Back In The Day: Winnetka’s past — The street names tell the story

This article originally appeared in the May 30, 2018 issue of the Winnetka Current as Back In The Day: Winnetka’s past — The street names tell the story

By Peter Butler

By my count, Winnetka has more than 40 streets with the names of trees. Some, such as Elm Street and Oak Street, have historically been populated by the trees bearing the street’s name. White Oak Lane, one of Winnetka’s smaller streets, pays homage to one type of tree commonly bent to the ground by native peoples to help lead travelers along the Green Bay trail.

Most other roads in the village recognize the people who made Winnetka what it is today. Two of the earliest civic leaders, John Garland and Jared Gage, for whom Garland Avenue and Gage Street were named, merit special recognition.

In 1847, John Garland bought the Patterson Tavern from Zernah Patterson. The “Wayside Tavern” sat on 57 acres on the bluff just south of Tower Road. The tavern was also used for civic activities, including the first meeting to form New Trier Township in 1850. Garland built the first church in Winnetka in 1869, a non-denominational church which he later gifted to the Episcopal diocese in 1876 in honor of his fourth wife, Juliette. It became “Christ’s Church,” which was replaced by the current Christ Church in 1905. The Garland mansion on the current site of North Shore Country Day School was built in 1871. It ultimately became Knollslea Hall, a building that served the campus until it was razed in 1960.

A second founding father of Winnetka, Jared Gage, came to Chicago from New York and established the first steam flour mill. He became a business partner in banking with his nephew, John Haines, who later served as mayor of Chicago. Gage arrived in Winnetka in 1857 when he purchased land along the lake westward into what is now Hubbard Woods. His house on Whitebridge Hill Road, built in 1857, was converted to a makeshift hospital (and morgue) when the Lady Elgin sank on September 8, 1860. Three hundred people perished in the tragedy, but the 100 residents of Winnetka saved an estimated 98 lives. Gage was also among the Winnetka leaders to build Winnetka’s first train station in 1857 — “Lakeside,” which is now called Hubbard Woods. Gage lost his wealth when his bank collapsed after the 1871 Chicago Fire. Forced to sell much of his real estate, he had fortunately built four houses on Scott Avenue (named, incidentally, after Robert Scott, of Carson, Pirie, Scott and Company), for his children. The Gages moved into their son Frank’s house.

Perhaps you live on one of the other streets bearing the name of a leader important to Winnetka’s past — Lloyd, Hubbard, Hibbard, Merrill, Starr, Dinsmore (Ely), DeWindt, Burr, Alles, Bell, Boal, Fisher — the list is long. It’s quite a collection of visionaries who have helped make Winnetka such a special place.

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