When Isabella first opened, the border of Evanston and Wilmette was sparsely populated. Over 15 years later, when this view was shot on June 27, 1928, Isabella Street was still an unpaved road and open land was still abundant, but the station sported a brand new headhouse. Within a few years, however, single-family homes on generous lots would fill out the neighborhood. For a larger view, click here. (Photo courtesy of M.D. McCarter, Collection of JJ Sedelmaier Productions)

Isabella (2800N/1200W)
Isabella Street and Asbury Avenue, City of Evanston

Service Notes:

Evanston Line

Quick Facts:

Address: 1215 Isabella Street, Evanston
Established: April 1, 1912
Original Line: Northwestern Elevated Railroad, Evanston branch
Previous Names: none
Skip-Stop Type: All-Stop
Rebuilt: n/a
Status: Demolished


The "L"s original foray into Evanston via the Chicago, Milwaukee & St. Paul's tracks in 1908 ran only to Central Street, about a half-mile from the northern border of the North Shore suburb. In 1912, Northwestern President Britton I. Budd announced that he intended to extend the Northwestern through north Evanston and into Wilmette. Opposition quickly developed in the new village, but after some haggling and construction of a temporary extension under the cover of night on April 1, Wilmette had "L" service. Isabella was the only intermediate stop built between Central and Linden in Wilmette.

Isabella has always been a small residential stop with modest ridership. When the station was built, the land around it was largely open and undeveloped, with a few houses dotting the landscape. Soon, there were rows of single family homes on generous lots. Still, the area had not achieved a particularly high density.

The ground-level station had two side platforms. Originally, the station had no headhouse, just the two side high-level platforms with stairs at the south ends leading to the street. The northbound platform always had a windbreak shelter. The shelter was a small three-sided enclosure with a wide roof that acted a large windbreak and protective cover, just large enough for a bench and a few standees. Evidence suggests that the southbound platform gained one as well sometime before the mid-1920s. There was no building and no ticket agent on location.

The inbound station house is seen here on July 24, 1967 looking northwest after the gateman's shanty has been removed. Visible here are the Craftsman-influenced eave brackets and the sidedoor that led directly to the platform for pay-on-train periods. For a larger view, click here. (CTA photo, Graham Garfield Collection)

Circa 1926, a station house was added on the inbound (west) platform. A short canopy projected from the rear of this wood-frame station house covering part of the platform. The outbound platform still had no headhouse and no real fare controls of any kind. It was probably assumed that few people would ride from Isabella to Linden at the end of the line just a few blocks away, and what few people did decide to board here could have their fares collected by the conductor.

The station house was a small wood-frame structure set atop of the south end of the southbound platform near the street. The simple clapboard building had overhanging eaves -- especially on the trackside, where it doubled as a shallow canopy over the thin platform extension that extended along the east side of the building -- with exposed rafters and heavy timber brackets supporting the slightly angled roof. The architecturally vernacular headhouse employed some influences from the Craftsman style, mostly in the multi-paned design of the doors and windows, as well as in the bracketed eaves, but was mostly a functional form. The roof extended a few feet north of the building, supported by a single centerpost with angled brackets, to act as a short (perhaps a half-car length) canopy. The interior was small and largely open, except for an agent's booth and porter's closet in the southwest corner of the interior. Originally, the station also had a iron stove for heat, which remained in place as late as the late 1960s. The walls were plaster with varnished wood moldings, but by the early 1970s the entire interior had simply been whitewashed except for the doors and floor moldings. The station house had a couple ways it could be modified for pay-on-train periods, including a gate next to the front door that could be opened and a sidedoor inside next to the front entrance that could be unlocked, both of which led directly to the thin stretch of boarding platform along the east (track-) side of the building. These were both designed to bypass the agent's booth, but they seem unnecessary as the station never had a turnstile and it seems it would have been just as easy to allow people to simply walk though the station house and out the normal back door when no agent was on duty, as people no doubt did.

There was also a ground-level shack used by the gatekeeper located in front of the inbound station house right on the Isabella sidewalk between the tracks and the walkway to the headhouse. It housed the employee who controlled the crossing gates back when the gates were manually operated. The gatekeeper's shack was unusual in that it also seems to have had a ticket agent's window to the left of the door, located at mid-cabin on the sidewalk leading to the station steps. It is unclear whether or when it was used to collect fares, although by the 1960s there were vestigial fare-collection counters up near the roof. The old gatekeeper at that time, Tom Quinn, believed it once had been used for fare collection, but was uncertain in what capacity. The gateman's shanty became unneeded when electric automatic gates were installed in Spring 1960 and the hut was subsequently removed.

One individual who grew up next to the station in the late 1950s and 1960s recalls that the gateman's shanty had a flower box on the front, a gong above the window to alert the cars the gates were going down, and the vestigial fare equipment that was complete, including the ropes, but had no registers attached. He also recalls that there was a gumball machine into the late '50s on the platform just outside of the door at the north end of the station house.

The Evanston Line has a varied history of switching between operating off third rail and off overhead wire in various stretches and at various times, dating back to the time when parts of the line ran at-grade and the City of Evanston forbad use of unprotected third rail on ground-level trackage. Even after the line through the entire length of Evanston was elevated by the early 1930s, the line continued to run off overhead. However, the Wilmette portion north of Isabella began to use third rail in 1913 and trains made the transition at Isabella. This extreme north end of the Evanston Line apparently switched from third rail to trolley wire circa 1957, about the same time that wood-steel equipment was removed from the line, ending the practice of raising and lowering the trolley poles at Isabella. The entire line went to third rail in 1973 and at the insistence of the Village of Wilmette cyclone fence gates, which block access to the "L" right-of-way but automatically swing out of the way when a train approaches, were installed at the grade crossings at Maple and Isabella to prevent the risk of trespasser electrocution from the third rail.

