Strolling through history
Wilmette Sunday, 9/9/12 David Erck (Left), board member of the Wilmette Historical Society leads Sunday's "Stroller Tour" of Linden Square in Wilmette. | Brian O'Mahoney~for Sun-Times Media
Updated: October 21, 2012 1:19PM
WILMETTE — Sunshine, sight-seeing and strollers; the mixture proved a success recently for the Wilmette Historical Museum and a generationally-diverse flock of history fans who took “A Stroll Through Time” in Linden Square.
The tour allowed moms, dads and grandparents to get together with other history buffs (or folks who just like an interesting walk) to wander through Wilmette’s south-east pocket commercial neighborhood, nestled around the CTA “L” station. They learned a little about its history from guides David Erck and Mike Tobin.
As for the young ladies and gentlemen (some of them very young, indeed) who accompanied those moms, dads, and grandparents, they were not only welcome to come along, they were encouraged to do so.
That’s the idea behind the historical museum’s new stroller tour series, says Leah Bostrom, a museum board member who is enthusiastic about helping residents discover more about Wilmette – and about the museum itself.
“The museum probably does two or three walking tours every year,” Museum publicity head Rachel Kuhn said earlier this month. “But (the stroller tours) really target the younger families in Wilmette to get them out and about.”
Bostrom said the goal of community outreach — letting new and old village residents know what the Wilmette Historical Museum could offer — spurred stroller tour development: “People move to Wilmette and don’t know about the museum. We thought, what better way to learn, and learn about your new town, than to be able to bring your kids along?”
The first two stroller tours took place in downtown Wilmette and in the historic “CAGE” neighborhood of east Wilmette. Museum organizers eventually hope to develop more tours for areas all over the village.
What differentiates a stoller tour from a non-stroller tour (which, by the way, are open to unaccompanied adults as well)?
Organizers adjusted some of the existing tours the museum runs, making them a little shorter and faster paced, to keep up with shorter or younger attention spans. They also developed activities that could connect youngsters with their surroundings in fun ways.
For instance, while adults were learning about the architecture of Linden Square buildings guides asked their younger guests to draw shapes they spied in those same buildings, and gave them chalk to do it with.
Later on, they also got the chance to investigate some goodie bags, and work off some energy at Maple Park after the tour.
Bostrom, an architect’s daughter, grew up volunteering at the Museum on 609 Ridge Road, and happily got re-involved when she moved back to Wilmette to raise her own family. Her own daughter Emma has been a tour participant.
“You’d think it would be crazy, but the kids are always really well-behaved,” Bostrom said.
Like Bostrom, Sue Hersam, who moved to Wilmette two years ago, is a fan of the stroller tours. A veteran of many Chicago architecture tours before the births of her daughters Angie, 6, and Abby, 2, Hersam wanted to learn more about her new community and said she found the walks were perfect for doing that.
“I didn’t know anything about Linden Square history, but one of the men giving the tour talked about his childhood experiences of going to the stores, and it really taught me something about what the Wilmette community was like in the past,” Hersam said. The Linden tour she took with Angie was Hersam’s second; she and both daughters toured downtown Wilmette earlier this year. She gave organizers high marks both for each tour’s careful research, and for keeping the younger set interested.
When Hersam asked Angie later what she liked about the outing, “she told me she liked using the chalk.”
That kind of response is just what Bostrom, Kuhn and other Historical Museum stroll organizers want to hear.