North Shore (Chicago)

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Map of northeastern Illinois showing the North Shore and surrounding areas.

The North Shore consists of many affluent suburbs north of Chicago, Illinois, bordering the shores of Lake Michigan. These communities fall within suburban Cook County and Lake County; the North Shore's membership is often a topic of debate, and is sometimes expanded to include other affluent Chicago suburbs which do not border Lake Michigan. However, Evanston, Wilmette, Kenilworth, Winnetka, Glencoe, Highwood, Highland Park, Lake Forest, and Lake Bluff are generally considered to be the main members of the North Shore, as all are affluent communities that border the lake just north of Chicago. Other suburbs such as Glenview, Northbrook, Deerfield, and Northfield are often considered to be a part of the North Shore, but do not border Lake Michigan.[citation needed] Northwestern University is also located in the Evanston area of North Shore Chicago.

Communities and their years of settlement and incorporation[edit]

Many credit Walter S. Gurnee as the father of the North Shore.[1]
One of the earliest known monographs to be devoted to the North Shore, The Book of the North Shore (1910), and its companion volume, The Second Book of the North Shore (1911), were written by Marian A. White, whose husband J. Harrison White had established a weekly newspaper in Rogers Park in 1895 called the North Shore Suburban;[2] the image above is the title page of the first volume and shows the front door of the S.H. Gunder house at 6219 N. Sheridan Road, which today serves as the main building for the North Lakeside Cultural Center in Chicago; the canopy has been removed.


Community Year of settlement Year of incorporation Population
1 Lake Forest 1834 (c.) 1861 21,300
2 Glencoe 1835 1869 8,723
3 Winnetka 1836 1869 12,419
4 Lake Bluff 1836 1895 6,056
5 Wilmette 1840 1872 27,087
6 Highland Park 1847 1869 29,763
7 Evanston 1853 1863 74,486
8 Kenilworth 1889 1896 2,494


Europeans settled the area sparsely after an 1833 treaty with local Native Americans; the region began to be developed into towns following the opening of Northwestern University in Evanston in 1855 and the founding of Lake Forest College two years later, and the construction and launch of railroads serving the colleges and their towns.[citation needed]

Electric rail lines were also run from Chicago, parallel to steam commuter lines, and streetcars flourished throughout the suburbs from Evanston on north; the North Shore today is noteworthy for being one of the few remaining agglomerations of streetcar suburbs in the United States.[citation needed]

This area became popular with the affluent wanting to escape urban life, beginning after the Great Chicago Fire, and grew rapidly before and just after World War II with a growing Jewish population migrating out of various neighborhoods in Chicago; the major Jewish suburban communities include Evanston, Skokie, Glencoe, Northbrook, and Highland Park. Jews, however, were barred from Kenilworth and Lake Forest; the number of Jews in the north suburbs increased to 40% by the early 1960s.[citation needed]

In the 1960s, most of the northern suburbs were almost entirely white. One informal 1967 poll suggested that of 2,000 real estate listings, only 38 (around 2%) were open to African-Americans.[4]

Origin and definition of term[edit]

North Shore Line 1941 timetable cover

The term North Shore began to come into use in the early 1880s, and by 1889, with the creation of the North Shore Improvement Association, the name was officially established.[5]

In 1890, Joseph Sears used the term several times in a brochure that was written to promote the newly-forming community of Kenilworth,[6] it is believed[who?] to have come into widespread use[citation needed] following the establishment in 1891 of the Waukegan & North Shore Rapid Transit Company, which in 1916 following reorganization was renamed the Chicago North Shore and Milwaukee Railroad ("CNS&M"), popularly known as the North Shore Line. This railway ran along Lake Michigan's western shore between Chicago and Milwaukee; the Shore Line route of the CNS&M until 1955 served, from south to north, the Illinois communities of Chicago, Evanston, Wilmette, Kenilworth, Winnetka, Glencoe, Highland Park, Highwood, Fort Sheridan, Lake Forest, Lake Bluff, North Chicago, Waukegan, Zion, and Winthrop Harbor as well as Kenosha, Racine, and Milwaukee (the "KRM") in Wisconsin. After 1924, the Skokie Valley line of the CNS&M opened land further west to the North Shore.[citation needed]

Meanwhile, in 1906, the Sanitary District of Chicago platted the "North Shore Channel" of the sanitary canal from the Chicago River, through Evanston and Wilmette to Lake Michigan.[7]

