Covering only 2.62 square miles, Western Springs is small in size but has many things commuters want from a bedroom community. Streets canopied by old trees. A busy downtown within walking distance of every house. A diverse housing stock. Plenty of activities for the kids.
In short, Western Springs is a comfy, quiet retreat from a long day's work in the city.
While many less-affluent suburbs suffer visibly from the recession, with scores of foreclosure signs and boarded-up storefronts, this Cook County village is thriving. In fact, the teardown phenomenon continues here, albeit at a slower pace, as buyers leave city condos for single-family houses with backyards for their young families.
"I think I know 40 or 50 people here from my high school alone," said Chicago native Mike Hynes, who hired j2 Santi Custom Homes in Western Springs to build his house in 2010. "We're close to our parents' houses in the city but have a nice quiet community with low crime where we can raise the kids." Weekdays, Hynes walks to the Metra train station from his house. On weekends, his family heads to the parks for his children's T-ball, basketball and soccer games.
A community of about 13,000 residents, Western Springs is 16 miles west of the Loop. The atmosphere is laid-back, which is how folks like it. Violent crime is rare, robberies are few. The baddest guys in town are the emerald ash borers, whose gangs are closing in from La Grange and Hinsdale.
"Meet me at the tower" is Western Springs-speak for the 112-foot stone village landmark that anchors Spring Rock Park, where residents gather for community events. It oversees the village's small but bustling downtown, which includes a requisite Starbucks plus multigeneration merchants. Residents take numbers to buy smiley-faced cookies at Kirschbaum's Bakery and "grillmaster hamburgers" from Casey's Market.
"We know who is painting their bedroom, who is switching their bulbs to CFLs and who is power-washing their deck today," said Linda Johnson, who followed her dad's footsteps as owner of Western Springs Village Hardware. She makes popcorn for the Saturday-morning crowd that fills the store.
Like Hynes and many of his neighbors, village president William Rodeghier grew up in Chicago. But the same amenities that lured developer T.C. Hill's early buyers to the village brought him here too. "Shade trees and evergreens on all the streets," stated Hill's ads. "Trains almost hourly … store, post office, church, school." The mineral water touted in the ads is gone, but otherwise Western Springs is the bedroom that these commuters want in a bedroom community.
Originally labeled East Hinsdale, Western Springs became its own village in 1876. It was developed by a trio of men including Hill, who marketed its lots from their Chicago office.
The original land titles said "no intoxicating liquors shall be sold on said premises," reflecting the Quaker background of Hill and his colleagues. The village was dry until 2002.
The water tower is reminiscent of the mineral water that put Western Springs on the map and was sold as a "curative for diseases of the kidneys, bladder, Bright's disease, diabetes, dyspepsia, nervous debility of women" and a host of other ailments. The bottom of the tower once housed the police station and jail and now the historical society.
Things to do
Western Springs offers ample recreational and cultural opportunities for residents young and old.
The Western Springs Business Association hosts annual events including a fall festival, Christmas walk and Easter egg roll. The tower is the central spot for the annual Gathering on the Green and the 5K and 10K Tower Trot, which attracts more than 1,200 runners annually.
A farmers market dubbed French Market sets up shop on Thursdays through Oct. 27.
On the village's north side is Bemis Woods Forest Preserve. Bicyclists can pick up the Salt Creek Trail to ride to Brookfield Zoo.
For such a small town, Western Springs has a laudable lineup of arts associations: the Theatre of Western Springs, Tower Chorale and Western Springs Music Club. "Instead of going into the city to see a performance, we can walk," Rodeghier said.
The village has a small collection of white-tablecloth eateries including Vie and 800 West, plus restaurants for Sunday morning pancakes.
Count your pennies before buying a house here. Carol Rosentreter, of Re/Max Properties in Western Springs, reports that the typical sale in the last year was $589,000. Sales ranged from a $200,000 fixer-upper that sold as a teardown to a 2006 two-story that went for $2.1 million.
"It's mostly young professional couples who have had their fun living in the city and who want to settle down in the suburbs where there are top-rated schools," said Rosentreter. "We also see a lot of move-ups from within town."
Housing is a mix of new teardowns and an appealing architectural array of foursquares, Cape Cods, brick Colonials, plus a few storybook houses that defy style guidelines.
You can count on one hand the number of multifamily homes here; rentals are scarce.
Oak Brook has dibs on most of the sales tax revenue in this area, so Western Springs has hefty real estate taxes. That $2.1 million house has an annual tax bill of $33,700.
Pace's bus route 669 runs north-south from Indian Head Park to the village Metra rail station, which is within walking distance of many homes. Those who commute by car can jump on Interstate Highway 294, which lines the village's west side.
Two elementary school districts serve the community, 101 and 106. Most kids walk to grade schools. These schools feed into Lyons Township High School's south campus for grades 9 and 10 in Western Springs and north campus for grades 11 and 12 in La Grange.
Though some buyers say they move here for the public schools, and pay big-bucks real estate taxes to support them, Catholic schooling is their family tradition, so they send their children to St. John of the Cross Parish School in Western Springs for grades pre-K to 8.