Winnetka Way: The Brown House

Gazette Article by: Miriam Fetcher Steel
Appeared in the Gazette: Fall 2000

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.

My four brothers and I were born between 1906 and 1918 in what we called “The Brown House” on Bryant Avenue. It is still brown shingle and lovingly kept in its style by Jim Hansen. My father had come to Winnetka from Cincinnati in the early 1900s for a job in Chicago. He lived with the Dammanns on Prospect Avenue before building the house, its property stretching from Prospect to Bryant on Lloyd Place.

My father and his bride, Margaret Root, added to the house as our family grew. It was a wonderful house in which to grow up, with a two-story living room and large yard. I can remember the horse-drawn wagon bringing huge blocks of ice for our icebox and coal falling down the chute into a basement room before we converted to oil heat. Mail was delivered twice daily.

We all walked a lot before the advent of automobiles. Our family’s first car was purchased about 1930. Dad walked to the North Shore line station to commute to Chicago. I walked to Hubbard Woods School twice a day, as we came home for lunch. Occasionally, I’d get a ride in the spacious and quiet electric car of my life-long friend Harriet Daughaday’s family.

Hubbard Woods School had a special smell when you went in. Fifth grade was spent immersed in the Greek myths, gods and battles – a never-forgotten learning experience. In sixth grade, we had medieval guilds. It was around that time that a boy in my class made some sort of lewd remark that I repeated to my dad. He was a good friend of Superintendent Carleton Washburne and instrumental in attracting Washburne to Winnetka when my dad was president of the Board of Education. It was decided to implement sex education classes throughout elementary and junior high school.

At The Skokie School, we took its motto “Skokie Serves” very seriously and eagerly anticipated the assemblies where service pins and badges were handed out to those who had served.

Who can forget Mr. Yingling, music director, not only for his appropriate name, but his stringent methods of eliciting the best from the chorus? Other teachers were Mr. Clarke (athletics), Mr. Skarda (math), Miss Meadows (biology and sex education), Miss Russell, Miss Leap and Miss Scopes, sister of John Scopes, the defendant in the famous 1925 trial. The graduation ritual, based on Maeterlinck’s “The Bluebird” was a marvelous ending to our Skokie School years.

Although my brothers went to New Trier, I attended high school at the North Shore Country Day School. I walked to school, often coming home in the dark after basketball practice. Sometimes I would meet Ann Jenkins, Sue Ballard and Mary Lewis, all of whom lived near Hubbard Woods School. After school, we’d often stop at Walgreen’s at the southwest corner of Elm and Green Bay for sundaes. Or we could go to the Sweet Shop at the northeast corner of Elm and Lincoln. I had fun playing tennis and handball, having picnics and walking on the beach. There were no thoughts of smoking, beer, drugs and certainly not of sex.
Other memories I cherish include: dancing classes at the Women’s Club, noon co-ed baseball games; Gilbert and Sullivan productions every spring; Perry Dunlap Smith’s “S.S.” (snappy story) classes; proms to which the girls asked the boys; P.D. Smith’s edict that everyone, no matter how unpopular, be invited; and teacher Bob Millett, a favorite of the girls, who taught us to enjoy and appreciate Latin.

I continue to look upon my memories of growing up in Winnetka with great pleasure.

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