Early Streets

Article by Frank A. Windes
Winnetka Village Engineer
Reprinted from the Winnetka Talk
March 8, 1930
Appeared in the Gazette: Fall 1995

During good weather, extensive repairs are made to streets throughout the village. As you navigate the obstacles and detours necessary for the maintenance of high-quality, modern streets, remember what our roads were like over 100 years ago……….

“Before the building of concrete, macadam or brick roads, all Winnetka streets were earth roads with a layer of Lake or Gross Point bank gravel for a wearing surface.

The right-of-way for a new road was cleared of timber, marked out, and two plough furrows were run 20 to 30 feet apart. By using scrapers the loose dirt was thrown toward the center forming a crown to shed the water, and ditches were left along the sides for the water to run off to natural water courses. Upon the top surface of this crown, on main-traveled roads, three or four inches of lake gravel was thrown and rollers drawn by horses used to pack the gravel. All road work in the early days was done by man labor or horse drawn machinery.

WHS Object ID 3217

Workers paving the roads in Winnetka. WHS Object ID 3217, © WHS, all rights reserved.

Winnetka’s streets were ‘no bottom’ streets during wet weather, and in hot summers the dust lay six to eight inches deep. Heavy wagons and sleighs made ‘grand canyon’ ruts in winter time. Twice a year, spring and fall, the ruts were graded by a grader drawn by six horses, a welcome sight to those who drove teams and heavy wagons.

The first macadam roads were built in 1894. Some of these same roads are still in use, except for a surface of tar placed on top to keep down the dust and prevent raveling from automobile traffic.

In those days of early road building a ton or a cubic yard was a load. Now a load will sometimes be fifteen tons and five to six cubic yards. It was a rare sight to see a team driven all the way from Chicago. Sixteen miles was a good day’s journey.

…Soon after the formation of the Village in 1869 the following record was made, September 19, 1872:

“On June 8, 1872, the committee on streets reports: ‘That three days work be required for poll tax for highway work for this season at $4 per head.’ A quick and informal report and simple method of taxation.”

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