While the CNS&M ran from Chicago all the way to Milwaukee, the term "North Shore" today typically refers only to the communities between Lake Bluff and Chicago. Michael Ebner's scholarly Creating Chicago's North Shore: A Suburban History, one of the most thorough studies of the area, covers eight suburbs along the lake: Evanston, Wilmette, Kenilworth, Winnetka, Glencoe, Highland Park, Lake Forest, and Lake Bluff.[8] In their North Shore Chicago: Houses of the Lakefront Suburbs, 1890-1940, Cohen and Benjamin include not only those eight suburbs but also "the tiny city of Highwood" which is slightly inland, just north of Highland Park.[9]

Socioeconomics and culture[edit]

Chicago, as seen from the campus of Northwestern University in Evanston.

Today the North Shore remains one of the most affluent and highly educated areas in the United States. Seven of its communities are in the top quintile of U.S. household income, and five of those (Lake Forest, Glencoe, Kenilworth, Winnetka, Highland Park) are in the top 5 percent.[citation needed]

The North Shore is also the home of the Ravinia Festival, a historic outdoor music theater in Highland Park, Illinois; the Ravinia Festival, originally conceived as a weekend destination on the CNS&M line, is now a popular destination on the Metra Union Pacific North Line commuter rail, the North Shore Line's former competitor. It hosts many concerts through the year that attract over 600,000 people.[10][circular reference] Highwood became home of the annual Pumpkin Festival which saw thousands of people every year flock to the small town for a week of music, food, community, and the lighting of 32,000 Jack o' Lanterns; the town used to hold the world record for most carved and lit Jack o' Lanterns but lost the title to Keene, New Hampshire.[citation needed]

The abandoned right-of-way of the North Shore Line still serves Ravinia as the Green Bay Trail, a popular rails-to-trails bicycle path that begins in Wilmette and runs north all the way to the Illinois Beach State Park in Zion.[citation needed]

The Greater North Shore[edit]

Subsequent to the more general use of the term North Shore for the above suburbs, and the term's association with those towns' desirable[opinion] socioeconomic characteristics, it became common for businesses in numerous nearby inland Chicago suburbs in the Maine, New Trier, Niles, Northfield, and Norwood Townships, as well as in southern Lake County, Illinois, to name themselves "North Shore", and for real estate and other marketers to use the term for non-North Shore communities from time to time. The former North Shore magazine had special advertising editions not only for Evanston, Winnetka, Lake Forest, and Lake Bluff, but also for Glenview, Northbrook, Barrington, Deerfield, Bannockburn, and Riverwoods.[11]

Chicago's North Shore Convention & Visitors Bureau's markets the City of Evanston and the Villages of Skokie, Glenview, Northbrook and Winnetka.[12] More recently,[when?] a community newspaper known as "What's Happening" began mailing out its publication to what it characterizes as the "16 affluent North Shore suburbs": Bannockburn, Buffalo Grove, Deerfield, Fort Sheridan, Glencoe, Glenview, Highland Park, Kenilworth, Libertyville, Lincolnshire, Northbrook, Northfield, Riverwoods, Vernon Hills, Wilmette, and Winnetka.[13]

Overall, the general usage of the term "North Shore" applies to the following suburbs: Bannockburn; Buffalo Grove; Deerfield; Des Plaines; Evanston; Glencoe; Glenview; Golf; Green Oaks; Harwood Heights; Highland Park; Highwood; Hubbard Woods; Kenilworth; Lake Bluff; Lake Forest; Libertyville; Lincolnshire; Lincolnwood; Mettawa; Morton Grove; Mundelein; Niles; Norridge; Northbrook; Northfield; Park Ridge; Riverwoods; Rosemont; Skokie; Vernon Hills; Wheeling; Wilmette; and Winnetka; this geographic area favored by marketeers extends from Chicago’s northern boundary into southern Lake County and from Lake Michigan to O’Hare Airport.[14]


Mostly the Central Suburban League public high schools serve the North Shore; the Central Suburban League is an IHSA-recognized high school extracurricular conference comprising 12 public schools located in the northern suburbs of Chicago. Comprising 12 relatively large high schools, it is among the larger high school conferences (by student population) in Illinois;[15] the Central Suburban League high schools include: Deerfield High School (Deerfield, IL), Evanston Township High School (Evanston, IL), Glenbrook North High School (Northbrook, IL), Glenbrook South High School (Glenview, IL), Highland Park High School (Highland Park, IL), Maine South High School (Park Ridge, IL), Maine East High School (Park Ridge, IL), Maine West High School (Des Plaines, IL), New Trier High School (Winnetka, IL), Niles West High School (Skokie, IL), Niles North High School (Skokie, IL), and Vernon Hills High School (Vernon Hills, IL).

