Inaugural Exhibit at 411 Linden
Gazette Article by: Maura Rogan
Appeared in the Gazette: Fall/Winter 2006
The Village Green: Where Winnetka Celebrates and Remembers
In her book “The Story of Winnetka,” Lora Townsend Dickinson refers to the Village Green as “a kind of spiritual center, a shrine, a meeting place for celebrations of the entire village.” The Winnetka Historical Society is delighted to explore the rich history of this 3.36-acre tract of land in “The Village Green: Where Winnetka Celebrates and Remembers,” the Society’s inaugural exhibit in its new headquarters and museum at 411 Linden Street.
The exhibit is divided into five sections. The first section focuses on the early history of the Green, originally known as the Commons. The land was given to the Village at the time of its incorporation in 1869 by town founder Charles Peck. Visitors will learn about Peck’s vision for the Green as well as about the Village’s first schoolhouse which operated on this site.
The many traditions that have taken place on the Village Green over the centuries are highlighted in the following section. Photographs, costumes, artifacts and documents bring to life the Fourth of July festivities, celebrated there since 1887. The poignancy of Winnetka’s Memorial Day and Veterans’ Day ceremonies is enhanced by footage from a 1930s parade and observance. A stage, complete with costumes and props for young visitors, generates memories and excitement about the Children’s Fair, an annual event that has enchanted area youth on the Village Green since 1948.
The third section of the exhibit explores the history and significance of the marble cenotaph. Designed by Winnetka architect Samuel Otis, this imposing war memorial was built in 1927 in remembrance of Village residents killed in World War I. Names have been added over the years to commemorate Winnetkans who died in subsequent wars. Military uniforms from the wars are on view, along with a collection of news accounts of the casualties. A scale model of the cenotaph educates viewers about its narrative frieze and raises awareness about the importance of respecting and preserving this important memorial.
Martin Luther King’s speech on the Village Green is the focus of the fourth section of the exhibit. The civil rights leader came to Winnetka in July, 1965 on behalf of the North Shore Summer Project to promote integration. A crowd of 8,000 supporters and protestors gathered on the Green to hear folk music and listen to King and other speakers promote racial equality. The exhibit’s photographs and newspaper accounts capture the charged climate of the event and of the time.
The final section of the exhibit highlights the historic architecture of houses and institutions around the Village Green, including such landmarks as the Winnetka Woman’s Club (in the same building since 1911) and the c. 1890 William Otis house. It also surveys the many ways that Winnetkans have enjoyed themselves on and around the Village Green since the nineteenth century, from playing baseball, football, and tennis (on the Green’s own courts) to sledding down Oak Street hill from its crest to Sheridan Road in an age before automobile traffic.
The Village Green is indeed the “spiritual center” of Winnetka, and the Winnetka Historical Society invites you to come celebrate its history and its importance to the Village.