How Arlington Hts.' Heine Kennicott once upon a time built a village
A flicker of mystery adds lift to any enterprise, even a suburban block. And the house across the street has harbored a mysterious attraction for me from the day we moved into our home on Dunton Avenue.
From my first sight of it, I associated the pale green residence hidden behind a large stand of elms with fairy tales. There were so many trees on the lot that, in my mind, I called it the Black Forest. Little did I know there had been a hidden village among those trees.
I was content with my fantasy, not looking for additions to the lot's aura. But soon I began to hear stories about the house's history. Most were about Heinie Kennicott, who had lived across the street long before we moved in. Heinie was described as mentally "slow," but for someone who was slow he got lots done. Everyone seemed to know about his "store" under the front stairs.
When I was collecting oral histories, many people remembered buying penny candy from Heinie and simple school supplies. He was so successful that his parents built him a small building by the front sidewalk where he could enlarge his enterprise. Often, a neighbor would tell me how she used to "walk my kids down to Heinie's for ice cream after supper" on a summer evening. Many people told me of the peanut clusters Heinie made from his mother's recipe. "The best ever. I'll never forget them." There was also talk of a village in the orchard, but never any definitive information.
The Kennicott lot backed up onto an orchard of apple and pear trees that stretched from Euclid Avenue to Hawthorne Street. Vail Avenue did not go through from Euclid to Hawthorne so pedestrians had beat down a path where a Vail sidewalk might have been. There were not yet homes preventing the paving of a street.
People around the area often picnicked in the orchard. Carl Weinrich in his account of his early life in Arlington Heights recalled moving to a house on Euclid near the path through the orchard.
His mother liked packing a picnic lunch and taking her little ones on a noonday adventure. More adventurous kids "swung on trees," as in the Robert Frost poem, and later put up a zip line.
It was only when I read Carl Weinrich's story of his life in Arlington that I learned that there truly was a "village" in the orchard, again the work of Heinie Kennicott (Carl called him Henry.)
"He told my dad that he would like to build a miniature village with houses and stores in the orchard. My brother Edmund and I helped him when it was time to put in the streets and place the houses." Carl wrote. "We cut the sod and smoothed the ground for the streets.
"Henry built the houses, store buildings, church and city hall, along with street signs. The houses were all different styles."
The village wasn't just for display. It was for play. "We and the neighbor kids spent many hours playing in our village." At Easter it provided a unique site for an Easter egg hunt. Carl remembered "the Easter Bunny would be able to hide his eggs inside the houses."
Today the house across the street is painted yellow. The landscaping is elegant, but most of the trees are gone. But for me there is still an aura of Heinie Kennicott, who was one of those who added to the magic of our village.