Clay Head

Frank Hill and his father Arunah Hill were early settlers of Wilmette and several places in the area were given their family name. Before the eastern part of Wilmette was called Llewelyn Park it was known as Hillville because the Hills owned property there and put up the first houses. The high ridge of Gross Point village was known as Hill's Ridge until German farmers arrived in the 1840s. Maple Street Wilmette was first called Hill Street. Of all these place names only Hill Road Winnetka has survived.

Frank Hill tells us why Ouilmette built his cabin on the bluffs north of Lake Avenue. "That was an old trading point there. The Indians always came there and the traders and kept up their business there." Ouilmette left his reservation for the last time in 1838. His abandoned cabin was occupied by Joel Stebbins who built his own home nearby. This was Stebbin's Tavern and the area was known as Stebbin's Ridge. In 1849 he gave it all up for the gold rush where presumably he was murdered. He was separated from his party in California and never heard from again.

The most curious artifact yet unearthed on all the North Shore is the clay head found in 1922 while laying a water pipe to the garage behind 738 Eleventh Street in Wilmette. It was three feet deep in a sand ridge that is the diagonal of Wilmette Avenue. According to Wilmette historian Herbert B. Mulford it was shown to experts at the Field Museum who were not able to identify it. They could only point out its similarity to objects found in Mexico and Peru.

It poses all the problems of a solitary artifact found without accompanying objects to explain its origin and purpose. Mulford thinks it predates the mound builders of 1000 years ago because "the sculpture work is so much more crude". The head may be seen at the Wilmette Historical Society. The excavation site is now an apartment home for the elderly fronting Wilmette Avenue.

So many arrow points and stone age artifacts were found nearby that what is now downtown Wilmette was commonly supposed to be the site of an Indian camp. Wilmette Avenue is an old Indian trail connecting the lake shore to the high ridge. It was improved by the Drainage Commission in the 1860s so you don't see its full diagonal path on a modern street map. When it reached the limit of Ouilmette's Reserve the commissioners' road was squared off at 10th Street to avoid the Dusham property. Thus a branch of the old Green Bay road was closed and houses now stand over the trail.

There was another old trail crossing Wilmette that has also disappeared. It ran from the lake shore at Maple and Sheridan northwest across the Central School ground to the present downtown. This trail connected the end of the Clark Street ridge on Grosse Point to the high ridge. It passed two Indian trail trees at 7th Street and Linden. Other Wilmette trail trees were at 6th and Forest, 10th and Greenwood, and 13th and Chestnut. Nearby in Kenilworth there is a trail tree still standing in 1997. It is on the west side of Cumnor Road just north of Kenilworth Avenue.


North Shore Antiquity by John Epler