The site of present-day Waukegan was recorded as Riviere du Vieux Fort ("Old Fort River") and Wakaygagh on a 1778 map by Thomas Hutchins. By the 1820s, the French name had become "Small Fort River" in English, and the settlement was known as "Little Fort". The name "Waukegance" and then "Waukegan" (meaning "little fort"; cf. Potawatomiwakaigin "little fort") was created by John H. Kinzie and Solomon Juneau, and the new name was adopted in 1849.
Waukegan had an abolitionist community dating to these early days. In 1853, residents commemorated the anniversary of emancipation of slaves in the British Empire with a meeting. Waukegan arguably has the distinction of being the only place where Abraham Lincoln failed to finish a speech; when he campaigned in the town in 1860, a fire alarm rang, and the man soon-to-be president had his words interrupted.
Although Waukegan Station is not the terminus of the UP-N line, most trains along the line stop at Waukegan. The station not only contains storage tracks for Metra trains, but is also located near freight lines for the Union Pacific Railroad as well as the Elgin, Joliet and Eastern Railway. In addition, the station serves as a stop for the Great Lakes Naval Training Center. Passengers who wish to travel to the Zion Metra station can use Pace's route 571, which provides daily service between the two stations.
Waukegan Station is located very near to downtown Waukegan, home to attractions such as the Genesee Theatre. Located at the bottom of the bluff that overlooks Lake Michigan, the station is immediately downhill from the historic Carnegie Library building. Other historic buildings in the area include the old houses of the Shimer College Historic District, site of that school's campus until 2006. Buses connect the station to attractions further inland, such as Six Flags Great America in Gurnee.