A Brief History of Winthrop Harbor - A Chronology
US Government signs a treaty agreeing to purchase what is present day
Northern Illinois and Southern Wisconsin from the Potowatomi, Chippewa,
and Ottawa Tribes, thus opening the area to white settlers.
First settlers Nelson Landon and Jeremiah Stowell arrive to the area,
followed soon by their wives. They build their homes and raise families.
Reverend Salmon Stebbins arrives as the first minister (Methodist). His
daughter Emily opens the areas first school in her home.
The winter of 1841-1842 was severe, killing off much of the game and
livestock, resulting in famine.
Benton Township was formed. The first town meeting was held in a
building at the corner of Main Street (7th) and Park Avenue.
First mill constructed by Loren Sibley.
C&NW Railway completes its line, linking Chicago and Milwaukee.
J.A. Conelly builds a home (which still stands) on the southeast corner of
Sheridan Road and the Wisconsin State Line, where he operates a large farm.
First Post Office established with the name Spring Bluff. The name remains
for 20 years, until it is changed to Winthrop Harbor in 1891.
Developer J.H. Van Vlissengen purchases 2700 acres near the Wisconsin
State Line with the intent of developing an exclusive residential subdivision.
Spring Bluff School District is formed.
A two-story brick structure at 346 Sheridan Road opens as an inn and stage
stop. Inscribed in the foundation is “Hope This Will Be A Good House.”
The structure still stands today.
Van Vlissengen turns over his land to the Winthrop Harbor and Dock
Company, who plan development of an Industrial Park and Residential
Development on the lakefront.
First manufacturing, Simpson Manufacturing Corporation opens. Their
primary business is brick forming and handling machinery; they open a plant
on the north side of Main Street (7th), east of the railway.
A second manufacturer, Western Telephone Construction Company—a
builder of telephone boxes and switchboards, also locates along the railway.
Before the Great Depression, a robust retail environment exists in the area
along Sheridan Road, north of Main Street (7th). Many small businesses
exist, including a livery, blacksmith, hotel, bakery, restaurants, various retails
establishments, and even an A&P Grocery Store.
The Post Office moved to a new location on 3rd Street, along the railway. It
will later move to the corner of 7th Street and Sheridan Road before settling
in its current location in Harbor Plaza at Sheridan and 12th Street. TheVillage
is incorporated on July 15, 1901. First Village Board Meeting is held
in an office at Main Street (7th) and Park Avenue.Village authorizes Chicago
Telephone Company to begin service.
The Winthrop Harbor Dock Company donates its remaining holdings to the
Village. Austin Machinery Corporation, a heavy equipment manufacturer of
ditching and trenching machinery, begins operation. They employ workers
from as far away as Kenosha and Waukegan. Walters and Repko Marine
Boiler Company, which builds steam engines for ships, constructs and
operates two plants north of the Austin factory.
Property at Main Street (7th) and College Avenue is purchased and a single
story school is constructed. In 1915 a second story is added. This building,
with several additions, still stands as Spring Bluff School.
First water system installed with 60,000 gallon elevated storage tank on
Kirkwood Avenue. It was fed by a natural flowing well at 6th Street and
College Avenue. Water was delivered daily by a wagon cart with large
barrel. The Village later buys this facility from Byron Knight for $500 and
adds pumping equipment and water mains.
North Shore Railway (Interurban Electric Line) is authorized by the Village
to construct tracks, offering passenger service from Chicago to Milwaukee
and towns in between. The line closes in 1963.
Sometime within these years Andrew Carnegie met with Village Officials to
discuss a land purchase for a steel mill. No agreement could be reached so
Carnegie took his plans to Gary, Indiana.
Winther Motor Truck Company occupies the former Western Telephone
location and builds trucks for the military. After the war, they convert to
building automobiles, commercial trucks, and fire engines. In 1925 their
business fails and they close.
Sheridan Road is paved as a two-lane highway. It is later widened to four
lanes in 1973.
First local Boy Scout Troop is organized.
American Legion Post established.
Winthrop Harbor Volunteer Fire Department established.
1910 to 1920
Farming flourishes in the Village. Dairy farms, fox farms, mink ranches,
horse ranches, a chicken farm, a raspberry patch, and a nursery all prospered
during this time.
Gordon Fire Works Company locates in the former Austin Machinery
building. This business is short lived and closes in 1930.
Monarch Lock Company locates to Sheridan Road between 4th and 5th Street,
but closes in 1923. At this time, the Village is losing its industrial base and turns
its focus to becoming an exclusive residential community. Oak Shore Subdivision is
planned north of Main Street (7th), between Lake Michigan and the railway.
To the South of Main Street will be a golf course. This area is landscaped with
sunken gardens, a marble plaza with a central monument, and ornamental shrubs.
At its entrance stand two massive ornamental stone gates.
The Oak Shore developer erects two tall granite columns and ten marble
pillars along Main Street (7th). They remained for 48 years before being
Johanson & Son Dairy begin operation at 3rd Street and the Railway.
Main Street (7th) is paved.
Depression Era takes its toll on the Village. Manufacturing is gone and
unemployment is estimated to have reached 90% in the Village.
Village purchases its first park—500 feet of lakefront beach at a cost of
$8,000. Today this area is part of North Point Marina within Illinois Beach
Population reaches 600 people.
Lake Michigan rises and floods most of the area east of the railway.
Flooding continues into the early 1950s before subsiding.
Population has grown quickly to 1,765 people.
Sherman Shore Subdivision is established along the lakeshore north of Main
Street (7th). 140 home are built.
Village Hall and Police Station are constructed adjoining the Fire
Department on the west side of Sheridan Road between 8th and 9th Street.
Westfield School is constructed. Later additions are built in 1964 and 1969.
Winthrop Harbor’s own Jackie Bingert becomes Miss Illinois. Jackie was a
teacher at Westfield school.
Winthrop Harbor VFW is organized.
The Village now has 44 businesses. The retail corridor experiences
somewhat of a rebirth.
State of Illinois, through its power of eminent domain, negotiates to purchase
or condemn 178 homes along the Winthrop Harbor lakefront. This land will
go on to become part of Illinois Beach State Park. As a result, the Village
and School District suffer a severe loss in tax revenues.
BFI opens a landfill site west of the Village. After three years of
negotitations, Winthrop Harbor loses a bid to annex the site, and a source of
tax revenue is lost to Zion.
1980 to 2010
Winthrop Harbor continues to slowly grow in population to just under 7,000
Available land for development has decreased, as the Village becomes
landlocked between Lake Michigan and surrounding communities. Retail is
dispursed along a fifteen block stretch of Sheridan