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Downers Grove

Downers Grove Downtown photo tour brings rail history to life

DOWNERS GROVE – Downers Grove's history is intertwined with that of the Burlington National rail line, which helped to shape the downtown, and spur the early growth of the village.

The connection is explored in the Downers Grove Historical Society's photo tour this August, which brings vintage photographs to the windows of 34 downtown business.

"A lot of people commuted to Chicago, even in the 1880s and 1890s," Downers Grove Museum volunteer Carol Wandschneider said. "It also helped our farmers very early on, because the cattle was raised on the farms south of town. They could drive cattle to stock pens close to depot, and the train would take them to stock yards in Chicago. That would also apply to the crops."

The choice of this year's tour topic could not have been better for Olive Tap owner Mario Olivi. He grew up in the Pullman neighborhood of Chicago, in the waning day's of the namesake company's production of luxury rail cars.

Both his father and grandfather worked for Pullman, and his grandparents owned a restaurant 500 feet from the main gait, he said. He moved to the suburbs the day he married in 1980, opened his business in Downers Grove in 2007 and moved to the village this year.

In addition to the historic photos posted in his window during the tour, he's researched and designed his own historical display.

"I feel like a kid," he said. "I'm just having a ball with this."

His display focuses on the transition from steam to diesel, he said, along with historical curiosities, like the special excursion trains occasionally offered by the railroad. In his research he found documentation for one offer that took travelers from Downers Grove to San Francisco in 1879 for $8. He's also displaying a collection of books and items about Pullman.

Beginning Aug. 6, shoppers can visit the Olive Tap, 5143 Mochel Drive, and the other 33 business to view the photos, and try to solve the four mystery photos printed on the backside of the free, tri-fold tour pamphlet. Answers will be posted to

Photographs on display depict the original depot, the first Zephyr to travel the tracks, along with old steam-powered locomotives and the evolution of other related equipment spanning from 1865 to 1981.

Keith Lipski of the Timberline Train Shop helped the Historical Society identify the make and model of the historic engines and other machinery shown in the photos, many of which came from the Downers Grove Museum and from the collections of John Mochel, Wandschneider said. Many other shots came from Ed Bunting, a former Downers Grove resident and professional photographer who donated all of his negatives.


WHAT: Downtown Photo Tour, sponsored by the Downers Grove Historical Society, Downers Grove Park District Museum and Downtown Downers Grove management Corporation.

WHERE: 34 downtown businesses will display photos, and pamphlets listing participating business are available at the Tivoli Theater and Bowling Alley, 938 Warren Ave.; Coldwell Banker Realtor, 5114 Main St.; and the Downers Grove Downtown Management Corporation office, 933A Curtiss St.

WHEN: Aug. 6 - Sept. 1

COST: Free

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