Shermer, Illinois: Not Just a John Hughes Set Piece

Filmmaker John Hughes made a number of iconic movies in the 1980's, such as Planes Trains & Automobiles, and Ferris Buellers Day Off, two of my all time personal favorites.

Shermer High School from The Breakfast Club. The building once housed Maine North High School. It still stands and is owned as use for offices (and kept in terrible shape) by the State of Illinois.

Many of his films were located in/around the North Shore of the Chicago suburbs. Several of these were specifically located in a fictional town called Shermer. 

As Jay and Silent Bob would find out (link is NOT for children) in Dogma, there is no Shermer in Illinois. That being said however, there are numerous real-life references from where Hughes likely took inspiration for the town, including its former name.

Shermer is largely based on the Northbrook, Illinois, which was originally named Shermerville. It was, and remains, a stop on the Milwaukee Road, now known as Northbrook Station on Metra's Milwaukee District-North Line. The tracks dates back to 1872 with the station being built six years later. It was originally named just Shermer, but it was renamed to Shermerville in 1882.

There may not have been a Shermer, IL, but Shermer Rd is indeed named after an old town in the area. Shermerville was the original name of what is now Northbrook station.

"May 2, 1956: The scene of a train accident that killed Rosemary Pohlmeier, who was traveling east on Shermer Road. Her car was caught between the gates when the Milwaukee-bound train struck." — Kaste / Chicago Tribune, Sept. 16, 2014

Like most land in the state, it was originally Native American land, ceded, along with the rest of Northfield Twp. in 1829 by the Potawatomie Indians. 

In 1901, following a close referendum, the town was incorporated as Shermerville with about 60 homes and 311 residents. (Northbrook History) It was named after an immigrant family by the name of Schermer, when the first residents would settle the area in the 1840's and 50's.

The town changed its name to Northbrook in 1923, as residents felt the name had a bad reputation. This had geography to thank. Many Chicagoans would take the train to Shermerville to enjoy the bars and saloons of the town, and if they missed the last train home, would take residence in a nearby park, "giving the town a reputation as a haven for drunks". (Chicago Tribune)

"Feb. 22, 1961: St. Peter's Evangelical Reformed Church, at Willow and Shermer Roads, just seconds before the steeple collapsed and destroyed the church." — Ed Smith / Chicago Tribune, Sept. 16, 2014

This early history actually played in well to what Hughes was trying to achieve in his films. According to Hughes himself, "The whole notion of Shermer came out of that heterogenous kind of society, very extreme - I mean, at one point I went from a school with 1100 students to one with thirty. I remember this one kid, an eighth-grader, who had his teeth rotted out. Eighth grade. It was like Deliverance. But then at the same time, you'd have the richest kid in town in your school as well, so even in this tiny set-up, you had both ends of the economic spectrum, real extremes. I've always wanted to write a history of Shermer, because it'd be kind of the history of postwar America. Haven't got around to it yet, though." (Lollipop)

Sadly, Hughes passed away in 2009, so there won't be a history written of the fictional place, at least not by him, but Shermer as a location for his films seemed to disappear after 1990's Home Alone

There is still one remnant of the name Shermer that is quite visible; Shermer Road runs through Northbrook today, running between IL-68/Dundee Road and IL-43/Waukegan Road, with a section of the road removed for the Naval Air Station Glenview in the early 1920's, which later became a golf club after its closure. Glenview is just south of Northbrook.

Thanks as always for reading!


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