In October 2005, the Winnetka Historical Society at long last moved into its new headquarters at 411 Linden Street. The Winnetka Historical Society, though established in 1932, did not have a permanent home for its collections, offices and exhibits for almost three-quarters of a century. In the early days, the collections were stored in Society members’ homes and then later, at the Winnetka Public Library. In 1988, the Winnetka Historical Museum Committee, formed in cooperation with the Village of Winnetka, rented classrooms at Skokie School, after declining enrollment led to its closure by the school district, to establish its first exhibit space. Reversing population trends at the dawn of the new millennium soon forced the WHS to move out of the temporary home.
The Society purchased a beautiful two-story 19th century house at the corner of Linden and Ash Streets in June 2001. Members and staff of the WHS were thrilled to have, finally, a place to call home. Unfortunately, a group of 18 neighbors, concerned that a museum would drive down property values and increase traffic, sued the Village and the Society to prevent the move to the new location. The neighbors argued that the special use permit for “non-essential public use” would lead to additional non-profit institutions moving into residential neighborhoods. Before granting the special use permit and a zoning variation to allow the WHS to enlarge the garage and attach it to the house to store valuable artifacts and collections, the Village agreed to look into alternative sites to move the 125+ year-old building, but none suitable were found. “Most parks and village property are too small for the idea,” said then Village Manager Doug Williams. WHS Board members tried to reassure the concerned citizens: “We think we can be good neighbors,” then president Nancy Judge told a Chicago Tribune reporter. “Our daily traffic is light, and special events are not at peak times.” The litigation lasted more than four years with the concerned neighbors filing multiple appeals alleging that the Village had exceeded its authority when it approved the permit and variance. The legal battles ended in December 2005 when the Illinois Supreme Court refused to hear the final appeal of the Linden homeowners. An Appellate Court ruling earlier that fall had upheld the decision of the Circuit Court and gave the WHS the green light to move
ahead with their plans.