Founded in 1868 by the Civil War Colonel William T. Nichols, Maywood is a western suburb of Chicago, on the west bank of the Des Plaines River.
The village has a large quantity of historic architecture, including 17 homes and properties on the National Register of Historic Places.
At the turn of the 20th century, Frank Lloyd Wright was based nearby at Oak Park, and left behind a remarkable number of houses and landmarks.
One figure connected to Maywood is the 60s activist Fred Hampton, who was murdered by the authorities while asleep in bed, and whose childhood home is being turned into a community center and museum.
A much earlier event with seismic repercussions was the Haymarket Affair (1886), and the five men executed in the aftermath were interred at Forest Home Cemetery in the southeast of the village.
1. Illinois Prairie Path
The CTA Station next door in Forest Park is the eastern trailhead for a network of paved trails that branches out through the western suburbs between the Des Plaines River and the Fox River.
The Illinois Prairie Path is mostly on the former right-of-way of the Chicago, Aurora and Elgin Railroad, which dates back to 1902.
The prominent naturalist, May Theilgaard Watts (1893-1975) proposed the trail, which became a blueprint for rail-to-trail projects around the country.
Crossing numerous parks, as well as dozens of places to pick up food and drink, the trail cuts through Maywood on its way to Wheaton where it diverges into two and then four spurs, each one ending at the east bank of the Fox River.
2. Fred Hampton House
The left-wing activist and chairman of the Illinois chapter of the Black Panther Party, Fred Hampton (1948-1969) grew up in Maywood from the age of ten.
Hampton strived for social change, working for peace among Chicago street gangs, and initiating the antiracist and anti-class Rainbow Coalition.
He was drugged and killed in bed in 1969 during a pre-dawn raid by a tactical team from the Cook County State’s Attorney’s Office, working with the Chicago Police Department and the FBI.
At the time of writing, a campaign led by Fred Hampton Jr. to turn Hampton’s childhood home into a community center and museum had just reached its fundraising goal. Keep an eye on the property at 804 South 17th Ave. to see the plans take shape.
3. Maywood Grove
Within walking distance of the many restaurants around the Maywood Metra station is a restful natural space managed by the Forest Preserve District of Cook County.
Maywood Grove has a big sweep of grass around a shelter that has a capacity for 200. Traced by stunning oak woodland, the Des Plaines River Flows down the east side of the preserve.
If you have your own vessel and equipment you can use the carry-in canoe landing here. Just around the corner from Maywood Grove is the Winslow House, Frank Lloyd Wright’s first major commission as an independent architect, built in 1893.
4. Forest Home Cemetery
Flanking the Des Plaines River on Maywood’s east side is a cemetery with portions that date back to the 1870s.
One of these is the old German Waldheim cemetery, established in 1873 as a non-religion-specific cemetery, not discriminating on race, ethnicity or politics.
This became the only Chicago-area cemetery that would accept the remains of the five defendants sentenced to death in 1887 during the Haymarket Affair.
Because of this, the cemetery became the burial place of choice for important left-wing thinkers, writers and activists of the late 19th and early 20th century.
You can track down the graves of numerous influential figures from this period, among them Emma Goldman (1869-1939), Lucy Parsons (1851-1952), Voltairine de Cleyre (1866-1912), Joseph Dietzgen (1828-1888), Elizabeth Gurley Flynn (1890-1964) and William Z. Foster (1881-1961).
Forest Home Cemetery is also the burial place of Billy Sunday (1862-1935), a prominent evangelist whose preaching helped drum up support for Prohibition.
5. Haymarket Martyrs’ Monument
It was because of the Haymarket Martyrs’ Monument that Forest Home Cemetery became a pilgrimage place for union members, anarchists and leftists.
George Engel, August Spies, Adolph Fischer, Albert Parsons and Louis Lingg were buried here following execution for their supposed role in a bombing in 1886 at a labor demonstration that killed at least ten people, including seven police officers.
The Haymarket Affair, referring to the aftermath and repercussions of the bombing, is thought to be the origin of International Workers’ Day, on May 1. The monument was erected in 1893, with a design by German-American sculptor Albert Weinert.
6. Trailside Museum of Natural History
On the opposite bank to Maywood Grove are the grounds for a natural history museum founded in 1931.
The main building is a stately Victorian mansion, built in 1876 and purchased by the Forest Preserves in 1919.
In this elegant backdrop you can get to know the ecology of the Des Plaines River, and see some of these species up close in live animal displays.
Outside, a system of trails beckons you through old growth oak woodlands and the museum’s marvellous wildflower gardens, while there’s also a 1.5-acre pond, a remnant oxbow of the river.
Check the FPDCC website to find out about museum programs, from guided bird walks to pond paddles.
7. Thatcher Woods
North of the Trailside Museum is Thatcher Woods, encompassing a beautiful parcel of prairie, savanna and floodplain forest along the Des Plaines River.
There are more than 250 plant species at the preserve, and after periods of flooding in the spring and summer the banks become a feeding ground for kingfishers, painted turtles and great white egrets.
Red-shouldered hawks and sharp-shinned hawks are also known to nest in the quieter wooded areas.
There are almost five miles of unpaved trails at Thatcher Woods, and in the north end of the preserve these lead to a scenic river bluff.
