Gazette Article by: Daniel Berenbeg
Appeared in the Gazette: Fall 1996
Several years ago when the Minnesota Historical Society reopened its exhibit area, a unique approach was taken to interpret its history from “A to Z.” Various objects and topics were depicted by “letters,” and visitors moved through the gallery “alphabetically.” The editorial board of the Winnetka Historical Society Gazette has decided to adopt a similar technique and has added a new feature, “WINNETKA HISTORY: A to Z.”
Frank Windes played a major role in many aspects of Winnetka’s development, from civil engineering to the Fourth of July celebration.
Born in Jasper, Tennessee, he moved here from Chicago with his family in 1879, when he was seven. Windes grew up in Winnetka, attending Winnetka schools and a technical school in Chicago. He then went to the University of Michigan and returned to the village after earning an engineering degree.
The population of the North Shore was rapidly increasing when Windes returned, and he soon became involved in the engineering needed to support this growth. A licensed architect, he designed many Winnetka houses, including his own on the northeast corner of Birch and Spruce streets. About a hundred feet north of his home at 788 Birch Street, lay the offices of Windes and Marsh, his engineering and surveying firm. The partnership was very active in improving the streets, sewers, and water systems of the area and produced most of the maps of Winnetka and nearby villages.
Frank Windes became Village Engineer in 1898 and played an important part in planning two major engineering projects in Winnetka. He designed plans for depressing the railroad tracks in 1906 and for turning the Skokie Marsh into a lagoon system in 1909. Neither project was actually started until the late 1930’s, but the final plans for both looked much like those Windes developed more than 20 years earlier.
Windes’ contributions to the village were not only in construction and engineering. He taught manual training in the public schools, both in Winnetka and other North Shore communities. For years he was custodian of prizes at the annual Fourth of July celebration.
He had a continuing interest in Winnetka’s history. As a child, Windes listened to many of the original settlers tell of the town’s past; he later turned those reminiscences into talks to the schools on local history. Windes also authored a series of articles for the Winnetka Talk in 1930, describing life in early Winnetka. In 1932 he was one of the founders of the Winnetka Historical Society and for many years was custodian of the Society’s collection. He continued to collect reminiscences from early residents and corresponded with several who had moved away.
Winnetka owes much to Frank Windes, both for improving the village’s present and preserving its past.