The Story of Skokie
Skokie was once thick forest and marshy prairie dotted with a few Potawatomi villages along the banks of the Chicago River. The name of the suburb comes from a Potawatomi word that sometimes translates as “swamp.” Beginning in the 1850s, immigrants from Germany and Luxembourg began settling in this area northwest of the Loop, lured by rich farmland. The growing settlement incorporated as the village of Niles Center in 1888.
Farming was the main occupation of the village’s residents until 1925, when the developer Samuel Insull built the Skokie Valley Branch of the North Shore Line Railroad and set off a real estate boom, according to the Encyclopedia of Chicago. Although the Great Depression slowed its expansion, the village was renamed Skokie in 1940 and once again began to grow in the late 1940s. The completion of the Edens Expressway in 1951 and Old Orchard Shopping Center in 1956 spurred further development.
Skokie has had a large number of Jewish residents since the 1950s, at one point making up half the population. Today, the population is approximately 28 percent Jewish, and the community has further diversified: nearly a quarter of the population is Asian American; and The Chicago Tribune even dubbed Skokie “The Ellis Island of the North Shore.”
There are two ‘L’ stops in Skokie, Dempster-Skokie and Oakton-Skokie. Both are on the Yellow Line, which follows the Skokie Valley line and was known as the Skokie Swift from 1964 through 1993. The suburb is also home to the CTA’s Skokie Rail Maintenance Facility, which is used for inspections, repairs, and other maintenance of CTA rail cars. The Yellow Line has the lowest ridership of any CTA train line, runs only two cars in a train at a time, and is only five miles long.
Neighborhood Spotlight: The Illinois Holocaust Museum and Education Center
In the postwar period, Skokie had a large Jewish population, including a significant number of Holocaust survivors. When a small neo-Nazi group sought to hold a march in the suburb in 1977, it set off a national firestorm that ended with a Supreme Court case. Despite winning the case on free speech grounds, the group never demonstrated in Skokie.
In the wake of the march, Illinois became the first state to require Holocaust education in public schools. Holocaust survivors responded by establishing the Holocaust Memorial Foundation of Illinois in 1981 and opening a small storefront museum in Skokie in 1984.
In 2009, the group opened the Illinois Holocaust Museum and Education Center, designed by Chicago architect Stanley Tigerman. The building is designed to move visitors from dark to light and is centered around a World War II-era train boxcar like those used to transport Jews to concentration camps. The museum includes a Room of Remembrance with six skylights representing the 6 million Jews killed in the Holocaust and the names of local survivors’ family members who were killed in the Holocaust lining the circular room’s walls.
Things to Do
Bike, jog, or walk around along the north channel of the Chicago River through the Skokie Northshore Sculpture Park, which has more than 60 monumental sculptures and runs for two miles. Stop by Pita Inn or its offshoot Zad for Middle Eastern food enjoyed by suburbanites for almost 40 years.