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
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
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.