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Wilmette | Neighborhoods | Chicago by 'L'

Wilmette is a quiet, wealthy suburb with tree-lined streets and large homes. Photo: Brendan Brown

The Story of Wilmette

Wilmette originally belonged to one couple: Antoine Ouilmette and his wife, Archange Chevalier, who was Potawatomi. In exchange for helping negotiate treaties that banished native people west of the Mississippi River, the US government gave them land. But they eventually sold their land and left to join the Potawatomi in Iowa, according to the Wilmette Historical Museum. 


Watch: Wilmette

The wealthy suburb sits roughly 14 miles north of downtown Chicago and has 27,000 residents, according to the most recent count. The North Shore Channel runs through Wilmette and originates at Lake Michigan at a picturesque harbor. The channel was built in 1909 as part of the project that reversed the flow of the Chicago River so that the city’s sewage wouldn’t flow into the lake – the source of the city’s drinking water. The project diverted the Chicago River into the Mississippi. As a result, downstream cities such as St. Louis inherited Chicago’s wastewater. But thankfully, the effluent is now treated and at some plants disinfected.

The Purple Line ends in Wilmette at the Linden stop.

Bahá’í House of Worship

The ornate Bahá’í House of Worship sits on the North Shore Channel harbor in Wilmette. Photo: Courtesy of the Bahá’í House of Worship

Neighborhood Spotlight: Bahá’í House of Worship

More than 190 feet tall, the bright white Bahá’í House of Worship towers over the North Shore Channel harbor. The concrete structure combines various forms of architectural style, including a Renaissance dome and intricate Gothic ribbing. Its columns are decorated with the religious symbols of Buddhism, Hinduism, Judaism, Islam, and Christianity. The building is surrounded by nine gardens, reflecting the importance of nine in the Bahá’í faith as a symbol of unity.

The Bahá’í faith was founded in the mid-nineteenth century in the Middle East and made its way to Chicago during the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition. Its founder Baha’u’llah, a man born into Persian nobility, developed the religion based on another faith, called Babi. Bahá’í emphasizes the oneness of humanity under a single God and the value of all religions, with unity at its core. According to the Bahá’í Faith’s website, those who practice it believe that God sent messengers, including Abraham, Moses, Buddha, Jesus, Mohammad, and others, in order “to cultivate humanity’s spiritual, intellectual and moral capacities.”

According to the Chicago Architecture Center, plans to build a temple emerged in 1903. But it took 50 years to complete the structure, as the Great Depression and two World Wars slowed the process. Louis Bourgeois, a French-Canadian architect, was selected to design the structure. He used Eastern and Western design styles to emphasize the unity that is so essential to the Bahá’í faith. But Bourgeois did not live to see its completion, with the temple officially opening in 1953. It is the designated Bahá’í House of Worship for all of North America and one of only nine in the world. It is open to visitors every day.

Things to Do

Visit Gillson Park to explore the lakefront, play sports, or relax on the beach in the summertime. Dine at Convito Café & Market, which serves up French and Italian classics near the lake.