Skokie History Digital Collections

At Home in Skokie

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Title

At Home in Skokie

Description

Skokie, Illinois, is a thriving, diverse suburban community of 67,824 (U.S. Census 2020). Much of the housing stock is composed of single-family dwellings, with a healthy mixture of apartments and increasingly, condominiums. Skokie’s earliest settlers were farmers and homesteaders, and their homes were mostly large cabins and farmhouses. There was little industrial development in those early days and population growth was slow. At the turn of the twentieth century, about 500 people lived in Skokie, then called Niles Center.

Skokie’s first housing boom was stimulated by the development of rapid transit and good roads into Chicago in the 1920s. Land speculators saw the possibility of developing the area for apartment buildings with easy access to the city center, and many subdivisions, streets, sidewalks, and utilities were laid out. The population of Skokie was 763 in 1920; by 1930 it was 5,007. The onset of the Great Depression brought all this hopeful activity to a halt; thousands of lots were abandoned and some were eventually used again as farmland.

After World War II, many of these titles were cleared and lot sizes were revised to provide for single-family homes with 40-55 foot frontages. This second housing boom was the definitive one for Skokie; postwar prosperity, population growth, and the rise of the automobile created demand for the kind of single-family housing Skokie was in a position to supply. Skokie’s population in 1940 was 7,172; by 1950 it was 14,752. Once again, transportation was a factor in growth: the Edens Expressway, which opened in 1951, provided a major route to the city for burgeoning automobile traffic from the suburbs.

This part of the story is not unique to Skokie; many formerly rural communities grew into suburbs in the 1940s and 1950s. The development of the suburb and the automobile, the growth in homeownership and geographic mobility, are all extremely important parts of the mid-century American experience, and the histories of individual communities contribute to our understanding of broad historic trends.

Histories of planned communities like Park Forest have found a place in the Illinois Digital Archives, and Sears homes have been documented in the Elgin Sears House Research Project from Gail Borden Public Library. The Thomas Ford Memorial Library, in partnership with Western Springs Historical Society, has digitized photographs of historically significant homes in Western Springs.

References

Beaudette, E. Palma. Niles Township, Niles Center, Morton Grove, Niles Village, and Tessville. Chicago, 1916

Jackson, Kenneth T. Crabgrass Frontier: The Suburbanization of the United States. New York: Oxford University Press, 1985.

Local Community Fact Book: Chicago Metropolitan Area. Chicago: University of Illinois at Chicago, 1995.

Martinson, Tom. American Dreamscape: The Pursuit of Happiness in Postwar Suburbia. New York: Carroll & Graf, 2000.

United States. Census Bureau. Census 2000 American Fact Finder, Skokie Village, Illinois Fact Sheet. Washington: U.S. Census Bureau, 2020.

Whittingham, Richard. Skokie, 1888-1988: A Centennial History. Skokie: Village of Skokie, 1988.