Lyons, Illinois

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Lyons is a village in Cook County, Illinois, United States. The population was 10,255 at the 2000 census.



Incorporated in 1888, Lyons is steeped in earlier historical roots. In 1673 French Explorer Louis Joliet and Jesuit missionary Father Pierre Marquette left Green Bay, Wisconsin by canoe in search of a western passage to the Pacific. As they traveled into the Spanish controlled area of Louisiana, they realized that the mighty Mississippi drained into the already well known Gulf of Mexico. With winter approaching, they headed north as quickly as possible. To save time the Pottawatomie Indians that were with them encouraged a change in the course to the Illinois River. This short cut led to the Des Plaines River and caused these travelers to discover “Le Portage”. This half mile wide area of land connecting the Chicago River and the Des Plaines River, over which they could carry their canoes and supplies, was to become the discovery that they would both become famous for. Later known as the Chicago Portage, this small area became the “Gateway to the West”, and was used by thousands of early settlers and traders traveling both east and west. The discovery of “Le Portage” was the impetus that led to Chicago becoming a center for the world trade.

Louis Joliet conceived the idea of constructing a canal to connect the two waterways. This idea was to become a reality 200 years later with the opening of the Illinois—Michigan Canal. Today, a statue stands in Lyons at the Chicago Portage National Historic Sight just north of Interstate 55 along Harlem Avenue, commemorating this historic National Heritage Corridor which stretches southwest thru LaSalle, Illinois.

From the early 1960's through the late 1980s Lyons was known for its notorious links to organized crime. Mayor William Smith, for whom a village park was named, was being subjected to a federal corruption investigation when he died from cancer in 1989. During the 1970s and 1980s the small town was littered with strip clubs and bars along its Ogden Avenue corridor. However, the Village changed dramatically in the 1990s and all of the strip clubs and the majority of the bars no longer exist.

Lyons is a working class area, though much of the nearby manufacturing work has dried up (e.g., Electro-Motive & Reynolds Aluminum). The city has historically been home to a large Polish American community since the turn of the century, which is reflected in three of the town's street names: Pulaski after Revolutionary War hero Casimir Pulaski as well as Warsaw and Cracow. Lyons is the subject of a recently published book by Mark Athitakis, a native of Lyons, detailing the town's rich and colorful history.

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