Indian Hill: History and Legend

Gazette Article by: Barbara Sholl
Appeared in the Gazette: Fall 1995

The name “Indian Hill” refers to the southeast corner of the village, reminding us of Winnetka’s earliest residents. Church Road, a “high” road which follows an ancient sand ridge deposited during the last Ice Age 12,000 years ago, runs through the area. Today known as Ridge Road south of Winnetka Road, in early times it was the “wet weather’ portion of the Green Bay Trail that linked villages and trading posts from Chicago to Green Bay. This wet weather path joined a “dry weather” low road, now Sheridan Road, at its current intersection with Maple Street.

Although native peoples traversed this trail long before white settlers came to Winnetka, there is a lack of hard historical evidence about Indian Hill and its early inhabitants. Just prior to the turn of the century, however, an intrepid amateur anthropologist named Albert Scharf developed an interest in old Indian trails and villages. He drew meticulous maps and collected many stone projectile points and other artifacts. By 1900 Scharf was able to draw extremely detailed maps of the Chicago area, designating many Indian villages and the trails that had connected them. It is likely that Indian camps and villages would have been located along these early trails.

In Winnetka, stone points have been found on the property of North Shore Country Day School. Local lore indicates that there may have also been an Indian burial ground located at the spot where John C. Garland built his mansion in 1871. The house, located on the grounds of North Shore Country Day School, was demolished in 1960.

In 1913, during construction of the golf course at the present-day Indian Hill Club, charter member Edward Rogers discovered a large number of stone implements and arrowheads while walking over the grounds. He became quite knowledgeable about the Indian presence in Winnetka and was convinced that a Miami Indian village had once been located on the grounds. Unfinished stone tools led him to believe that a chipping station had been located there, and it was also believed that there had been a signal station on the elevated area around the 10th tee. Artifacts have been found by residents in their gardens across from the golf course.

Historically there is a possibility that the Indian village could be the one described in the journal of Saint Cosmé, a French missionary-explorer. In 1698 he came to meet with Father Francois Pinet, who had established his Mission of the Guardian Angel two years earlier.  Saint Cosmé wrote: “The Indian village is of over one hundred and fifty cabins, and one league (three miles) on the river there is another village almost as large. They are both of the Miamis.”

A paper presented to the Chicago Historical Society in 1907 placed the site on a sand ridge near the south end of the Indian Hill Club. However, later the Catholic Historical Society disagreed, and with the approval of the Chicago Historical Society, placed a tablet at the corner of LaSalle Street and Wacker Drive in Chicago to mark the location of the Pinet Mission.

In light of the fact that there had been an earlier Indian presence on the grounds, the members of the golf club decided to honor its historical background by naming it Indian Hill. In 1914 a new Indian Hill train station was opened to service commuters, as well as members of the golf club. In the 1930s the underpass of the Indian Hill Station was remodeled to honor the past with its beautifully stylized Art Deco Indian motifs.

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5 Responses to “Indian Hill: History and Legend”

  1. Shirley Olrech November 5, 2017 at 2:37 am #

    Do you have any information about an English Tea Room in Indian Hills in the thirties and possibly the twenties owned by a missus Whitaker and English lady who I understood also owed the chimneys apartments , now condos. She also owned a house at 6:40 Hill Road an English style home. 1940 we lived in a basement apartment of the chimneys and then misses Whitaker asked us to live in her home so that someone would always be there. When we were still in the apartments she would ask me up to have tea with her every afternoon after school and she had a dog named Fala hey, ask Scotty just like President Roosevelt’s.. she gave us a hard rock maple table and chairs set from England that had been in the Tea Room I first asked about, when we moved to North Chicago Uptown Chicago. I still have it. 640 Hill Road used to have about it 5 Acres, a small Lake crab apple orchard and there was a path of lilac’s that led to the side Street. It is still as beautiful place with additions. Have two pictures of original. We moved to Texas in Dec.1942. only back once when I was 16.

    • Tane Beecham November 29, 2017 at 9:18 pm #

      Hello and thank you for your inquiry. I have not been able to find any information on a Whitaker family living in Winnetka in the 20s or 30s. Do you recall the name of the tea room by any chance. I do find a Whitman family at 640 Hill Road in the 1930s. Could this be the woman you are thinking of and not Whitaker?

  2. Lon Holmberg January 8, 2018 at 9:43 pm #

    I’m interested in Native American history associated with Indian Hill Club. Artifacts found on the club grounds indicate a village was near. If a village, then a stream must also have been nearby. As a student at Sears School over 65 years ago, I used to explore a creek that ran through Kenilworth and emptied into Lake Michigan near where there used to be a small public beach in Kenilworth. I wonder if that creek might have gone through the southern part of Indian Hill Club. I’d appreciate any comments. Thank you, Lon Holmberg

  3. Randy Knowles June 9, 2018 at 12:36 pm #

    Lon –

    I lived at 530 Essex Road from 1959 to 1998. The steam you are referring to is called the Skokie Ditch. I remember the ditch was still open and uncovered from Abbotsford to Warwick when I was in Sears. George Veeder, who was President of the Kenilworth Historical Society and lived on east side of Essex Road bordering the ditch, told me that it was constructed by hand digging some time after the Civil War as the first effort to provide drainage for the Skokie Lagoons area later improved by the WPA in the 1930’s. The ditch indeed runs through the Indian Hill Club from the area at Winnetka Road near Chestnut and then east through Kenilworth just south of Roger Avenue. It runs under Ridge, Briar, Exmoor, Green Bay and Sears School and Abbotsford, Essex and Warwick. Behind the east lots of Warwick it turns south and crosses Melrose and then behind the Union Church turns east again and crosses Sheridan Road just north of Kenilworth Avenue. I’m not sure if there are any sections still uncovered east of Green Bay Road, but there is one area west of Briar that is still open air. All the little bridges for the ditch still exist. It drained into Lake Michigan, but I believe its is now connected to the Deep Tunnel System. It’s still active as an overflow drainage outlet.

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