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North suburban history

Temperance, tolerance, and the shaping of the northshore

In David W. Scott


Ascries of annexations starting in 1892 and extending over tin.' next several decades expanded significant l\ the territory of I vanston and its neighbors, Chicago, Niles Center (renamed Skokie in 1940), and Wilmette. fhese municipalities annexed unincorporated territorj as well as the territor) ol the villages of Rogers Park, South Evanston, and Gross Point. The accompanying map shows the situation as of 1891.

Involved in several annexation cases were temperance issues stemming from a provision of the charter of Northwestern University. The Methodist founders of Northwestern and Evanston persuaded the Illinois General Assembly in 1855 to amend the school's 1853 charter to add a provision to forbid the sale ol alcoholic beverages within four miles of the campus. These temperance-minded Protestants want to keep the undesirable influence of alcohol away from Northwestern students and create a "sanctified community." Over the years many in Evanston (and other North Shore communities as well) wmked to keep saloons out of that territory. The "X" marks on the map show the location of known saloons within the four-mile radius.

The map covers the townships of Evanston, New Trier and Niles. These three townships became the basis for the boundaries of three high school districts, each taking the name of the township but being a separate unit of local government.


The dissolution of South Evanston and Rogers Park

By 1891, as the map indicates, two rail lines linked the villages of Wilmette, Evanston, South Evanston, and Rogers Park with each other and with Chicago. Such links facilitated commuting to jobs in downtown Chicago and help explain the population growth of these localities in the later decades of the 19th century.

Annexations in the area of the map were a topic of continuing discussion and controversy starting at the time of the short-lived tiny village of North Evanston. Incorporated as a village in 1873, the same year as the establishment of South Evanston, North Evanston voted to dissolve and annexed to Evanston in 1874 to take advantage of the newly completed Evanston water works plant, indicated on the accompanying map.

The village of Rogers Park was incorporated in 1878 but did not experience much population growth until 1888, when the rapid outward expansion of population from Chicago began to affect it. The massive 1889 annexation to Chicago of 125 square miles and 225,000 people brought the northern border of Chicago to the Rogers Park area as indicated on the 1891 map. Two years later in 1893 the voters of Rogers Park decided to annex to Chicago, bringing Chicago's northern boundary up to Evanston, which a year earlier had annexed the village of South Evanston. Rogers Park thus had the option of annexing to Evanston, an option it did not pursue. Today Rogers Park is one of some 80 officially designated community areas within the City of Chicago.

The 1892 proposition to annex South Evanston to Evanston was approved by 57 percent of the voters in Evanston and 66 percent in South Evanston. According to Northshore historian Michael Ebner, support for this annexation among many in Evanston was based on concerns about the "proclivity of segments of the population within South Evanston for circumventing the four miles limit." Thus annexation would allow a means of exercising effective liquor control and avoid the possibility of South Evanston annexing to "wide open" Chicago.

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The idea of becoming part of a neighboring municipality was supported by residents of Rogers Park, South Evanston and other places as well who were willing to lose existing local identity, culture and control in order to take advantage of the more efficient, higher-quality public services available in neighboring communities with a larger population and stronger property tax base. The specific issues in Rogers Park and South Evanston that voters hoped annexation would alleviate were the lack of pure water and inadequate sewage disposal.

Wilmette and Evanston reject being annexed

In 1894, proposals to annex Wilmette to Evanston were voted down, and Evanston voters strongly opposed annexation to Chicago.

Pro-improvement forces got a proposition to annex Wilmette to Evanston on the ballot four times, thrice in 1894 and once in 1897. Each time, voters in one or both of the communities failed to give the proposal majority approval. Advocates of the union with Evanston claimed that Wilmette would benefit by joining with Evanston's well-regarded fire and police protection and water systems. Opponents of the plan noted that while Wilmette had been purchasing water from Evanston, Wilmette was making progress in building its own water works, shown on the accompanying 1891 map.

References to Evanston as Frances Willard's "ideal temperance village" were evoked as part of the campaign to defeat the 1894 proposal to consolidate Evanston with Chicago. One Evanston clergyman stated that "morally, educationally, socially, everyway, we have everything to lose; and nothing to gain." Northwestern University President Henry Rogers said, "Should annexation carry we cannot keep the saloons out of Evanston." The proposition lost with 78 percent of Evanstonians voting "no."

The issue of Evanston annexing to Chicago came before the voters once more. A 1909 vote was even more negative in Evanston than the 1894 one. Getting this provision on the ballot was part of a major effort by supporters of the plans of the Civic Federation of Chicago to create a metropolitan administrative unit covering the existing governments of Chicago, Cook County and suburban Cook County. This time the opponents of merger with Chicago focused on the danger of deterioration to the highly regarded Evanston public school system by becoming part of Chicago. It seems inconceivable today that Evanston and other suburbs bordering Chicago would consider becoming part of Chicago. In fact such action was inconceivable to many in Evanston a century ago.

The Territorial expansion of Wilmette and Skokie in the 1920s

The map shows a small development west of Wilmette by the name of Gross Point, which became a village in 1874. Although within four miles of the Northwestern campus, the predominantly German Catholic village allowed saloons. This fact distressed the temperance-minded citizens of Evanston as well as Wilmette and the rest of New Trier Township, but they never were able to find an effective means of enforcing the four-mile alcohol ban in the Gross Point area. The saloons were important to Gross Point because local licensing of taverns was the major source of revenue for the village, but in 1919 national Prohibition finally shut them down. With the loss of its revenue base, voters decided that same year to dissolve their village.

In 1924, Wilmette voted to annex the Gross Point area. Another annexation of unincorporated areas in 1926 extended the territory of Wilmette almost to its current western border. Both were based on the anticipation of major residential developments in these western areas. Evanston had earlier expanded northwest and southwest.

The last major annexation effort in the area of the 1891 map was under- taken by the village of Niles Center in the 1920s as it anticipated residential growth from the development of rail links allowing rapid commuting to Chicago. Incorporated in 1888, Niles Center until the 1920s was a small, no-growth, agriculturally oriented place with a strong German flavor. It allowed saloons, but lay just outside the four-mile limit. Some of the patrons of its saloons were Evanston residents including undoubtedly some Northwestern students. A series of annexations of unincorporated territory starting in 1922 increased the size of Niles Center tenfold pushing it to the boundaries of Evanston and Wilmette. However, population growth was halted with the onset of the Great Depression. Niles Center, renamed Skokie in 1940, would finally experience massive residential, commercial and industrial growth in the post World War II years.

ISHS President David W. Scott grew up in Evanston and graduated front Evanston Township High School and Northwestern University.

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