Elm Street Then and Now

Gazette Article by: Bean Carroll
Appeared in the Gazette: Fall 2004

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Much has changed in Winnetka over the past 100 years, as is revealed in these photographs of Elm Street, looking east from Chestnut. Notice the different street surfaces. Although macadam pavement of streets began in Winnetka in 1895, this c. 1904 photograph shows a mud street compared to the tree-lined paved street of 2004. Notice also the electric train at street level in front of the building that today houses Phototronics. With the lowering of the railroad tracks in the late 1930s and early 1940s, the view has been streamlined, with a bridge and the distant view of the Phototronics building behind the trees. The telegraph lines have been replaced by street lights and a traffic light. Wide sidewalks allow contemporary pedestrians and retail customers to walk safely and keep their feet clean.

The building at the southwest corner of Elm Street and Green Bay Road was constructed around the turn of the century. It was named the Vollman Block after the family who owned the A.J. Vollman Meat Market there. In the corner space of the building was Adams Pharmacy, established by Elmer E. Adams. Other tenants of the building in the early 1900s included John H. Detloff Men’s Furnishings and the United States Post Office. Today, we know the building as the Harris Bank Building.

Across the street from Vollman’s was the Moth-Meyer building. This building was originally owned by R.M. Graves who opened a general store in 1855, one year after the arrival of the railroad in Winnetka. The store sold a variety of goods such as groceries, hardware, drugs and animal feed. Twenty years later, Robert S. Moth moved the frame building several yards to the north to accommodate a more imposing brick structure. Thirteen-year-old Max Meyer began working for Moth in 1875. After working for several years, Meyer purchased the business from Moth with Frank Gage in 1882. Shortly afterwards, Meyer became sole owner. He ran the business for 30 years, expanding as the Village grew. At the time of this photo, Meyer was also operating a banking department in the rear of the general store, which cashed checks for residents and stored funds and valuables in a safe. In 1905, Meyer moved the banking business to a separate building next to the store on Elm Street. This corner has been home to a bank ever since. Through the trees of today, we now see the Bank One building.

Next door to Moth-Meyer’s is E.C. Weissenberg’s Winnetka Coal-Lumber Co. In 1885, at the age of 26, Weissenberg stopped in Winnetka on his way to Oregon to visit his sister and her husband, A.J. Vollman. During his visit, the Vollmans convinced him to settle in town and open a fuel and feed company. Weissenberg purchased a lot on the northeast corner of Elm and Chestnut Streets for $1,000. He built a one-and-one-half story frame building from which he sold fuel and feed for livestock. The business was a success and expanded as Winnetka grew. In 1896, a two-story building was erected at 813 Elm Street which housed his offices and expanding inventory. A fire in 1919 damaged the building and much of its contents. The building that stands at the northeast corner of Elm and Chestnut was financed by Weissenberg and built in 1923. We are all familiar with the businesses currently occupying that space, including Johnsen’s Sea Foods that opened in 1945. There is also The Village Toy Shop, the Bookstall and Caribou Coffee.

Still the center of commerce for the Village of Winnetka, Elm Street has come a long way from the tree-lined mud road that it once was. As automobiles replaced horse-drawn carriages, the wooden sidewalks and dirt streets became inadequate. Today, we continue to improve the streets and hope to maintain the character of the Village with trees, flowers and easy access to businesses.

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