Map of East Wilmette Historic Area
1139 Wilmette Avenue – The Chicago and North-Western Passenger Depot
View the Historical Survey Document For This Structure Local Landmark
 

The brick exterior (Chicago common) was accented with black wood trim, decorative incised details traced in gold leaf or paint. Window frames were black, with white interior window casings. Later, circa 1890, the brick was painted barn red. Even later, the brick was painted gray; presently it is off-white.

The designer is not known, but the building is believed to be the product of the railroad’s design department, with embellishments. Pictures of the Depot at Brickton (Park Ridge), built in 1874, show similarities in design of the brackets, although the Brickton C&NWRR Depot is considerably more simple and smaller, without a platform roof. The Chicago Sunday Times on May 4, 1873 reported, that the Wilmette Depot is “a pretentious affair…the finest station on the entire line”.

The Depot has been described as “Wilmette’s most historic building”. It was the primary catalyst which stimulated development of the community. The original portion of Wilmette (now the portion east of Ridge Road) was underdeveloped until the late 1860’s, largely because it was virgin forest with poor drainage – most of the land was under water much of the time. Major land owners sought to develop the area as a great lake port, but had no success. In the late 1860’s, the group sought to establish a stop on the Chicago and North –Western Railroad, seeing the possibility of developing their lands as a commuter village. The first subdivision plat, drawn in 1869, features the location of the Depot prominently. Around 1870-71 the land developers spent $700 to build a small wooden depot, and the trains began to stop regularly; an official of the railroad arranged regular stops, in exchange for an interest in the development. This first Depot burned, probably near the time of the Chicago Fire, and ten subscribers contributed $3,400 to build a new depot, of fireproof construction. Placed on the north-bound side of the tracks, it was designed to receive, and impress, prospective land buyers from Chicago. The Depot was featured prominently in real estate advertisements of those years. Some ads offered prospective buyers free train tickets to come to Wilmette and see the new community. The Depot was build lavishly, and was more costly than the largest private home built in that decade. The population was approximately 300 people in 1873. Within twenty years, the community had grown to nearly 3000, and commuters demanded, and got, a station on the “right” side of the tracks so that they could await the morning train in comfort. The new station was built in the late 1890’s, and the 1873 Depot was moved one block north to serve as the freight station until after World War II. In 1946, when freight service was consolidated in Evanston, the platform and overhanging roof were removed, and the building was boarded up.

The first wooden depot was the only public building in the community in the early 1870’s, and was the site of referendum which resulted in the incorporation of the Village in 1872. Forty residents voted there. It was the polling place for the first election of Village Trustees. The new 1873 Depot served for the next election, before the school was built. It is one of the oldest structures in Wilmette; only six or seven older building remain and all are private residences.

The structure was relocated to 1139 Wilmette Avenue on June 13, 1974, to prevent demolition. It is listed on the National Registry of Historic Places.