In 1932, a small group of Winnetka “old-timers” to organized the Winnetka Historical Society. Membership was open to anyone, young or old who was interested Winnetka’s past. Annual dues were $1.00 per year per family. The five original founders were:
Carrie Burr Prouty: First female president of the Winnetka Library Board, a position she held for 39 years from 1906-1945
Max Meyer: Owner of Winnetka’s dry goods store which eventually became Winnetka’s first bank
Donald Morrison: a Winnetka native whose chronicles of childhood give an enlightening picture of Winnetka in the early part of the 20th century
Bernice Van der Vries: Member of the Winnetka Village Council, the Winnetka School Board and president of the League of Women Voters. She was elected to the Illinois state legislature in 1934.
Frank Windes: Village Engineer from 1898 to 1940 and an avid collector of Winnetka stories and artifacts.
In its first year of existence, Frank Windes described the general mission of the Society: “Let us find out all we can, preserve all we can, and hand down all we can to the future generations for their help and guidance.” In the early days, WHS members met to give papers on Winnetka history. The offerings included personal reminiscences, retelling of lore and scholarly studies.
Windes 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 shuttered Skokie School when the Winnetka Village Council funded the Village’s first museum. The museum was managed initially by a committee of Winnetka residents appointed by the Village Council. In 1993 the Directors of the Society assumed responsibility for its operations. When The Skokie School reopened in 1998, the Society was homeless.
The 21st century has been transformational for WHS. In 2004 the Society moved into their new Museum and offices at 411 Linden Avenue, a home built in 1857. The first floor houses both a permanent exhibit on Winnetka’s development and rotating themed exhibits that showcase Winnetka history and artifacts from the vast WHS collection.
In 2003, WHS moved Winnetka’s oldest home – the Schmidt-Burnham Log House — from Tower Road to a site in Crow Island Woods generously provided by the Winnetka Park District. It is preserved and tended by WHS today and is open to the public in the summer and for group tours by appointment.