The West Suburbs of Chicago encompass the area south of O’Hare International Airport and north of I-55, and include the sprawling towns and cities of western Cook County and eastern DuPage County. Some quarters include cities southwest of Chicago in delineating the makeup of the West Suburbs.
The region is a popular destination for tourists and city residents, boasting some of the metro’s top restaurants, entertainment venues, and shopping centers. It’s also home to famous attractions like Brookfield Zoo, Morton Arboretum, and the Frank Lloyd Wright Home and Studio.
The West Suburbs were first populated in significant numbers in the mid to late 1800s, as Chicago residents and new immigrants sought to settle in quieter locations with larger tracts of land for farming. During the Industrial Era, many more moved to the area to be close to the employment opportunities in stockyards and the Avondale industrial corridor.
Churches in the history of the West Suburbs
In the mid to late 1800s, when Chicago’s population started expanding into the suburbs, some of the earliest Catholic and Protestant churches in the downtown area closed down to follow their congregations into the hinterlands.
In the Industrial Era, as more and more people moved to the suburbs to follow newly created jobs, the number of suburban churches also increased rapidly, outpacing the increase in churches within the city.
The widespread migration of African Americans into Chicago and its suburbs during this period also led to the proliferation of Pentecostal religions associated with the South. Likewise, employment opportunities in suburban locations attracted Asian immigrants, who brought with them Eastern religions, including Buddhism, Hinduism, and Islam, and built elaborate temples and places of worship in the suburbs.
Many of Chicago’s Catholic population moved to the West Suburbs during the Industrial Era as well. However, instead of building new churches, they chose to expand parishes that have existed since the 1800s. On the other hand, Protestants resorted to building churches in these new communities, which continued to increase as more farmland was converted into residential areas.
- The estimated population of the West Suburbs is over 1.4 million as of the latest Census figures
- There are around 540 listed churches in the region. Catholic churches top the list with 67, followed by Baptist churches with 63, and Non-Denominational churches with 52.
- Joliet, the largest Chicago suburb by land area, is part of the southWest Suburbs. It has a population of more than 148,000
- The west and southWest Suburbs include four of Illinois’s most populous cities outside of Chicago — Aurora, Naperville, Joliet, and Elgin.
Notable Churches in the West Suburbs
- Unity Temple
Oak Park, IL
The Unity Temple Unitarian Universalist Congregation is a member of the Unitarian Universalist Association, a religious movement that espouses a liberal, diverse, and inclusive faith tradition. Constructed in 1909, Unity Temple was designed by renowned architect Frank Lloyd Wright, who had connections to the Universalist faith through his mother. The temple is located in the city of Oak Park, which is also home to the Frank Lloyd Wright Home and Studio.
- First Universalist Church
The First Universalist Church has been an active voice for liberal religion since its beginnings. Completed in 1892, the church building is hailed for its architectural significance, primarily because its unique design is patterned after a pocket watch case. One of the main architects of the church, George Hunter, was also the lead designer for Elgin’s Watch Factory Observatory, and one of the watch company’s shareholders was a trustee of the church. The design was also a tribute to the watch factory and its significant impact on the city’s economy.
- First United Church
Oak Park, IL
First United Church was born in 1975 when Oak Park’s First Presbyterian Church and First Congregational Church decided to merge. The history of both churches, however, went as far back as 1860. The present day church building was built and used by the First Congregational Church before the merger. Dedicated in 1918, the building made use of many stones from an earlier structure that burned down in 1916 when it was struck by lightning. Ernest Hemingway’s parents were among the early members of the church, and the celebrated author was christened here.
- First United Methodist Church of Oak Park
Oak Park, IL
Established in 187o, the First United Methodist Church was one of Oak Park’s earliest congregations. The present day church building was constructed when the church’s first building on a different location was destroyed by fire in 1923. Completed in 1925, the church was designed in the modern Gothic Revival style, and features Bedford limestone foundation and stunning stained glass windows designed by Gianini and Hilgart.
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