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Founding Times

Founding Times

To celebrate the 100-year anniversary of the founding of Winnetka’s Council-Manager form of government, the Winnetka Current is featuring columns by Village Trustee Carol Fessler. The columns take a look back through Winnetka’s history. What was this village like 100 years ago? What was going on in Chicago and the world? Why did we adopt this novel form of government? What has it accomplished in 100 of years service to Winnetka?

Article 1: Honoring 100 Years of Council-Manager Government in Winnetka

It feels like Winnetka has always existed just as it is today. When my family moved to this quaint village, we were drawn by the lovely homes, the convenience of train tracks running beneath street bridges, and a delightful forest preserve enfolding the village on the west. But in honor of the 100th anniversary of the founding of our council-manager form of government I delved into Winnetka’s history to find out how this all developed. What I found is nothing short of a fascinating story of the people and organizations that built our favorite hometown. To read the complete article, click here.

Article 2Robert_L._Fitzgerald_-_Messenger_1-15-15: 1915: A Time for New Management in Winnetka

“The times they are a-changing.” So goes the Bob Dylan song. During the first quarter of the twentieth century, when Winnetka was busy sweeping this small, dusty village into modernity, the world was a far different place than today and the winds of change were blowing. To read the complete article, click here.


Article 3: Herbert LaDue Woolhiser: Winnetka's Definitive Village Manager

A young man remembered his first impression of Winnetka on a magical Christmas Eve in 1916.  He and his host walked to the village common where a great crowd had gathered for the traditional carol sing-along around a lighted tree.  The air was crisp. An earlier snowfall covered the ground and the village was a most beautiful sight.  As he watched the families of this attractive community gather in such friendly fashion, he sensed that there was something quite special about Winnetka.  Little did he know then that he would spend the next 34 years serving this community. To read the complete article, click here.


Article 4: Winnetka Comes of Age Under Woolhiser1994.3009.01

A few years before Village Manager Herbert Woolhiser retired in 1951, he reflected upon some of the changes that had taken place during his thirty-four year tenure. Confessing that his comments largely focused on Village government affairs, he admitted that “the local government of any community is necessarily closely linked to the life and ideals of its people.” To read the complete article, click here.


Article 5: Winnetka's Village Council Stepped Up

Winnetka has always been driven and governed by volunteers. This proud tradition evolved from neighborly collaboration to civic government, from a reading club to a library, from civic organizations to government boards. To read the complete article, click here.


Article 6: Roots of Policy and Politics in Winnetka

Imagine a time when the extent of local government was a gathering of friends in a spacious living room. In our current age of complex government institutions and contentious elections, it seems impossible such a neighborly gathering could be viewed as government. Yet these early meetings not only made decisions crucial to the development of Winnetka, but also set the pillars of our early system of local politics. To read the complete article, click here.


Article 7: The Knock-Out Election of 1915

In 1900 Winnetka celebrated the dawn of a new century at a special town meeting in the newly renovated village assembly room. With great fanfare, Village president Frank Herdman presided over the festivities that included turning on electric current for the first time in Winnetka and a demonstration of Winnetka’s new telephone service. Such village-wide gatherings were common. Folks got acquainted, welcomed new neighbors and discussed village issues. But as the lights turned on for a new era in Winnetka, old customs began to fade and gave rise to new ones. To read the complete article, click here.


Article 8: Post-1915 Politics: The Caucus

The position of village manager became a legal reality in Winnetka with passage of a short council resolution in January 1915. This simple act could just as easily be discarded by a subsequent council. Seeing what was at stake, leaders of the Citizens’ Party orchestrated a knock-out victory in the 1915 elections by rallying an indomitable alliance of civic leaders. To read the complete article, click here.


Article 9: Look to Community for Policy

Perhaps the most unique and little-known fact about the Winnetka system of governance a century ago is the role Winnetka Community House played in political affairs. While the Caucus was the political force, Community House weighed in on issues of policy. To read the complete article, click here.


Article 10: A Town Where People Pull Together

In 1920, a young couple treated themselves to an evening at a moving-picture theater in Brooklyn. Following the silent film, they marveled at a story depicting real life in a small Midwestern town. The town was a place they had never heard of. But the pictures of neighbor greeting neighbor and children with friends in abundance evoked a longing for that kind of hometown. To read the complete article, click here.


Article 11: Sheridan Road's Bumpy Past

Sheridan_Road-_SpeedingI wonder how many of us in Winnetka got our first glimpse of this village on a pleasant drive along Sheridan Road. Since its earliest days, Winnetka has seen its population swell as families journeyed north along the lakeshore to discover their new hometown.  To read the complete article, click here.





Article 12: Power Up, Winnetka!- Early Years

Most accounts of Winnetka’s power plant focus on the colorful characters and great battles waged to preserve it for 115 years. But behind each of those headlines lies the real story of its success. To read the complete article, click here.


