Zion, Illinois
by William Schwager (article published in 1979)

City Motto: “Where God rules, man prospers”

The City of Zion was founded in 1900 by Dr. John Alexander Dowie, a great religious leader. It was to be a city of a Christian ideal and in racial equality and intended to be a self sufficing community. His purpose in life was to honor God and do good to all within his reach. He had a master plan when he brought his followers to the city at the tum of the century. The coming of Zion was quietly taking place in the year 1899 and not until the last night of the year was it announced that John Alexander Dowie had options on between six and seven thousand acres of land which would be the City of Zion. Zion is located half way between Chicago, Illinois to the south and Milwaukee, Wisconsin to the north and boarding the shores of Lake Michigan on the east. Great Lakes Naval Training Base and Ft. Sheridan Army base are nearby to the south. It was on July 15, 1901 that the land was thrown open and eager throngs were waiting to enter and make their homes and abide by the rules of the founder. The beautiful site was developed and about 20,000 shade trees were planted along the streets that were laid out resembling the British flag. The streets in Zion are named Biblically with Aaron at the eastern lakefront and Lydia to the west. The only exception was Caledonia and Edina which were named after his hometown in Edinboro, Scotland. In the center is a two hundred acre park where the Temple Site was located and consecrated on July 14, 1900. Here an 8,000 seat Tabemacle was soon built in 8 weeks for Dr. Dowie’s congregation. In 1937 the Zion Tabernacle and radio station (WCBD) were destroyed by fire. In 1901, one of the first structures built in the city was the Zion Hotel (Elijah Hospice). It was built to house men who had come to Zion to build their homes. The hotel, completed within four months by 500 men using over 3,000,000 feet of lumber, has more than 350 rooms in a three story building and is considered to be the largest all-frame building in the world. This well preserved building is still standing today at 2561 Sheridan Rd. In 1902 over the main entrance of the original structure a Bell Tower was built containing a 54 inch, half-ton bell which rang every morning and evening at 9 o’clock for a minute of silent prayer. The bell rang for the last time on April 24, 1943 as the condition of the tower was weakening. Now the bell rests on the grounds of the Sanctuary of the Christian Catholic Church in a little prayer garden. Today the City Schulmaric Carillon reminds residents of a reverent minute of prayer as it chimes. However, today you will find on this same sight a beautiful 1,300 seat sanctuary with a unique structure of a sloping fan-shaped roof and beautiful precast gothic stained glass windows. The Christian Catholic Church is well known today for its performances of the Passion Play each year. This brings to life the drama of the gospel and life of Jesus Christ. The Christian Catholic Church is now in the process of building a new auditorium for this event. The 25 room, three story pressed brick ornamental tile roof home (Shiloh House) at 1300 Shiloh Blvd. was built by a Swiss architect and styled after a Swiss Chalet for Dr. Dowie in 1903 at a cost of $90,000. This home has been restored to the 1900 era with many of the original iterns on display. Visitors are welcome on weekends, public holidays and upon appointment. The home was purchased in 1967 for $18,500 by the Historical Society where their headquarters are located. On April 1, 1906, Dr. Dowie’s health was failing and upon his earlier requests, Wilbur Glenn Volvia was accepted as the successor to Zion’s founder. In 1907 the City of Zion and the Dowie holdings were thrown into bankruptcy. After three years, Wilbur Glenn Voliva and his followers efforts, funds were raised and the entire Zion estate again was the property of the Christian Catholic Church. It was on August 2, 1901 that the first residence located at 2802 Elizabeth Avenue was built. By winter there were more homes built and Zion had a population of 2,000. The City of Zion was organized and incorporated under the law of Illinois on March 31, 1902. The first leading Industry was the Zion Lace Industries where lace works were moved to Zion from England by Samuel Stevenson and his brothers. On September 1, 1907 the factory was purchased by Marshall Field and Company of Chicago and was run as a private operation until 1952. Lace samples can also be seen at the Shiloh House. Another of the industries started in the early days of Zion was the Zion Baking Industry still located east of town. Today it is still operating and well known for its cookies, especially the famous Zion Fig Bar. Today you will find Zion a modern community with a combined population of Winthrop Harbor and Beach Park of 35,000 and still growing with a bright future. The city govemment consists of a mayor, four commissioners and assisted by several commissions. Zion has a full time police force and a fire department and a new Municipal building. There are two fire stations in Zion, one at the east and one on the west side of town. Another growth to Zion has been the Rescue Squad that is ready to answer calls at any hour with qualified men and women on the job. The Zion Memorial Library is located overlooking the lovely lagoon in Shiloh Park. Zion is also fortunate to have a traveling Book-Mobile to serve citizens in neighboring areas.
