Winnetka Way: Herbert Butz

Gazette Article by: Herbert Butz
Appeared in the Gazette: Spring/Summer 2006

Leaving Winnetka on the 8:05

Winnetka Way articles are written by guest columnists who have been asked to share their memories of an aspect of Winnetka that they remember fondly. Winnetka Way articles debuted in 1994 and continue to the present.

I knew there was a big change in store when I trudged up Oak Street Hill in suit and tie to take the Chicago & Northwestern 8:05 to the first day of my first job in Chicago. The year was 1937. The railroad tracks had been lowered below ground level as a Depression project, but the 8:05 train was the same one my grandfather, Otto Butz, and my father, Robert O. Butz, had taken before me. In 1895 my grandfather was driven there in a horse and buggy by James, the coachman. It is possible that my mother’s father, William Kroeschell, also took that train. I like to think so.

Both my grandfathers had built houses along the lake in the late 1890s. The Queen Anne style Kroeschell house is no longer there. It was at the base of what is known as Christ Church Hill—I still like to think of it as Kroeschell hill. My grandfather Butz’s house still stands at the foot of Pine Street, testimony to what a successful attorney would build in the 1890s: red terra cotta roof, beige brick, leaded glass windows, and, at the foot of the front steps, a mounting block to get into a horse and carriage. None of these things was on my mind that first day of work. The weight dragging at my feet was because Winnetka had been such a wonderful place for a boy like me to grow up. Our house was across the street from the Village Green—a magnet for boyish activities such as touch football, scrub baseball, and most rewarding of all, just horsing around. We were near the lake and its beaches. What kind of youthful insulation did we have to let us go swimming in June? And what kind of bravado to say we liked it?! In the early days of my growing up there weren’t many cars, so the few blocks around my home, and the kids in it, were my world. When I got old enough to go to Skokie School I learned some important things. There were lots of other nice boys and girls in the Village. On the way, walking to Skokie, I found out that Horace Mann School (near where the Post Office is now) had the best monkey bars in town. At Skokie I learned the school song to the tune of “The Field Artillery:” “For it’s Hi Hi He for the SKAY – O – K – I – E, shout out your numbers loud and clear: SKOKIE SCHOOL!” Numbers…Letters? No wonder I am so confused by touch-tone phones! On the way back home I just had to stop at Adams’ Drug Store—yes, so did all of us—for the best milkshake in the world. Today, Winnetka is still a wonderful place for children. But I remember some things you may have missed, depending on your vintage. Once, Oak Street Hill was un-churched, un-commercialized and un-rowhoused. Winnetka streets had no curbs and were poorly paved in the Village’s own style of tar and gravel. In the winter they were plowed by a horse pulling a wedge plow with a man standing on it, and the horse snorting out steam. For a boy it was a delightfully inefficient system that left a lot of snow to thaw and freeze and become icy so that, from the top of Oak Street Hill, if your run and belly-flop onto your Flexible Flyer was good enough, you could coast all the way to Sheridan Road! Though cars were rare, my Grandmother Butz did get an electric sedan which we children thought was very regal. She sat up very straight in a hat that made her look like Queen Mary and drove the car with a tiller. Our first car was an Auburn Beauty Six. I can still remember the comforting smell of Father’s cigar as he drove, with Mother beside him, in what was beginning to become an American tradition, the Sunday drive. We boys sat in the back seat and were probably quiet for about five minutes before we’d hear Mother saying, “Now boys, stop that! It will all end in tears!” Oh, yes! I still remember that first day going to work. It was a watershed alright. How does the Bible put it? “When I became a man, I put away childish things…” Maybe so, but I know where those memories are, and they still have the power to refresh my spirit.

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