Mapping Winnetka

Gazette Article by: Jack Monckton, Proprietor of J.T. Monckton, Ltd.
Appeared in the Gazette: Summer 1995

Each of us has a mental map that we use in our everyday life. Whether going to church, school, shopping or visiting, we use it to plan our trip. No two of us have the same mental map of Winnetka. Each is a product of our personal experience and values. For some, church and home are the central places on our maps; others may use work or favorite restaurants and shops. Regardless, all are bound and controlled by the channels of travel—the physical road system—which set the boundaries for the landscape of village structures and planned flora.

Winnetka was legally located in the United States through the Land Ordinance Act of 1785. Starting at a high water pole on the Ohio River, the township and range rectangular survey reached northeastern Illlinois by the 1830s.

After the large township grid was in place, inhabitants subdivided their areas into usable units of land. As population increased, early agricultural acreage gave way to smaller residential estates, and eventually to lots.

While the actual location of Winnetka was founded in the federal land survey system, the highways and byways of Winnetka have their genesis in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. With the land-grant Illinois Central Railroad already platting entire towns in central Illinois, the precedent was established for real estate dealers to operate in conjunction with railroad development.

Winnetka was platted by Charles E. Peck and Walter S. Gurnee in 1854. It is not surprising that the Chicago and North Western Railroad began operation the following year, with Winnetka as a stop. Village development was slow, and the infant suburban movement stagnated until after the Civil War. Early maps of this period show only crude breakdowns of land claims on both sides and proximate to the railroad tracks. Yet the  east-west and modified north-south orientation of the town grid was sited.

In the 1880s Hubbard Woods and Winnetka were still sparsely settled. This changed dramatically in the 1890s, as indicated by maps showing subdivided lots east of the tracks. The small poster-like advertisements extolled the virtues of escaping the urban environment for the fresh, disease-free air of the bluffs of Winnetka. By the turn of the century, the lands between the lake and railroad were sold and settled. Developers then looked to the west.

Period maps from the civil engineering firm of Windes and Marsh margined and ruled the development of this Winnetka real estate. Both the addition of the Chicago, North Shore and Milwaukee electric line and the influx of the automobile led to the rapid growth and eventual sale of the remaining major village parcels. With frequent, regular train service and ubiquitous automobility, the modern suburb of Winnetka took its place as a major North Shore central place. Maps after 1925 show a developed Winnetka and Hubbard Woods.

NOTE: Some early maps of Winnetka can be viewed at the Winnetka Historical Society, but the records are incomplete for two reasons. First, they are very rare. Second, when they do appear on the market, they retail for $700 and up! Due to budgetary constraints, it is difficult to allocate money for maps.  Cartographic contributions are always welcome.

Tags: , , , ,

No comments yet.

Leave a Reply