The Winnetka Congregational Church: Church and Community History Intertwined

Winnetka Congregational Church

Gazette Article by George Brodsky, Summer 1995 
Updated November 17, 2021

On August 18, 1874, a non-denominational body of 22 people gathered to form the Winnetka Congregational Church. They rented the vacated one-room Unitarian Church at Cherry and Maple Streets. The church went on to occupy a structure on the present site of the Hadley School at 700 Elm in 1886, the Winnetka Chapel at 630 Lincoln in 1905, and finally, the current Georgian building at 725 Pine Street.

From its beginning, the church confirmed the unity of its faith through a congregation which at times encompassed 37 different denominations. It stressed involvement in and service to the community and beyond. During its first 50 years, the church provided the major forum for the social, political and cultural life of Winnetka and was indeed inseparable from that life.

Blessed with many able clergy and lay people, the civic accomplishments have been many. These are but a few of the highlights:

1881: The Winnetka Public Library had its roots in the basement of the church. Two decades later, the library was endowed by the Lloyd Family. 

1887: Dynamic Reverend Quincy L. Dowd organized the first village Fourth of July celebration.

1890: Dowd, with the support of agnostic Henry Demarest Lloyd, founded the Winnetka Town Meeting, destined to become twenty years later the Caucus System.

1901: A generation before women won their suffrage, they voted on a community issue in a church-held meeting, exercising the right to vote one of the first times in American history.

1902: The church’s Woman’s Society held a sale which netted $135.00. No one could have foreseen the growth of that sale annually in fame and fortune. The Rummage Sale has since earned so much that it has been listed in the Guinness Book of Records. These funds are channeled into worthy benevolences.

1911: The church built the Winnetka Community House “for the use of the whole community.” It has played an invaluable role in the life of the village. In 1932 the church turned its ownership over to the community.

1904-1921: The church Messenger served as one of the Village’s main newspapers and communications medium.

1927: The church reached out to the city, joining the Union Church of Glencoe in establishing Onward Neighbor House in Chicago. Similarly, in 1937 the church participated in the founding and financing of Parkway Community Center in Chicago.

1936: The present church on Pine Street was completed and the Children’s Chapel remodeled as an event venue called the Winnetka Chapel.

1952: The pleasing sounds of the Woolson Carillon were heard for the first time from the church tower (the highest building structure in the village). In the same year, the church spire lighting, visible throughout the Village, was given in memory of George Moses.

1954: Harkness Hall was built for the church school.

1957: The church withdrew from its Congregational connection to become an unaffiliated “community church,” confirming the inscription on the church architrave which reads: “A House of Worship for All People.”

1966-1991: During the years of the ministry of Paul S. Allen, church programs grew dramatically, especially with respect to music. 

1974: The church observed its centennial, marked by colorful celebrations and physical improvements in its facilities. During the next two decades the church developed new ministries, including mission relationships with Chicago’s Good News North of Howard Church and Friendship Baptist Church on the far west side of the city.

1983: The church founded the Women’s Exchange, a mission available to all women in the community.

1988: The church sponsored a day-care center, Harkness House for Children.

These are but a few of the church’s accomplishments during its long history. 

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