A Brief History of Skokie
In 1888, the community was incorporated as Niles Centre. About 1910, the spelling was Americanized to “Niles Center”. However, the name caused postal confusion with the neighboring village of Niles. A village-renaming campaign began in the 1930s. In a referendum on November 15, 1940, residents chose the Indian name “Skokie” over the name “Devonshire”.
During the real estate boom of the 1920s, large parcels were subdivided; many two- and three-flat apartment buildings were built, with the “Chicago”-style bungalow a dominant architectural specimen. Large-scale development ended as a result of the Great Crash of 1929 and consequent Great Depression. It was not until the 1940s and the 1950s, when parents of the baby boom generation moved their families out of Chicago, that Skokie’s housing development began again. Consequently, the village developed commercially, an example being the Old Orchard Shopping Center, currently named Westfield Old Orchard.
During the night of November 27–28, 1934, after a gunfight in nearby Barrington that left two FBI agents dead, two accomplices of notorious 25-year-old bank-robber Baby Face Nelson (Lester Gillis) dumped his bullet-riddled body in a ditch along Niles Center Road adjoining the St. Peter Catholic Cemetery, a block north of Oakton Avenue in the town.
The first African-American family to move to Skokie arrived in 1961, and open-housing activists helped to integrate the suburb subsequently.
The name of the town was changed from “Niles Center” to “Skokie” by referendum in 1940. “Skokie” had previously been used as the name for the marshland on which much of the town was built; the term “Skokie marsh” was being used by local botanists, notably Henry Chandler Cowles, as early as 1901. Maps long named the Skokie marsh as Chewab Skokie, a probable derivation from Kitchi-wap choku, a Potawatomi term meaning “great marsh”.
Virgil Vogel’s Indian Place Names in Illinois (Illinois State Historical Society, 1963) records the name Skokie as deriving
directly from skoutay or scoti and variant Algonquian words for fire. The reference is to the fact that marshy grasslands, such as occurred in the Skokie region, were burned by the Indians to flush out the game.