Article 13: Winnetka Power Stays Relevant

It is hard to imagine what it would be like if all electric power were suddenly gone. But 100 years ago, there were frequent power interruptions. Of course there were no electric refrigerators, air conditioners, televisions or computers. The supply of candles was put to work and life carried on. The story of how the power industry evolved to power up a nation can seem like Olympian drama. Yet Winnetka’s home-grown utility has its own special chapter. Having survived the early wave of consolidation that swept up nearly every other municipal power utility, Winnetka’s electric plant would face two more battles for survival. To read the complete article, click here.


Article 14: A Crystal Clear Legacy

I love a nice glass of cool, fresh Winnetka water – straight out of the tap. Such a simple thing, but...In the early 1890s, villagers got their water from wells and backyard cisterns or directly from the lake. Yet as Winnetka’s population forged over 2,000, it was time for a public water supply system. So in 1893 the village built a pumping station on the beach with a 12-inch cast-iron intake extending about 2,000 feet out into the lake. On the bluff above the station a 119-foot octagonal water tower was constructed at the end of what we now call “Tower Road.” This most visible and recognizable Winnetka landmark housed a 46,000-gallon storage tank that provided pressure to the water distribution system. To read the complete article, click here.


Article 15: A Time to Plan

“To every thing (turn, turn, turn) there is a season. . .”  Perhaps you are familiar with the Byrds song.  “A time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to reap. . .”  Today, as temperatures dip, the change of seasons is a time to get kids back to school and prepare the house for winter.  But when your house is a growing village, a new season calls for taking on big challenges. To read the complete article, click here.


Article 16: A Bennett Plan

Bennett_PlanSome questions can only be answered by a comprehensive plan. That was clearly the case in 1917 as the Village Hall Advisory Committee recommended appointment of a commission to draw up a plan for Winnetka. In all, 73 people were credited with membership on the Plan Commission, including elected officials, citizens representing various civic organization, and 13 Winnetka architects, engineers, and landscape designers. Their first act was to hire renowned city planner, architect and co-author of the Chicago Plan, Edward Bennett. To read the complete article, click here.


Article 17: First Fruits of the Plan

Four years after Winnetka appointed its first Plan Commission, Edward Bennett’s Plan of Winnetka was finally published. But even before it had gone to press, the vision and foresight embodied in the Plan’s analyses and designs were already guiding crucial decisions in Winnetka. To read the complete article, click here.


Article 18: A Home for Village Administration

Winnetka’s Village Hall has stood with dignity across from the Elm Street Station Park for the past ninety years. Its stone exterior, its symmetry and the pleasing proportions of its Georgian Revival style have served as the welcoming face of this community. Positioned in the heart of our community, Village Hall stands west of the tracks prepared for Winnetka’s future growth, but faces east in honor of its earliest times. To read the complete article, click here.


Article 19: Together in Community Spirit

Winnetka’s community spirit shines when we come together. Perhaps now, in this festive season, it is worthwhile to take a look back to see just how we started some of our favorite holiday traditions. To read the complete article, click here.


Article 20: Frank Windes and Public Works

Winnetka owes a great deal to the people who make things work here: The crews, who maintain our village and run behind-the-scenes operations. The engineers, who through the years have found solutions to the pressing needs of each era. A century ago this was a big challenge. To read the complete article, click here.


Article 21: Ready to Respond

VH_circa_1925Fire, that dreadful menace, played a threatening role throughout our early years. During the Chicago Fire of 1871, residents shook in horror as they saw the skies ablaze over the city. That same year, our Elm Street railroad station burnt down, destroying all early records of Winnetka’s Village government. The 1903 Iroquois Theatre fire, the deadliest theater fire in U. S. history, took the lives of 603 people, including 2 adults and 3 children from Winnetka. To read the complete article, click here.


Article 22: Securing our Peace

While Winnetka today is known as a peaceful village, at the end of the 19th century its nickname was “Murder Town.” A series of grizzly murder stories had made Winnetka notorious: the drama of young Winnetka men ready to impose mob justice on a suspected murderer; the grizzly tales of young boys coming upon the headless corpse and missing head of a mysterious man; and most shocking of all – the horrific slaughter of two of the village’s most beloved founders in their home. To read the complete article, click here.


Article 23: The Little Town that Could

Key to Winnetka’s success as a town was its prime position along the commuter railroad tracks. It also posed a great challenge to our little village to do great things. To read the complete article, click here.


Article 24: A Vision of the Skokie Lagoons

Winnetka is blessed with two defining natural features.  Two bodies of water that define our eastern and western borders: Lake Michigan and the Skokie Lagoons.  We enjoy these natural wonders for recreation and benefit from their abundant resources.  But the relationship with our neighbor to the west requires a good deal of work. To read the complete article, click here.


Article 25: Then and Now

Winnetka is blessed with a proud history. This series of articles has reflected back on a special time in that history in the early 1900s.  A time when young families from Chicago flocked to Winnetka, taking us in thirty years from a rustic outpost to a modern village with the full population and amenities we enjoy to day. This is an amazing accomplishment. To read the complete article, click here.

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