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Riverside History

The Riverside Landscape Architectural District
was designated a
National Historic Landmark in 1970.

One of Riverside's many gas lampsTo retain its original aesthetic charm, the Village of Riverside maintains approximately 379 antique-style gas street lanterns instead of the more common electric
street lights.

Riverside is a community that is nationally and internationally recognized as one of the first planned suburban communities in the country. That recognition is enhanced because of the Village's association with world-famous landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted - the same Frederick Law Olmsted that designed New York City's Central Park, numerous university campuses including Stanford University, and the gardens of the Biltmore Estate in Asheville, North Carolina, among others. Accordingly, the history of Riverside is equally unique.

Riverside Improvement Company Formed
In the late 1860's... A an Eastern businessman named Emery E. Childs brought together a group of associates to form the Riverside Improvement Company. In their search for property to develop, they turned to the economically booming Chicago area where they quickly purchased a 1600-acre tract of property along the Des Plaines River. The site was highly desirable due to its natural oak-hickory forest and its distance from Chicago - a full eleven miles from downtown. Further, its position along the winding Des Plaines River cooled the area, yet because the land was well drained, it was relatively mosquito free.

Frederick Law OlmstedThe Riverside Improvement Company commissioned well-known landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted (pictured) and his partner, Calvert Vaux to design a "rural" community. Olmsted and Vaux had already received widespread acclaim for their design of New York City's Central Park, and could lend prestige to the project. The Improvement Company wanted Riverside to combine the pleasures of rural living with urban conveniences such as community-provided gas, water services, and maintained streets. Olmsted and Vaux went further in attempting to maintain a pastoral feel in an urban setting, though. Instead of planning the community's streets in a grid fashion as most other cities are laid out, they planned the streets to follow the area's natural contours. Streets follow the Des Plaines River, and continue from there to wind all through the Village. The town's plan, which was completed in 1869, also accorded for a Grand Park system that uses several large parks as a foundation, with 41 smaller triangular parks located at intersections throughout town to provide for additional green spaces and an open, rural feeling.

Regardless of Olmsted's association with the project, the town might have never "taken off" had it not been for the disastrous Chicago fire of 1871. Though the fire initially drew money away from the construction of Riverside and into the reconstruction of Chicago, it also served as an impetus for many people to move away from the crowded, dirty, and loud City of Chicago and out to Riverside. It was the very last stop for the Burlington-Northern Railroad commuter train from Chicago in the 1860's, but it was a stop nonetheless, making it very easy for residents to get in and out of the City.

To this day, the charm of Riverside endures. The entire Village was designated a National Historical Landmark in 1970 due to its significance as a planned community and because of its unique original community landscaping plan that is still followed today. Riverside is a living legacy that can be enjoyed by the families living here as well as by the many who come to visit.

An image of the original map of Riverside and more information on Frederick Law Olmsted can be found at the Olmsted's Planned Communities page:

Historic Structures
Riverside is home to two of Illinois' 77 National Historic Landmarks
National Historic Landmarks as so designated by the United States Department of the Interior.

Click HERE to begin
Click On the Above Button to Start on
a Tour of Riverside's Landmarks
by the Riverside Historical Commission.

The History of Riverside
From 1673 through Present...
You'll enjoy this tour through time presented by the
Riverside Historical Commission.

Click HERE to begin.

Click HERE to begin
Click on the Above Image
to Start The Tour!

The Avery Coonley Residence was designed by Frank Lloyd Wright in 1908
and represents the Prairie Style of architecture. Wright himself described the Coonley House as "The most successful of my houses from my standpoint." The Coonley House was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1975.

The F.F. Tomek House was also designed by Frank Lloyd Wright. It was
designed in 1905 and was instrumental in the creation and development of the Prairie School Style of Architecture. The house was designated a National
Historic Landmark in 1999.

Frank Lloyd Wright Home and Studio Page...

Fifty-six structures have been designated as local landmarks, ranging from Tudor Revival to Arts and Crafts to Victorian to Colonial Revival style homes.

The Historic Arcade Building in Downtown Riverside The Arcade Building
(built 1871 Architect: Frederick C. Withers, onetime partner of Calvert Vaux)
First commercial building to be built in the Village. One of the earliest examples of a multi-shop, commercial buildings in the nation.

Riverside Township Hall
(built 1895 architect: George Ashby) 


Downtown Riverisde

Riverside's Historic Water Tower

Riverside Water Tower
(built 1871 architect: William LeBaron Jenney)
Designated as an American Water Landmark in 1972 by the American Waterworks Association, one of only eight such American Landmarks recognized as important in the technological development of American water supply.

Riverside Historical Commission MuseumRiverside Historical Commission Museum
The Riverside Historical Museum is located in Riverside's historic Water Tower Pump House and is managed and operated by the seven-member volunteer Riverside Historical Commission. The museum contains approximately 16,000 documents and artifacts that are primarily dedicated to preserving the rich history of Riverside. It houses documentary history of the Village of Riverside and environs: Archival materials include origins, territorial plats, maps, manuscripts, architectural drawings, records of Village management and civic organizations, Historic Structure Survey, photographic records, books, audiovisual tapes and transcriptions and artifacts. It houses many nationally significant artifacts relating to Riverside, Frederick Law Olmsted, and to the many noteworthy architects who have built structures in Riverside.

Hours: 10:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m. every Saturday, on designated evenings during the summer months, or by appointment. Contact the Historical Commission at 447-2542 or

Admission is free; donations are gladly accepted.

Riverside Historical Commission Museum

To receive, identify, preserve, exhibit and adopt all measures deemed necessary to maintain historical records and materials given or acquired by the commission or by the Village pertaining to local, state or federal history.

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