Around 1820, nestled along prairie grass that boarders eastern Lake Michigan, stood a log house in what is presently the village of Winnetka.
With window boards carved from North Shore trees and cast-iron latches smoldered and cooled by a local blacksmith, the Schmidt-Burnham Log House was once home to the Schmidt family, who immigrated from Germany to the U.S. and moved into the house in 1837.
Over 170 years later, Winnetka residents and visitors alike can stop by the house and briefly relive the life of a pioneer, as part of tours offered by the Winnetka Historical Society (WHS) throughout the summer and fall.
“It was a unique period in time that you don't see (represented) anywhere else around here,” said Patti Van Cleave, executive director of the WHS. “This was before Winnetka became Winnetka.”
Docents or tour guides, dressed in outfits likened to those in the 1850s, will illuminate for visitors the life of a settler, Van Cleave added, in a world where people read by candlelight, hunted and harvested meals for their families and bathed, usually, only once a week.
“I like to point out to second graders (from nearby schools) that there was no electricity,” Van Cleave said, recalling the wonderment on their faces. “They have a hard time grasping that and that there's no grocery store to run to....”
Through the Civil War and beyond the Gilded Age, the house stood strong. In 1917 Anita Burnham purchased the then vacant house for $25 and had it moved to Tower Road, where the Indian Hill Club now sits.
“Burnham hired a mover for $100,” around 1917, Van Cleave said. “He moved it on log rollers....he was very proud of the fact that he didn't crack the plaster (covering the logs).”
Soon after the house was moved, Burnham invited the neighborhood children to hammer the plaster-covered logs, which the Schmidt family fashioned over the house in their time.
“Burnham handed them the hammers,” Van Cleave said with anticipation, “and they bashed off all the plaster.”
“The mover didn't know she would take off the plaster.”
Burnham then covered the dirt floor in concrete, which her children roller skated on during rainy days, and added additional rooms and a fireplace.
In 2003 the WHS acquired the house from Burnham's youngest daughter and moved it to its current location, 1140 Willow Rd. Surrounded by Oak and Maple trees in a prairie bordering Crow Island Woods, the house still stands as one of the oldest in Cook County, a symbol of family life.
For a full photo gallery of the house, Patch has it here.
The Schmidt-Burnham Log House is open to the public July 17, August 14, September 18 and October 16. Doors open at 1 p.m., until 4 p.m. Tickets are $5 for adults and $3 for kids, ages 6 through 17. Winnetka Historical Society (WHS) members and children, age 5 and under, may visit the house free of charge.
For more information, contact the WHS at 847-446-0001 or Winnetka411@comcast.net.