The history of Glenview, Illinois, centers upon farms, groves and railroads—as well as books, electronics and a naval air base—and it began in 1899 when the town incorporated at the convergence of four townships in northern Illinois.
“What’s unique about Glenview is the open space—the parks—and the grove, Wagner Farm, and the history center in the middle of town,” says Glenview History Center’s curator Wayne Carle (pronounced carly). “There’s also the Lutheran cemetery, there’s Swainwood, where [newspaper columnist] Jack Mabley lived, and the North Shore Country Club. Four townships meet here—Northfield, Maine, New Trier and Niles—and I think that’s the only town like that.”
Carle, a retired Marine who lives in Antioch, ought to know. He lived in the village, which incorporated on June 17, 1899, for 20 years. He was a mailman and the Glenview Post Office’s main window clerk for 33 years. Carle’s father, who became Glenview’s assistant postmaster, worked on the Milwaukee Railroad’s mail service in Glenview for 40 years. Carle’s sister still works at Glenbrook South High School.
Carle’s family history mirrors Glenview’s past.
“My dad grew up working on a farm in Glenview,” he explained. “So I used to cut peonies and take them to the wholesaler in Morton Grove—until the land was acquired by developers.” Such is the country’s, region’s and especially Glenview’s history from agriculture to the Industrial Revolution.
“The village [intervened] through eminent domain so the farm became part of Elm Park,” Carle said. “Now, it’s Johns Park.” Working at Glenview’s post office, Carle, a Civil War buff, said he’s always been interested in Glenview’s history. When a friend asked him to volunteer at the Glenview History Center, he said yes.
The U.S. Civil War has Glenview links, too, Carle said.
“The 39th Illinois Infantry Regiment was based in [what is now] Glenview,” he said, adding that Glenview forefathers were central to the Union Army unit. Amasa Kennicott, cousin to Glenview pioneer Dr. John Kennicott, was the company’s captain.
According to Carle, Glenview’s founding families include Dr. Kennicott and Joseph Adams, the last enlisted man out of Chicago’s Fort Dearborn. Others include the man who would become Glenview’s first president, Hugh Burnham, a nephew of Chicago architect Daniel Burnham and practitioner of the communal Swedenborgian religion. Frenchman Robert Dewes, whom Carle describes as a major Glenview landowner—Dewes owned property north of Golf Road including land where the Glenview Club is located—was one Glenview’s many growers, traders and developers.
The Kennicotts stand out as crucial to Glenview’s existence.
“Dr. John Kennicott and his brothers were on the west side of town near Milwaukee Road and what’s now called the grove area,” Carle said. “John Kennicott was a medical doctor who was also interested in botany, shrubbery and trees, which he passed down to his son, Robert, who became an explorer who later helped develop Alaska.”
It was John Kennicott, the first doctor in the area, who discovered Glenview’s growth potential.
“He recognized the prairie for what it was and he saw how it could be commercially useful,” Carle said. “Most of the downtown area was marshy, which made it great for farming. There were a lot of flowers and small vegetable farms and a lot of folks grew peonies, so there was a lot of landscaping. Glenview was flat, level and fertile due to all the moisture, so it was good for farming.”
The Kennicotts were English, he said, as were most of Glenview’s early settlers. The second wave was German. A third wave—which included Hugh Burnham and Swain Nelson, who had one of the largest landscaping enterprises—migrated to Glenview from Pennsylvania. Like Joseph Sears, the founder of Kenilworth, they were of the Swedenborgian faith.
Whatever their origins and beliefs, Carle said that the men who came to live in Glenview were often far-sighted, innovative and industrious.
“John Hutchings’ father settled 160 acres in the middle of town—the Hutchings house is where the museum is located—and John started the first saw mill and the first grist mill powered by steam in the township,” he said.
Glenview today has fewer company headquarters than in the 20th century. After Glenview Naval Air Station was closed in 1995, the village’s top employer became Glenbrook Hospital. Illinois Tool Works and ABT Electronics are based in Glenview. But Zenith Corporation is gone—the property was taken over by Aon—and Glenview-based textbook company Scott Foresman was bought by UK-based Pearson. Kraft Foods’ Glenview headquarters moved to Northfield.
The residential population changed, too.
“Glenview is a mixed community,” Carle explained. “Now, there’s a mosque where the gas company used to be. One synagogue moved out and one came in on the north. There are a lot of Koreans and Indians in Glenview now. There’s a black population. There’s a Mormon temple. It’s all mixed now.”
Glenview’s past population included newspaper reporter and columnist Jack Mabley, Chicago Cubs third baseman Ron Santos and the late local TV weatherman Harry Volkman. Chicago Bulls’ center Artis Gilmore lived in Glenview. So did both real estate partners Koenig and Strey. Among Glenview’s most famous residents was candy company heiress Helen Brach, who disappeared in 1977. Though she was later declared dead, the mystery of her disappearance remains unsolved.
Carle said that the town’s most iconic place is probably the Kennicott house at the grove. But it previously may have been the house Hugh Burnham built, which was later demolished. Carle said that the Victorian house with the wraparound front porch looked out at Glenview’s open expanse: “From his balcony, Hugh Burnham could look north for quite a distance—it was farmland all around.”