The principal junction of all these trails was on the high ground at Ridge and Wilmette Avenue in the old German farming town of Gross Point. Here was an Indian village that Karl Dilg described as old, if not older, than Chicago. Albert Scharf called it Gross Point corners and marveled at the "trails from six different points all using sandridges and all part of the Green Bay trail system". You can plainly see the old trails on a modern road map.

Old Glenview Road west was a portage route sometimes called Pug's Lane that went between the Des Plaines River, the Chicago River, and Lake Michigan. Exactly where Edens Expressway crosses the old road there grew a famous cottonwood known simply as the big tree. Over 150 feet tall, it was said to be the largest tree in all the Mississippi Valley. To have an idea just how high that is, compare it to the Gross Point lighthouse at 113 feet. Visiting English foresters estimated its age as 600 year

The big tree was sacred to the Indians who used it as a meeting place and council tree. When it was taken down in 1903 the stump was moved to a greenhouse and nursery next to Dyche Stadium in Evanston. It was displayed there as a curiosity until the nursery became a parking lot in the early 1950s and the last of the big tree destroyed. There is a dissenting opinion on record from James Carney who came to the area in 1835. This is what he told Frank Grover in 1901.

"The old Pottowatamie tree, so-called, out west of Gross Point I think has received a great deal of unnecesary notoriety... I think the Indian tales about this tree are all bosh. When I was a boy it was all thick timber and while this was a very large tree, the old settlers thought little of it, and it has simply attracted attention recently on account of the other timber being cut away and this great tree exposed to the gaze of reporters and other sensational people."

Reinwald Road, now Illinois Road, went northwest from Gross Point corners to the hunting grounds around Skokie Marsh. Drained, dammed, and lagooned it's hard now to see what the Great Skokie looked like two hundred years ago. Roberts Mann, historian of the Cook County Forest Preserve District, gives this picture.

"The Chewab Skokie was a marvelous place, unique in this Chicagoland region of many marshes. During spring floods it was a shimmering lake. In summer it became a mysterious sea of native grasses, sedges, and swamp flowers, impenetrable except by a few narrow winding channels. It teemed with aquatic life: muskrats and mink; ducks, shore birds and wading birds; redwing and yellow-headed blackbird; marsh wrens, martins and swallows, turtles and fish galore."

The road east and down the hill was known as Dutch Settlement Road because of the German farmers in Gross Point village. It is shown on the earliest road map we have, the Rees map of 1851. In dry weather this road led into Wilmette and from there to the lake. At the bottom of the hill it crossed the diagonal path of Prairie Avenue going south into Ridgeville, now Evanston.

The route south was Gross Point Road following the ridge to Dutchman's Point, now called Niles. This was the all weather mail route for early settlers of Gross Point and Wilmette. Connections were made there to all points. The Des Plaines River Trail, now Milwaukee Avenue. The Little Fort Trail, now Waukegan Road. The Union Ridge to Oak Park and the Mud Lake Portage at Lyons, roughly the route of Narragansett, Ridgeland, and Des Plaines Avenue.


North Shore Antiquity by John Epler