Gazette Article by Laurie Starrett
Appeared in the Gazette: Summer 1997
Sixty-five years ago, in 1932, Dr. James O. Ely invited a small group of Winnetka “old-timers” to organize the Winnetka Historical Society. The group—whose annual dues were $1.00 per year per family—attracted immediate interest. According to founding member Frank Windes, membership was open to “. . . anyone, young or old, who is interested in the past, present or future of Winnetka.”
Windes, Village Engineer from 1898 to 1940 and an avid collector of Winnetka artifacts and reminiscences, was the longtime custodian of the Society’s collection. At first it was stored in his basement, and later in the fireproof vaults at his engineering office. In 1941 the Society was chartered as a not-for-profit corporation, and by 1943 four chests of memorabilia were being kept in vaults at the Winnetka Trust & Savings Bank.
Later the collection was stored under lock and key in a basement room in the public library. Finally, in 1987 the growing collection found a home in The Skokie School when the Winnetka Village Council generously agreed to fund a museum. The museum initially was operated by a committee of village-appointed Winnetka residents. In 1993 the Board of Directors of the Society assumed responsibility for its operations.
Margaret B. (Pat) Burrows, a Winnetka resident since 1925, remembers that finding a permanent home for the collection always has been the goal of the organization. Mrs. Burrows was recruited to the Society in 1938 when her friend Polly King called and asked her to become treasurer. Mrs. Burrows said, “Polly, I’m not even a member.” King replied, “Yes, you are. I paid your dues.” Ever since, Pat Burrows has been a singularly dedicated member, serving as treasurer, secretary, and vice-president. She continues to volunteer at the museum weekly, helping to catalogue the collection and providing invaluable historical information, advice, and support to staff and the Board of Directors.
Under the management of founding director Trish Early, the museum at 1140 Elm Street presented seven exhibits between 1988 and 1995, winning fourteen awards. Currently, the eighth exhibit, “Tracks Through Time: Railroads in Winnetka,” is attracting widespread interest and praise.
In addition to owning, managing, and exhibiting the collection, the Society functions as a research resource for the community with a 900-volume reference library. It develops educational outreach programs, including tours and lectures for adults and classes and special events for children. It also records oral histories and publishes the award-winning, quarterly Winnetka Historical Society Gazette, which includes news of Society activities and stories of historical interest.
Today, the Winnetka Historical Society is a vital, growing organization whose mission is “. . . to collect, preserve, and present artifacts and memorabilia representing and depicting Winnetka history and to provide services for the purpose of increasing and enriching public knowledge about Winnetka.” As well as looking to the past, the Society looks forward to the next 65 years, inviting village residents to join in keeping Winnetka history alive.