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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