Longtime Hinsdale resident and historical society member Sandy Williams stands in front of historic Highlands Train Station with her new book, Hinsdale.
Photo by: Marcello Rodarte
Last month, Print Managing Editor Mike Ellis sat down with longtime Hinsdale resident and member of the Hinsdale Historical Society Sandy Williams to discuss her recently released book, Hinsdale—a pictorial history of the village dating back to the late 19th Century. Hinsdale is the first pictorial history of the town that has been published since 1897.
Mike Ellis: Could you tell us about your book, Hinsdale?
Sandy Williams: Since I was involved with the [Hinsdale] Historical Society, particularly in the archives, for so many years, it was natural for the publisher, Arcadia, to come to the historical society to find out if there was someone willing to do a book. After I left the organization, I decided that it was a good time. Working with the [historical] photos as much as I did, I knew exactly what we had, which helped me lay out the chapters in my mind which was a natural transition to writing [the book].
Mike: What inspired you to write it?
Sandy: Part of the historical society’s mission is to promote the history of Hinsdale. [A book] is a perfect vehicle for that, because it shows the breadth and the depth of our history. It was just a perfect opportunity to bring the history of Hinsdale to the forefront. We have a lot of new residents in town, and I think they deserve to know some of the history as well. I know they have not had an opportunity to learn about Hinsdale’s history, so that was the purpose of this book. I think it’s important to know where the village came from and how it developed. To be able to acknowledge the founders and our leadership over the years in Hinsdale is important, and I’m hoping that the residents who read the book appreciate the history—the time, the effort and the dedication that went into building Hinsdale. I think when you have that appreciation, you [form] a tighter bond in the community.
Mike: The Western Suburbs are rich with history; what sets Hinsdale’s apart?
Sandy: There is a chapter in the book about building an exceptional community, and I think that could be it. There were a lot of wealthy Chicago business leaders who settled in Hinsdale, and it was their personal mission to make this one of the most desirable places to live. In fact, I think they accomplished it through incredible amounts of time and money, in what they did to position things where they are, the architecture—it all factored in.
Mike: What did you learn about Hinsdale’s history during your research? Were you surprised at anything you discovered?
Sandy: Because of my involvement with the historical society for over 30 years, I was pretty familiar with most of it. I’m not certain that I learned much, but I hope I focused on what I thought would be interesting and important for the reader.
Mike: What type of research was required?
Sandy: A lot of fact-finding, fact-checking—I didn’t realize how much time that would take. I wanted to make this all very truthful,—and sometimes when stories are repeated, they become the truth, so I wanted to get to the original sources to confirm the facts.
Mike: How has Hinsdale changed?
Sandy: The teardowns are the biggest difference; [they] have changed the character of the community—not necessarily in a good or bad way, it has just changed. There’s always some necessary upgrading of a community, but it makes you cringe when some of those significant homes come down. When you have large houses going up next to smaller homes, it definitely changes the character. With the rebuilding, there also comes a change in demographics; it seems the amount of wealth has escalated, and the village has become more one-dimensional.
Mike: If you had to briefly sum up Hinsdale’s history since about 1873, how would you do it?
Sandy: I would say, cautious, careful and well-thought-out development until more recently,—but all through the 1910s, ’20s, ’30s, ’40s, ’50s. The village leaders were so devoted to ensure that everything they did was well-thought-out for the future of the town. There was a time when the plan commission even had design guidelines for public and commercial buildings in a colonial-revival style, which we still enjoy today in our schools that were built during that time, the administration buildings, the post office and some of the commercial buildings downtown. That cohesive feeling was important. I think this has always been a community of volunteers working to better the community not just in public life, but [also] in organizations. [Residents] have always done their best to find causes that were worth their efforts, and many of those have been focused on the community—very much a community-centered feeling.
Mike: Is there anything else you would like to add?
Sandy: I am proud to be a Hinsdalean; I believe that all Hinsdaleans are justifiably proud of their community. I hope the book recognizes the dedicated, generous leadership the village has had over the years that brought us to this point: an exceptional place to live.