Who Were the Burnhams?

Saugatuck, Michigan Anita Willets-Burnham, 1904, Watercolor
Exhibited at the Art Institute of Chicago, c. 1910.


Anita Willets-Burnham was born in Brooklyn, New York in 1880 and grew up in Chicago. Her talent for art was apparent at a young age, and she went on to study, teach, and display her work at several prestigious institutions, including the Art Institute of Chicago and the Sorbonne in Paris.

Burnham family outside the Log House on Tower Road, 1918.

In 1906, Anita married Alfred Burnham, an attorney and relative of famed architect Daniel Burnham. The Burnhams went on to have four children: Carol-Lou, Florence (Sis), Willets (Bud), and Ann.

In 1914, Anita “discovered” the Log House while on a painting trip. Few log structures remained in Winnetka, and Anita fell in love with the unique family home. She and Alfred purchased the Log House in 1917 for $25 and moved it to 1407 Tower Road.

After the move, the Burnhams embarked on a series of renovations. They added cement flooring, a fireplace, two bathrooms, and built an addition on the back of the house. Heating, plumbing, and electricity were also added. After Alfred and Anita passed away, their daughter Carol-Lou continued living there until her death in 1997. Her sister Ann returned in the 1980s and remained until 2001.

Burnham family passport photo, 1924. Clockwise from lower left: Anita, Carol-Lou, Willets, Florence, Alfred, and Ann.

In 1921, a relative invited the Burnhams for a visit in Paris. Never one to shy from adventure, Anita accepted the invitation, launching the family on the first of two trips abroad. With children ranging from 9 months to 13 years old, they departed from New York, spending a year traveling third class to countries in Europe and Africa.

The family embarked on a second trip in 1928. After stops in California and Washington, they traveled for two years, making their way across a myriad of countries in Asia, Africa, and Europe. Anita, Carol Lou, and Ann painted and sketched throughout both trips, often exchanging their work for meals or hotel rooms along the way.

After returning to Winnetka in 1930, Anita set to work on an account of the family’s adventures abroad. The completed work, Round the World on a Penny, was published in 1933. It features numerous illustrations from their travels. To promote the book, Anita set out from Winnetka once again, giving lectures about her travels in Canada, China, Israel, England, France, and across the United States.

CLICK HERE to listen to a clip of Anita Willets-Burnham talking about her book, Around the World on a Penny.

CLICK HERE to scroll through the Burnham image gallery.

CLICK HERE to see the artifacts we have on display at the Schmidt Burnham Log House

First edition of Round the World on a Penny, 1933.

Gazette articles:
Anita Willets BurnhamSummer 1999
Hope Amidst Hardship: The Indomitable Character of Anita Willets-BurnhamFall 2020
Ann Hibbard Burnham SmithFall 2001