A Chicago-area destination all its own, with a variety of restaurants, shops, lodging, and major attractions that showcase the very best in music, culture, and sports, Chicago Southland also offers a rich history rooted in expansion and innovation.
Since its inception, Chicago Southland has been a place of business and travel. The region was born from a selection of trading posts and supply shops developed to serve European immigrant workers who came to the area in 1836 to start construction on the Illinois and Michigan Canal. Connecting Chicago to the Illinois and Mississippi rivers, the canal contributed to the growth of Chicago Southland, as did the railroads that emerged decades later. The rails entered Chicago through Chicago Southland; those planning to settle in the West often stopped at the Chicago Southland communities that had been built along the railway lines. Early Chicago Southland settlers were third- and fourth-generation families from the eastern U.S., as well as those of German, Dutch, Irish, and Italian origin. Today, the area's diverse heritages are celebrated with a number of ethnic festivals.
Chicago Southland's population exploded with the arrival of the automobile. In 1913, construction of Lincoln Highway, the nation's first transcontinental paved roadway, had begun, and by 1915, Lincoln Highway and Dixie Highway crossed in Chicago Heights, once known as the "Crossroads of the Nation." Destinations like Matteson, Tinley Park, and Orland Park, once known as small, historic villages, grew into large automobile-based suburbs. Chicago Southland experienced another population surge after World War II; in fact, Chicago Southland's Park Forest area was designed for returning veterans.
To this day, Chicago Southland is proud of its past and ensures that historic preservation is active in its present and future. Many of the region's attractions and sites pay homage to the Illinois Central Railroad, which holds a distinct history in the region as the first land-grant railroad in the United States. Visitors and locals alike delight in the interpretive murals that line the Illinois Lincoln Highway, which together tell the story of the country's first coast-to-coast road. Visitors can choose from a variety of driving tours focused on railroad history and regional monuments. One popular railroad-minded attraction, Homewood Railroad Platform and Park, allows visitors to view mainline and commuter trains from a platform equipped with live switchyard audio.
In addition to its historical sites, Chicago Southland is home to a number of arts and culture favorites, including the Park Forest-based Illinois Philharmonic Orchestra. As the largest performing arts organization in Chicago Southland, the orchestra performs a variety of series with a repertoire ranging from classical masterpieces to modern favorites. Set within the wild prairie swales of the Governors State University campus, the Nathan Manilow Sculpture Park showcases 28 contemporary works set against the natural landscape.
When it's time to satisfy an appetite, Chicago Southland features hundreds of fine and casual eateries serving up a variety of specialties. Chuck's Southern Comforts Cafe, in Burbank, is known for its blend of Mexican, Cajun-Creole, and Southern flavors, as well as its slow-cooked, smoked barbecue, while Dixie Kitchen & Bait Shop, in Lansing, marries authentic Cajun, Creole, and Southern flavors in its homemade offerings. Named the best small brewpub and best small brewpub brewer in the country at the Great American Beer Festival, Flossmoor Station Restaurant & Brewery, in Flossmoor, serves classic American Heartland cuisine in a historic railroad building. Cooper's Hawk Winery & Restaurant, in Orland Park, designs its modern menu around its handcrafted wine, while Palmero's 95th Italian Cuisine has been delighting Oak Lawn with its traditional and modern Italian cuisine since 1961.