Zion is proud of its year round activities. It has some of the finest parks and facilities in the nation. There is a nine-hole golf course, two community swimming pools, tennis courts, picnic areas and dozens of Little League and adult baseball diamonds. A modern Leisure Center has been built in Zion with an expansive indoor ice arena and a smaller studio rink. It is used for open skating along with Hockey League games. A popular recreation for everyone is a ride on the scenic seven mile bike and snowmobile trails that wind through parks and residential areas. Usually around the first part of August each year downtown Zion turns its thoughts to Gypsy Days when they place their merchandise outside at special prices. There is always a childrens dress parade for this event. After many years Zion welcomed a radio station, WKZN-AM and FM with its offices in the downtown area. Zion is fortunate to have the Chicago and Northwestern Railroad serving them and going on to the Kenosha area daily. The Waukegan North Chicago Transit Company has a bus route to serve Zion daily and the Greyhound Buses stop in Zion twice daily in both directions. The Waukegan Airport is nearby but for traveling one must go to O’Hare Airport in Chicago. There is also one Taxi Service in the city at the present time.
In early 1954 Zion was hit once more when an entire city block of the downtown district was destroyed by fire. Today this devestation has been replaced by a new bank and other enterprises. The Zion merchants still remember this fire of 1954 and in February each year they have an annual “Fire Sale.”
Zion is also known for their special events that take place every year drawing crowds from miles away. The biggest event is Jubilee Days. This is a weekend event with an outdoor church service, a prayer breakfast, steer roast, a huge parade, rides and ending with a program at the Shiloh Park Lagoon and fireworks. The Easter Egg Hunt is an event that all children look forward to being held in Shiloh Park rain or shine. This has been the project of Ray and Irene Zukley for many years. There is one Movie Theater located at the south end of town showing the latest contemporary films at down to earth prices.
Organizations in the area are plentiful such as the Exchange Club, Womens Club, Illinois Dunesland Garden Club, Ministerial Assoc., Moose, Lions, Sr. Citizens and many more. The American Intemational Hospital also overlooks Shiloh Park on the east and is a fully licensed in the Illinois and Lake County Depts. of Public Health. Other hospitals are located in Waukegan, Illinois to the south and Kenosha, Wisconsin to the north. At the present time we have Shiloh Towers overlooking Shiloh Park. This is a low-housing for the elderly. A new housing unit is also being built and expected to be completed in the near future. There are two bowling alleys in the Zion area along with a Roller Rink and Marriott Great America Theme Park is approximately ten miles away. Just a few miles south-east of downtown Zion you will find the 1,917 acre Illinois Beach State Park where there is a beach, camp grounds, picnic areas and nature trails. Also located in Zion on the shore of Lake Michigan you will find one of the world’s largest nuclear power stations which supplies billions of kilowatts a year. Along with this you will find a Nuclear training school. In the Zion–Winthrop Harbor–Beach Park area you will find 12 public schools, 4 Junior High Schools, Pearce High School and Horizon Campus. There are also some parochial schools in the area. Residents are also fortunate to have the College of Lake County near by and in Kenosha, Wisconsin is Carthage College and Parkside branch of the University of Wisconsin. A visitor to Zion today will find many other churches besides the Christian Catholic Church. There are some 30 churches representing 20 denominations. There are four modern nursing homes in Zion. Residents of Zion are very proud to have Adeline J. Geo-Karis (State Senator, 31st District, State of Illinois) making her home in Zion, Illinois for many years. In Winthrop Harbor, Illinois, a few miles north of Zion, boaters wiII find a marina with access to Lake Michigan. Many years have passed since this beautiful spot was chosen for our city and today we can look back at the past and see a bright future ahead.

© Mill Family.com 2003-2005