Lake Forest High School, Libertyville High School, and Stevenson High School, are in the North Suburban Conference; the Lake Forest High School district serves Lake Forest and Lake Bluff, while the Stevenson High School district serves Lincolnshire and most of Buffalo Grove. Stevenson also takes in students from smaller parts of other North Shore suburbs such as Deerfield, Mettawa, Lake Forest, Riverwoods, Vernon Hills, as well as reaching into the far Northwest Suburbs such as Hawthorn Woods, Kildeer, Lake Zurich, Mundelein, and Long Grove.

Wheeling High School serves most of Wheeling, Illinois which is in the Mid-Suburban League.

Ridgewood High School serves portions of Norridge, Harwood Heights and unincorporated Norwood Park Township which is in the Metro Suburban Conference.

East Leyden High School serves portions of Rosemont which is in the West Suburban Conference.

Oakton Community College serves the same district as the Central Suburban League, with campuses in Des Plaines and Skokie. College of Lake County serves the Lake County suburbs of the North Shore, with its campus in Grayslake, Illinois. Harper College serves Wheeling with its campus in Palatine, Illinois.

A variety of private schools are found throughout the North Shore suburbs.

Films and television set or filmed on the North Shore[edit]

This area received much exposure in the 1980s as the setting of many teen films, particularly those of writer/director John Hughes, who grew up in Northbrook and attended Glenbrook North High School; the most notable films through the years are:

  • A Wedding (1978) was filmed at a house in Lake Forest.[16]
  • Ordinary People (1980) was filmed in Highwood, Highland Park, Lake Bluff, Lake Forest, Northbrook and Wilmette.
  • Class (1983) was filmed at Lake Forest College in Lake Forest and other locations in Chicago.
  • Risky Business (1983) was filmed in Deerfield, Highland Park, Skokie, Winnetka and Wilmette, in addition to Lake Shore Drive.
  • Sixteen Candles (1984) was filmed in Evanston, Glencoe, Highland Park, Skokie and Winnetka.
  • The Breakfast Club (1985) was filmed mostly at Maine North High School in Des Plaines, with additional scenes filmed at Maine West High School in Des Plaines, Maine South High School in Park Ridge, and Glenbrook North High School in Northbrook.
  • Weird Science (1985) was filmed in Highland Park, Skokie and Northbrook.
  • Ferris Bueller's Day Off (1986) was filmed in Highland Park, Winnetka, Northbrook, Lake Forest, Des Plaines, and Glencoe, in addition to many locations in Chicago itself, with scenes filmed at Glenbrook North, New Trier High School and Maine North High School.
  • She's Having a Baby (1988) was filmed in Winnetka, Skokie, Glencoe and Northbrook in addition to many locations in Chicago itself.
  • Uncle Buck (1989) was filmed in Evanston, Glencoe, Highland Park, Lake Forest, Northbrook, Northfield, Skokie, Wilmette and Winnetka, in addition to many locations in Chicago itself.
  • Home Alone (1990) was filmed in Lake Forest, Winnetka, Wilmette, Highland Park and Evanston, and featured a Maine South High School letterman's jacket.
  • Home Alone 2 (1992)
  • Chain Reaction (1996) has scenes at a famous Lake Bluff estate and was largely shot in downtown Chicago
  • Home Alone 3 (1997)
  • My Best Friend's Wedding (1997) has scenes at Cuneo Museum & Gardens and various Chicago locations
  • Shattered Glass (2003)
  • Cheaper by the Dozen (2003)
  • Ocean's 12 (2004) has filmed in the Chicago area and has a few North Shore filming locations: the home of Danny and Tess Ocean is in Winnetka, in the 600 block of Walden.[17] Dimitrios Jewelers in Lake Forest is also in one of the scenes.[17] One of the opening scenes in which Virgil Malloy is having his rehearsal dinner where Terry Benedict shows up was filmed in Lincolnwood, Illinois.
  • Surviving Christmas (2004)
  • The school in Mean Girls (2004) is called North Shore High School, and references several locations throughout the area such as Walker Brother’s Pancake House and Old Orchard Mall. Filming took place in Ontario.[18]
  • Derailed (2005)
  • The Weather Man (2005) was filmed in Evanston and Skokie in addition to many locations in Chicago itself.
  • The League (2009–2015) was set in Winnetka, with the main characters having attended the fictional North Winnetka High School.
  • Source Code (2011)
  • Contagion (2011) Matt Damon filmed scenes at a private home in the 500 block of Woodlawn Avenue in Glencoe.[19]

