Gazette Article by: Steve Adams
Appeared in the Gazette: Fall/Winter 2006
A search of other U.S. communities named “Winnetka” results in Winnetka, Calif. and Winnetka Heights, Texas. That raises the question of how these towns were named and what, if any, connection they have to Winnetka, Ill..
Born on a farm near Wabash, Ind., Charles Weeks (1873-1964) became a progressive and enterprising poultry farmer. In 1904, he traveled to northern California near Palo Alto to create a utopian poultry colony dedicated to the profitable production of hens and eggs on small acreage for entrepreneurs who wanted to be financially independent. Weeks bought 600 acres in a subdivision, later called Runnymede, and sold off one-acre lots, appealing to the small, ambitious farmer who was trying to achieve prosperity from a small property investment.
In 1923, Weeks brought his successful system, called the “Weeks Poultry Method,” to Owensmouth (now known as Winnetka) in the San Fernando Valley area of Los Angeles. In the following 10 years, the Depression so impacted Weeks and his farmer families that his poultry colonies failed. Weeks relocated to West Palm Beach, Fla., where he lived until his death in 1964.
A mystery remains about the connection between Mr. Weeks and the naming of Winnetka, Calif. In some local historical accounts, Winnetka, Calif. was “named by Charles Weeks for his local poultry business that he named for another he owned in Winnetka, Ill.” Another article claims, “He chose the Indian name for ‘beautiful place’ after a similar community he started in a Chicago suburb.” Yet another biography states, “In 1934, residents renamed the neighborhood Winnetka after Weeks’ former hometown, Winnetka, Ill.”
None of these explanations appears to be true.
Although one of Winnetka’s earliest school board members was a Charles L. Weeks, born in 1844 in Ohio, he is not the same Weeks who is credited with naming Winnetka, Calif. There is no trace at all of California’s Charles Weeks in Winnetka, Ill. except that he spent two years as a young man in the restaurant business in Chicago. Prior to 1900, he was raised in Indiana and spent some time in Chicago and New York City, but has no known direct connection to Winnetka, Ill. There is also no known family connection with the Charles L. Weeks who did live in Winnetka.
Winnetka Heights, Texas
Leslie Allison Stemmons (1876-1939) was a businessman who was born in Dallas, Texas. He studied real estate and law at Southwestern University in Texas and at the University of Chicago. Before returning to Dallas in 1900, Stemmons worked for a short time selling Chicago real estate.
In Dallas, Stemmons and his partner, Scott Miller, formed a real estate and insurance business. By 1910, Stemmons and Miller began developing Winnetka Heights, Rosemont Crest, Sunset Hill and other areas near the City of Oak Cliff, later annexed to the City of Dallas. “Winnetka Heights” was advertised as “Dallas’ Ideal Suburb,” and is now Dallas’ largest historical district with great examples of intact, turn-of-the-century homes. It’s bounded by at least one familiar street name: Willomet. (The other boundaries are Rosemont, 12th Street, and Davis.)
It is assumed that Stemmons’ education at the University of Chicago and brief stint with the Chicago real estate market introduced him to Winnetka, Ill. and were responsible for his choice to name “Dallas’ Ideal Suburb” Winnetka Heights.
The Gazette invites reader input on these or other Winnetka-named places. For example, there is a Winnetka Lake just west of Kenora in Ontario, Canada. What other Winnetka locations have you heard about? And what’s in the history of their names?