at one time owned all the land that the South Shore runs on.
Douglas came to Chicago in the 1840s and bought up land, which the Illinois Central eventually bought to build its railroad, Ogorek said.
After his death he was buried in what is now Chicago’s Bronzeville neighborhood. The monument that we see today was eventually built over his grave and is maintained by the Illinois Historic Preservation Agency as a state historic site.
Ogorek said that any time you write a book about moving things, like trains and highways, people love it.
“The South Shore book is a little different because I’m not concentrating on the locomotives or the cars. I’m trying to give the people who ride the train the story as to what they’re riding, how the electricity works and how it gets to the train. What do you see out the window? Why did the train run though the area it runs through?”
If you want to read more about all the history along the South Shore tracks, copies of Ogorek’s book are available through online book retailers and arcadiapublishing.com.
Her Website is centerofknownhistory.com.