Places of interest[edit]

Bahá'í House of Worship, Wilmette, Illinois. The temple is the only Bahá'í House of Worship in America.


  1. ^ Ebner, Michael H. (1989). Creating Chicago's North Shore. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. p. 22. ISBN 0-226-18205-3.
  2. ^ White, Marian A. (1910). The Book of the North Shore. Chicago: J. Harrison White. p. 106.
  3. ^ Grossman, James R.; Ann Durkin Keating; Janice L. Reiff (2004). The Encyclopedia of Chicago. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. pp. 285, 338, 380, 444–445, 452, 455, 881, 882–3. ISBN 0-226-31015-9. Retrieved 2011-11-15.
  4. ^ "Few Homes Found Open to Negro Buyer". Chicago Tribune. 15 June 1967.
  5. ^ Grossman, Ron (June 28, 1988). "North Shore Lore". The Chicago Tribune.
  6. ^ Kenilworth: The Modern Suburban Home. Chicago. 1890.
  7. ^ "North Shore Sanitary Canal". Retrieved 2010-11-19.
  8. ^ Ebner, Michael H. (1989). Creating Chicago's North Shore. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. p. xvii. ISBN 0-226-18205-3.
  9. ^ Cohen, Stuart; Susan Benjamin (2005). North Shore Chicago: Houses of the Lakefront Suburbs, 1890-1940. New York: Acanthus Press. p. 44. ISBN 0-926494-26-0.
  10. ^ Ravinia Festival
  11. ^ North Shore magazine. Retrieved on 15 Dec 2009-12-15 from
  12. ^ Chicago's North Shore Convention & Visitors Bureau, March 2012.
  13. ^ "What's Happening! History"., Retrieved on 2011-07-21.
  14. ^ "North Shore Senior Center".. Retrieved on 2012-03-18.
  15. ^ "Page Not Found". Retrieved 2018-03-28.
  16. ^ Lovece, Frank (December 5, 2017). "George Wendt plays Santa in 'Elf: The Musical'".
  17. ^ a b "'Ocean' by the lake". Retrieved 28 March 2018.
  18. ^ "You Can Actually Visit All The Canadian Places Where 'Mean Girls' Was Filmed". Retrieved 2019-03-26.
  19. ^


  • Berger, Philip. Highland Park: American Suburb at Its Best: An Architectural and Historical Survey. Chicago: Chicago Review Press, 1983
  • Bushnell, George D. Wilmette: A history. Wilmette: The Village of Wilmette, 1984
  • Cohen, Stuart Earl and Susan S. Benjamin. North Shore Chicago: Houses of the Lakefront Suburbs, 1890-1940. New York: Acanthus Press, 2004
  • Dickinson, Lora Townsend. The Story of Winnetka. Winnetka: Winnetka Historical Society, 1956
  • Ebner, Michael H. Creating Chicago’s North Shore. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1988
  • Foster, Clyde D. Evanston's Yesterdays: Stories of Early Evanston and Sketches of Some of Its Pioneers. Evanston: Privately printed, 1956
  • White, Marian A. (1910). "The Book of the North Shore". J. Harrison White. Retrieved 2011-11-09.
  • White, Marian A. (1911). "The Second Book of the North Shore". J. Harrison White. Retrieved 2011-11-09.
  • Townsend, Frank with foreword by Patsy Ritter. Lake Bluff Illinois; a Pictorial History. Lake Bluff: Village of Lake Bluff Centennial Committee, 1995
  • Waukegan Historical Society. Images of American - Waukegan, Illinois.Chicago: Arcadia Press, 2000

External links[edit]