“R” is for Ravines

Gazette Article by: Bean Carroll
Appeared in the Gazette: Winter 1999

Several years ago when the Minnesota Historical Society reopened its exhibit area, a unique approach was taken to interpret its history from “A to Z.” Various objects and topics were depicted by “letters,” and visitors moved through the gallery “alphabetically.” The editorial board of the Winnetka Historical Society Gazette has decided to adopt a similar technique and has added a new feature, “WINNETKA HISTORY: A to Z.”

North of Tower Road and south of the Glencoe border on Sheridan Road is the winding, wooded ravine of Hubbard Hill. Known to Winnetkans simply as “the ravines,” this section of Sheridan Road is one of the most scenic areas in our village and in Cook County, reminiscent of the East to many who move here.
The ravines form another piece of the geological history of our lakefront. Sometimes called the Grand Canyon of Winnetka, the ravines are the first in a series of ravines that follows the shoreline north of Chicago to end at Lake Bluff’s Sunrise Park.. Together, this series comprises what is known as the Lake Border Moraines Bluff Coast. The formations were created approximately 12,500 to 14,500 years ago when the Laurentide ice sheet receded from the Great Lakes Basin. At that time, the surface of Lake Michigan fluctuated between 45 feet higher to 200 feet lower than today. The resultant high bluffs along the lakefront allowed the gorges to form as streams carved their way down to the low base-level of the lake’s current elevation.
The ravines are important to us not only for their scenic beauty and interesting geological history, but also for the role they have played in the development of Winnetka. The Green Bay Trail followed the lakeshore in a fairly straight path until it reached Hubbard Hill. At this point, the pioneers, like the Native Americans before them, avoided the steep hollows and traveled on a western angle to remain on level ground. They continued their route northward on the higher ridges just west of the ravines.
Eventually, Sheridan Road was built and the ravines became navigable. Early automobiles were challenged by the steepness of the inclines. Not only did cars overheat while ascending the road, they also had problems with the spare tires that projected from the fronts of the old running boards. These would sometimes cause extra hazards on the sharp turns.
Though the ravines were difficult to navigate, Winnetkans had come to love them. In 1930 the State of Illinois proposed widening Sheridan Road and filling in the ravine on Hubbard Hill. Winnetkans protested. The Hubbard Woods Improvement Association, led by Walter L. Edwards, sent out petitions and appealed to Governor Sheets to halt the project.
As a result of the petitions of Winnetkans, Sheridan Road was sent west on Tower Road to the train tracks. From there it continued north on Green Bay Road. Governor Sheets stated that it was the first time he had seen villagers rise up to keep a “crooked road crooked.”
Over the years a few stories of mystery have been attached to the ravines. It was once thought that a band of counterfeiters hid out there. It took weeks for the federal and state detectives to find their living quarters and paraphernalia. Another time a headless body was found in the woods near the ravines. The head was later discovered on the beach below. Less exciting, yet still a mystery, are the stone walls that are randomly placed on the east and west sides of the road. There was some fear a few years ago that IDOT would remove the walls while repairing the road. This was not their plan. However, there is still little known about these walls—another mystery to be solved.
So the next time you are driving along Sheridan Road, enjoy the winding, forested road graced by stone walls. Look to the east for a glimpse of the lake. Take time to enjoy the most scenic spot in Cook County.


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