Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Highland Park as a Summer Resort: The Wildwood Experience

The Origins of Chicago’s Jewish North Shore

Why did many in Chicago’s Jewish community choose to move to Highland Park?  An exhibit at the Highland Park Historical Society, opening September 9, with the presenting sponsorship of Shalom Memorial Funeral Home / Shalom Memorial Park, explores this question. 

The answer lies in the city’s appeal as a summer resort area.  In 1900, the extended Foreman family (Foreman, Schwab, Leopold, and Steele) purchased a half block of land in Highland Park and built their own  private summer resort, complete with a common kitchen and dining hall in a central club house.


Descendants of the four Wildwood families have kindly made available family photo albums and diaries, containing over 350 photographs, and this will be the core of a remarkable exhibit. The Highland Park Historical Society (HPHS) wants the exhibit to show why these families were the social innovators that others wanted to emulate.  Photos from other prominent German Jewish families, such as the Rosenwald and the Fell will also be included.  Information has been gathered from several family descendants, including a 96-year-old grand-daughter who has many memories of Wildwood.


This exhibit is a series of posters with photos and accompanying explanations. Children at play, adult’s social activities, they hired help who made this life style possible, modes of transportation, homes and gardens are some of the topics that will be included.  Costumes of the period will also be displayed.

In the early decades of the twentieth century, the German Jews were the pinnacle of Chicago’s Jewish society.  Their doings were reported in the newspapers – like celebrities today, they were subjects of interest and the leaders of style.  The Historical Society’s exhibit of relaxed, candid photos and diary entries shows why the Wildwood life style was so appealing.  Before 1900 the number of Jewish families in Highland Park could be counted on one hand.   By the 1920’s there were two Jewish country clubs and a synagogue in the area and there was a year round Jewish community as well as the summer residents.  The Wildwood story epitomizes this transition.

The exhibit opens with a reception from 3-5 pm on September 9 (complimentary refreshments) and continues through September 29.  In conjunction with this exhibit, the Historical Society is holding a workshop on scrapbooking and family history 2-4 pm, Sunday, September 23.  For workshop registration, museum hours or more information call 847-432-7090.

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