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Keep Elmwood Avenue Beach Protected

Wilmette resident Mike Boyer reflects on the history of Elmwood Avenue Beach for the future.

The following is a letter to the editor from Wilmette resident Mike Boyer.

Recently, the Village of Wilmette asked the question: What should be done with Elmwood Avenue Beach? Since most people in Wilmette have never heard of Elmwood Avenue Beach, I did some research.

In 1899 the Village of Wilmette realized that there was no parkland or access to the beach, except for a few strips of Village controlled land. As a result, the Village made the resolution that a developing place like Wilmette needed to establish and maintain a public park system for future residents.

Nine years later, 61 Wilmette residents, known as the 'Fathers of Wilmette Beach', formed the Wilmette Beach Improvement Association by making small personal donations. Consequently, Elmwood Avenue Beach was born, Wilmette's first public beach. At that time, the beach was only a small space where the shore was cleared of rocks and branches there were no swings, life guard lines or beach house. Much as it is today, for the most part.

Elmwood Avenue Beach is located at the end of Elmwood Avenue. This land is one of five original streets that terminated at Lake Michigan. It is 80-feet-wide and approximately 540 feet from the water’s edge. The total land area of this parcel is approximately one acre, or around 43,000 square feet. If you have lived in Wilmette a while, you either remember going to the park, or know someone who did.

Elmwood Avenue Beach was enjoyed by Wilmette residents for decades as a park, one longtime resident said in the early 1940’s, accordoing to historical society records. Through the 1950's, where the end of Elmwood Avenue meets beachfront was open to the use of residents. At the top of the bluff there was a beautiful little park. A set of stairs led to the natural ungroomed beach with dunes and beach grass. These stairs were about 45 inches wide with a wooden railing. The stairs had been creatively carved out of the bluff with a round wood front and back piece on each step. The design was very rustic and in keeping with the bluff.

In the 1980's we used the beach to escape the mass of people at Gillson Park Beach on those really crowded days. Not many people knew that it was public access land, so there was plenty of towel space. It was always considered an invaluable asset.

Recently, the question was raised as to what should be done with Elmwood Avenue Beach. In thinking about the answer I keep going back to a letter from the Wilmette Beach Association, dated June 12, 1909. The letter was soliciting funds to help the association, the letter closed with this: There will also be subscription lists and plans left in different stores throughout the village, so add your mite, whatever it may be, little or great. Everything will be appreciated and used to the best advantage. This is a village affair for the use of all. How much are you interested in what goes on in the village?

One of the people that put forward the letter was Louis Gillson.

Keep Elmwood Avenue Beach.

Judith Mandel June 10, 2011 at 12:04 PM
I think that this beautiful and historical piece of lake front property should be kept as public land for use of Wilmette residents. We are losing our open lands and this dunes like property should not be developed or destroyed. We have I think over built our beach area and we are losing the most valuable asset of our community we must think of the future and preserve the open lands.

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