If you mention Hegewisch to the average Chicagoan who isn’t from the South Side you might get a blank stare. It’s not surprising as this tiny Chicago neighborhood is tucked into the far southeast side of the city up against the border with Indiana. As you approach this working-class community via the South Shore Line train from the Loop, you’ll pass by Lake Calumet, the massive Chicago Assembly Plant (part of the Ford empire) and the rather idyllic Hegewisch Marsh Park, among other curiosities.
In terms of the historical background, it’s worth noting that this community (pronounced “heg-wish” by those in the know) was named after one Adolph Hegewisch, who happened to be the president of the U.S. Rolling Stock Company. This early Chicago industrialist hoped to start an idealized community for laborers, but regrettably his elaborate plan (a la George Pullman and his nearby town) never materialized.
STOP 1: HEGEWISCH MARSH (13200 S. Torrence Ave. Chicago, Illinois 60633)
First-time visitors would do well to walk on over to the Hegwisch Marsh in Calumet Open Space Reserve, which is a prime example of what is referred to as a “hemi-marsh”. This inviting ecological milieu is a mix of open water and stands of vegetation that tends to attract a wide array of wildfowl, including pied-billed grebes and sandhill cranes. Bring your binoculars and stay awhile, as it is a peaceful retreat amidst the heavy industry that dominates this part of the city.
STOP 2: WILLIAM W. POWERS PARK (12949 Avenue O Chicago, Illinois 60633)
After a bit of exploring in the marsh, you’d do well to walk down East 130th Street (or drive) on over to the William W. Powers State Recreation Area. This tremendously wonderful hidden gem is one of the most important biological sites in the Chicago region and it is a favorite spot for fishermen. Visitors can stop by the visitor center on site to learn more about the park and also learn about picnicking, fishing, and boating opportunities. In the best way possible, you’ll probably even forget you’re in the city as you explore the 160-acre park.
STOP 3: FOOD & DRINK!
You’ve gotten to see some of the natural wonders of Hegewisch, so why not take a break to round out your day with a bit of food and beverage? I can recommend the pizza at Doreen’s Pizzeria (13201 S. Baltimore Avenue). Doreen’s doesn’t really have much seating, so you can walk across the street with your cheese and crust assemblage to Steve's Lounge (13200 S. Baltimore Avenue). Steve’s is just a beer-and-a-shot type of place with wall-to-wall German steins and a variety of taxidermy triumphs — look out for the moose, okay? Good people here and inevitably the Big Game will be turned on and depending on the season, it might be Bulls, Sox, Cubs, or the Bears.
Congratulations, you’ve experienced a few Hegewisch highlights today and guess what?
You'll be back.
This is part of an ongoing series exploring Chicago from A to Z, highlighting a unique place for each letter of the alphabet. Stay tuned for more entries!
Images courtesy of the Illinois Department of Natural Resources and WBEZ.