The land that was to become Vernon Hills, founded by Richard Theodore Freese, Ron Freese, and Jim Carswell, began with the establishment of a 200-acre farm in 1851. Use of the land remained relatively static until the 1950s, when part of it was purchased for a residential community and golf course; the development was the first use of the name "Vernon Hills." On June 16, 1958, the village officially incorporated with 123 residents and 125 houses in a single subdivision built by Quinn Hogan and Barney Loeb[. During these times, the village and police department were run from a local motel until 1971 when village trustees bought two portable buildings. It saw steady but slow growth until the annexing of a plot of land near the corner of IL-60 and IL-21 in 1971, which led to the building of 1,200,000-square-foot Hawthorn Center (now known as Westfield Hawthorn). By 1980, the village's population had grown to almost 10,000 residents, and by 2000, it had surpassed 20,000.
Through the 1980s and 1990s, the village grew geographically through the annexation of surrounding areas. This included land that would become the Corporate Woods business park and Centennial Crossing residential development (1986), a 1,200-acre section of Hawthorne-Mellody Farms (1988), and part of the village of Half Day (1994). In 2000, the village acquired land that had belonged at different times to the U.S. Army as a Nike missile base, the U.S. Navy as a naval training center, and the Curtiss Candy Company; it was converted to what is now the 184-acre Vernon Hills Athletic Complex.