If you follow Thatcher Avenue north to Evans Field, you’ll also find the southern trailhead for the Des Plaines River Trail, which continues more or less unbroken to the Wisconsin line.
8. Brookfield Zoo
One of the big Chicago area family attractions is ten minutes at most from Maywood. Inaugurated in 1934, Brookfield Zoo has a long-held reputation for ethical animal treatment, pioneering the use of moats and ditches for enclosures instead of cages.
Some of the many highlights include Tropic World, home to gorillas, the rhinos at Pachyderm House, Living Coast’s penguins and the giraffes at Habitat Africa! The Savannah.
Smaller children will be pleased with Hamill Family Wild Encounters, where you can hand-feed pygmy goats.
A simple way to get the most out of a visit is via the Motor Safari, a tram tour of the park, during which you’ll find out about the zoo’s important conservation work and learn about the rich history of the Chicago Zoological Society.
9. Veterans Memorial Park
There’s a large public space at 5th Avenue & Oak Street, next to the Metra station, Maywood’s public library and the police department buildings.
As an appropriate tribute to someone who railed against segregation, Veterans Memorial Park is home to an outdoor pool named in Fred Hampton’s honor and fronted by a bust of the man.
This pool tends to be open mid-June through mid-August, but it’s worth checking the Maywood Park District website for details.
Elsewhere the park has a playground, picnic area and amenities for baseball/softball, two full basketball courts and fields for football and soccer.
In the southeast corner is a memorial commemorating the Bataan Death March (1942), involving men from the 33rd Tank Company, which was based in Maywood.
10. Chicken Factory
There is such a thing as Chicago-style fried chicken, with its light, crisp breading, and a simple, peppery seasoning.
Connoisseurs will tell you that many of the best spots have slowly disappeared or declined in quality, but the good news is that one of the best independent places to go is right here in Maywood.
Chicken Factory cooks its chicken to order, frying wings, legs & thighs, liver and gizzards, tenders, whole birds and assorted family trays.
Like most Chicago chicken joints, there’s also a choice of fish, from catfish to tilapia, as well as sandwiches like Italian beef and shrimp po boy.
11. Frank Lloyd Wright Home and Studio
A brief bus or Metra ride away is the suburb of Oak Park, which has the highest concentration of works by Frank Lloyd Wright (1867-1959) in the world.
Wright lived here with his first wife and family from 1889 to 1909, after borrowing $5,000 from his then employer, to build a home.
The house was altered throughout Wright’s time here, most notably in 1898 when he added his studio. Touring the property you’ll witness the architect’s style philosophy evolving.
Many Wright signatures are here, including an open interior, emphasis on pure geometric forms, sensitive use of natural materials and harmony with the surrounding land.
An undoubted highlight is the children’s playroom, added to the back of the house in 1895, with a stunning barrel vault lit from the center by a continuous skylight.
12. Unity Temple
In the magnificent ensemble of buildings designed by Frank Lloyd Wright is one landmark that cannot be missed.
The Unity Temple (1905-1908) is commonly held as the first truly modern building and is part of a nation-spanning UNESCO World Heritage Site for Wright’s most notable works.
Wright won the commission after the previous building burned down following a lightning strike in 1905, and had to work within a tight budget.
To do this he used concrete, which was inexpensive, and he employed the same moulds multiple times.
The exterior is unadorned and monolithic, while the interior of the sanctuary is at once intimate and impressive.
The quality of warmth is created by a nexus of 25 skylights in the ceiling coffers, with amber-tinted glass giving the impression of sunlight streaming in, even on dull days.
13. Oak Park Architecture Tour
As you’d expect, the overwhelming majority of the buildings Wright designed in Oak Park are off limits to visitors.
That won’t stop you seeing the most significant ones on a walking or bicycle tour, witnessing Wright’s Prairie School style taking shape as you go.
This can be done simply by downloading an itinerary online for a self-guided adventure, but the Frank Lloyd Trust also offers a choice of guided tours.
The 75-minute Wright in the Neighborhood is on foot and takes in the Nathan Moore House (1895), the Arthur Heurtley House (1902) and the Laura Gale House (1909), among others.
This tour takes place all year round, while in the warmer months you can sign up for Wright Around Oak Park (2.5 hours) and Pedal Oak Park (2 hours).
14. Forest Park Aquatic Center
Little more than five minutes away in Forest Park is an outdoor pool complex loaded with amenities.
Usually open Memorial Day weekend through Labor Day, the Forest Park Aquatic Center is open to non-residents (check timetable), and is anchored by a 367,000-gallon pool, combining zero-depth entry with lanes.
The center is a fun day out for toddlers, young children and teenagers, with a sprayground, interactive play structure, sand play area, two flume slides and two drop slides. Grownups can make the most of the adult swim and evening swim slots, to exercise in peace.
15. Miller Meadow
Another inviting forest preserve along the Des Plaines River, Miller Meadow is just southeast of Maywood and has four picnic groves, with two shelters.
For dog owners this place is a dream for its seven-acre off-leash dog area, although membership is required.
The off-leash area also has a shelter and has access to some two miles of on-leash trails in the preserve, suitable for hiking and bicycling, as well as cross-country skiing in the winter.
It’s not unusual to catch sight of deer early or late in the day at Miller Meadow, and if you’re searching for somewhere to test your drone there’s a model aircraft field on the preserve’s south side.