Isabella, by its nature, always had low ridership, some of the lowest on the system. Development in north Evanston helped a bit, but by the standards of the time it still had modest boarding levels: the station went from a mere 14,000 annual boardings in its early years to 108,955 in 1930. As a result, Isabella southbound became a flag stop, one of only two on the "L" system (Calvary was the other). Inside the station, riders were given instructions on painted signs to use a signal on the platform to alert the motormen of approaching trains. Waiting passengers altered a train to stop by pulling on a rope connected to a semaphore. The motorman would acknowledge the signal by blowing the whistle. Riders on trains who wished to alight simply told the crewman in their car. The station was never a flag stop northbound -- trains always stopped -- perhaps because there were always enough riders wishing to alight to justify the stop. There certainly were few people waiting to board northbound! Isabella also seems to have functioned as a flag stop for North Shore Line interurban local trains as well.

By the time of the CTA® era the concept of flag stops had disappeared, but ridership continued to drop. Following the assumption of "L" service by the CTA® in 1947, ridership at Isabella continued to fall following the station's 1930 high. The year the CTA® took over, annual ridership had dropped to 93,133 (not counting passengers whose fares were collected by conductors at pay on train periods). It continued to tumble, with 57,987 boarding passengers in 1960 and 47,212 in 1970. By the early 1970s, it would not be uncommon for the station agent to collect few enough fares in one shift to count them all on the fingers of both hands. The CTA® might have eliminated the agent at Isabella altogether except that the Evanston stations had to be staffed when the Evanston Express was running, as the conductors didn't collect fares on these trains. As a result, the ticket agents at slow stations like Isabella worked split tricks and often the afternoon trick was a "scrub", a leftover, short piece of work that didn't fit into a regular trick of eight hours and which may, but did not necessarily, include work at more than one location to fill out a full 8-hour shift. However, as of July 12, 1972, the afternoon scrub trick at Isabella worked only at that station, reporting and turning in the day's receipts to the clerk at Linden terminal.

By this time, the future of Isabella station seemed preordained by CTA®. In 1970, the station became one of a few that were designated as allowing inbound boarding only. (A similar arrangement was put in place at the same time at King Drive, Cottage Grove and University on the Jackson Park branch. It was later instituted at other locations, such as Laramie/Lake.) Passengers could board and alight southbound, but could only alight northbound. However, beyond the stern word of the conductor, there were still no positive control devices or barriers that stopped one from accessing the northbound platform and few people ever boarded northbound anyway.

Isabella's low ridership, combined with CTA's® financial troubles made it an easy and early target for closure. An attempt was made to close the station in the early 1970s and it was scheduled to have service withdrawn on April 30, 1971, but this was strongly opposed by neighborhood residents who did not want to lose their small local transit stop and the closure was stopped by a court injunction. The station struggled on for a few more years -- ridership continued to drop a few thousand more each year -- but finally fell victim to one of several service cuts in 1973 that saw several stations and station entrances close in the face of a financial crisis. Isabella closed on July 16, 1973, the day that the Paulina entrance to Medical Center also closed. Though the station remained intact for a short time after closure, it was demolished beginning around April 1974. Sections of platform remained for a short period after that, with some remnants lasting at least into 1975.

A few remnants that revealed the existence of the station lived on for a while. For many years, the sidewalks that led from the north side of the street to the side platforms could still be seen in the underbrush of the "L" right-of-way. They were removed circa 2005. Two of the bases from the old manual gates still existed until their removal at the end of 2005.

The station served the National College of Education, now National-Louis University's Evanston Campus.

In 1967, cars 1-50 were repainted with the Alpine white and Mint green color scheme that the first order of the 2000-series were delivered with. One of these repaints, seen here on the Howard-bound Evanston run, stops at Isabella on November 7, 1971. Today, nothing of the station remains. (Photo by George J. Adler)

(Thanks to Bob Bresse-Rodenkirk for sharing some of his memories the station.)

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In 1955, the 5000-series cars were repainted with the Mercury green, Swamp Holly orange and Croydon cream livery of the 6000-series. Car 5001 stops at Isabella on September 20, 1956, assigned to the Wilmette-Evanston run. The National College of Education advertised below the classic-style platform sign is now the National-Louis University Evanston Campus, located a few blocks east on Sheridan Road. (Photo by Robert D. Heinlein)

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A southbound Evanston train, made up of a lone 1-50 in its original paint scheme, leaves Isabella in August 1965. (Photo by Bob Epstein, Collection of Joe Testagrose)

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A southbound Evanston Shuttle, run by lone car 46, stops at Isabella on July 4, 1971. (Collection of Joe Testagrose)

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Pulling away from Isabella on its way north to Linden, a four-car Evanston train of 4000s is trailed by car 4279 on September 17, 1969. (Photo by Doug Grotjahn, Collection of Joe Testagrose)

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A four-car fantrip train of 4000s is led by car 4415 as it passes Isabella on the Fourth of July, 1971. All three of the men in the front windows of 4415 are CTA® employees. (Photo by Joe Testagrose)

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A four-car fantrip of 4000s passes Isabella station, heading north on August 6, 1972. Note the sign indicating that the train will stop at 35th Street for White Sox baseball, probably on the chains simply for fun. (Photo by Bruno Berzins, Collection of Joe Testagrose)

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A shot of 4000-series Plushies northbound at Isabella in December, 1972. (Photo by Leon Kay)