DUNNING — A memorial to those buried in the Dunning-Read Conservation Area was has been completed alongside the long-awaited reconstruction of Oak Park Avenue, city transportation officials announced.
The streetscape project replaced a "deteriorated two-lane stretch" between Irving Park Road and Forest Preserve Drive with a "modern roadway" featuring sidewalks, protected bike lanes and improved storm drains, officials said.
The rebuilt road includes 10-foot travel lanes and a striped median to allow cars to make left turns. The effort was funded with $5 million from the Dunning Tax Increment Financing District.
The project had been postponed and revised earlier this year, after DNAinfo reported advocates' warnings that the construction might unearth thousands of bodies buried in the long-forgotten Dunning cemetery. As many as 10,000 bodies are underneath the site originally planned for reconstruction.
The memorial plot was completed Friday alongside the renovated street, complete with a plaque commemorating he people who died on the site in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.
"May this site serve as a reminder of those associated with the Cook County Poor Farm/Read-Dunning institutional complex, preserve our connection with the past, and provide a legacy for future generations," the plaque reads.
An exploratory dig carried out by a team of archeologists last year "confirmed a section of Oak Park Avenue built in the 1930s crossed a portion of the unmarked" cemetery, according to a statement from the city.
Plans approved by Illinois Historic Preservation Agency, in compliance with the Illinois Human Skeletal Remains Protection Act, called for the easement for the road to be moved east — outside the cemetery — onto property owned by the city, according to plans released by the state agency.
That allowed the road's new storm sewer to be installed outside the cemetery, according to a statement from the Chicago Department of Transportation.
In addition, new lights were installed on bases that are shallow enough to avoid disturbing any remains, officials said.
Starting in the 1850s, poor and indigent Chicagoans were buried by the county on 20 acres near Berteau and Narragansett avenues near the county poorhouse. The six-acre portion of the cemetery opened in 1890 near Irving Park Road and Oak Park Avenue, and about 17,000 people were buried there.
The cemetery stopped accepting most new burials after the state bought the 320-acre property in 1912 and built a mental institution. The road was built in 1934, according to community historian and activist Barry Fleig.
It wasn't until March 1989 that construction workers building what is now the Dunning Square shopping center found "the top half of a remarkably well-preserved 19th century man, complete with a handlebar mustache and muttonchops," according to the Reader.
That led to the rediscovery of the cemetery — and ultimately the creation of the Read-Dunning Memorial Park to honor those who were buried there.
Torrential rains in April 2013 turned streets in Dunning into gushing rivers and left two to three feet of water in residents' basements for weeks.
For more neighborhood news, listen to DNAinfo Radio here.