The House Tells the Story


A Makeshift Hospital: the Gage House

Shortly after 2:30 a.m. on September 7, 1860, a schooner called the Augusta collided with the Lady Elgin. Winnetka’s residents immediately sprang into action, doing whatever they could to bring survivors to safety. The Gage House at 1175 Whitebridge Hill, which still stands today, was temporarily turned into a makeshift hospital and served as the de-facto headquarters for the victims of the wreck brought to shore in Winnetka.

Click HERE to watch a clip from Winnetka Story about the Gage House, or read more about the wreck of the Lady Elgin and the role 1175 Whitebridge Hill played in the aftermath. Read HERE!


The Gage House, circa 1893

A Tragic Murder: the Willson House

Did you know that Winnetka was once referred to as “Murder Town”? The ominous nickname sprang from a series of brutal murders in the late 19th century, most notably that of Village President James L. Willson and his wife Clarissa. The Willsons were reportedly at their home on the corner of Cherry Street and Railroad Road (now Green Bay Road) when the murderer broke into the house.

Click HERE! to read about the Willsons’ tragic murders, or watch this clip from the documentary film Winnetka Story to learn more about the impact the murders had on the Village and Chicagoland area. Watch HERE!

The Willson House, circa 1900

19th Century Sham Mansions

After the Great Chicago Fire destroyed much of the city in 1871, hundreds of thousands of urbanites flocked to the North Shore suburbs looking for a fresh start. While many saw this population boom as an opportunity to expand Winnetka’s tight-knit community, others sought ways to take advantage of the suburban newcomers. Chicago realtor E. Ashley Mears constructed 14 “mansions” south of Tower Road and visible from the train. While these mansions looked impressive to passersby, in reality, all 14 were sham houses hurriedly built with shoddy materials.

Click HERE to read more about Winnetka’s sham houses, or watch this clip from Winnetka Story to see what happened to Mears and his “mansions.” Watch HERE!

Image of one of Mears’ sham mansions, circa 1893