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Evanston | Neighborhoods | Chicago by 'L'

Northwestern University is located in Evanston. Photo: Brendan Brown

The Story of Evanston

Now a quiet suburb with grand mansions and tree-lined streets, suburban Evanston was once home to the Potawatomi people. According to the Encyclopedia of Chicago, after the 1830s, the US government forced Native Americans in the region west into Iowa, and farmers began to settle the area. The town grew after the Great Chicago Fire of 1871, when many people decided to rebuild their homes outside the city.


Watch: Evanston

Northwestern University also calls Evanston home. According to the University’s history, in 1853, a group of nine men, including a man named John Evans, bought 379 acres of land on Lake Michigan. They opened the campus two years later with ten students, and the surrounding town was named Evanston in 1857 in honor of Evans. As devout Methodists, the founders declared Evanston a dry town, forbidding alcohol within four miles of campus. (Evanston remained dry for more than a century.)

Per U.S. News and World Report, Northwestern is now one of the top schools in the country, with 21,000 students and a $9 billion endowment, with alumni such as Meghan Markle, Julia Louis-Dreyfus, George R. R. Martin, and Stephen Colbert. The campus continues to expand, with sleek new buildings to house the Kellogg School of Management, sprawling athletic facilities, and a growing downtown Chicago campus.

Frances Willard’s home, now a museum

Frances Willard’s home, now a museum, sits near Northwestern University. Photo: Brendan Brown

Neighborhood Spotlight: Frances Willard House

Just outside Northwestern’s campus on Sheridan Road sits a large, green, Gothic-style cottage with scalloped trim around the top floor windows. Built in 1865, the house is now a museum and National Historic Landmark that highlights the contributions of Frances Willard, a social activist and women’s suffragist. At the time, she was said to be the most famous woman in the world.

Portrait of Frances Willard

Frances Willard. Photo: Courtesy of the Library of Congress

Frances Willard was born in New York in 1839 and moved to Evanston at 18 with her family. She attended the North Western Female College and became a teacher. She eventually became the first Dean of the Women’s College when a small women’s college merged with Northwestern.

She became involved with the women’s temperance movement, which strived to encourage Americans to abstain from alcohol. When Willard took over as leader of the Woman’s Christian Temperance Union, she expanded its work to include suffrage, as well as prison, education, and labor law reform. Her house served as the group’s headquarters until her death in 1898. It later became a museum and was named as a National Historic Landmark in 1965.

Things to Do

Evanston has miles of beautiful lakefront and beaches, but heads up: unlike Chicago’s free beaches, there is an admission fee. If swimming works up your appetite, head to Edzo’s Burger Shop for burgers and fries, or to Union Pizzeria — Geoffrey Baer’s favorite.