Joseph Heinzen, my great grandfather, was born in Wilmette (then known as Gross Pointe) to immigrants from Trier, Germany. In spite of losing his father at the tender age of three, he grew up to be a husband to a local Wilmette girl, Mary Fehlen, a father, a prolific builder, and community leader. Initially taking up the trade of butcher, he realized he was repelled by the sight of blood. He tried a new career as a carpenter and then a stone mason, where he gained valuable experience for his later work as a contractor.
On Palm Sunday, March 28, 1920 Wilmette was struck by a tornado which wreaked havoc on the Village including taking the roof off the Village Hall. Most building records from that era were lost, but family recollections and photos have documented at least 17 homes that he built in Wilmette. There were more in Chicago and probably more in Winnetka. There are a few frame and stucco homes, but most were his signature brick homes that electricians complain about today because the brick walls are so solidly built, it is hard to run new conduit through them. His homes have a distinctive masonry style on the corners of the bay windows where the brick edges are exposed and staggered.
Also solidly built is the structure at the corner of Schiller Avenue and Ridge Road, now home to the Wilmette Bowling Center one of the oldest bowling alleys in Chicago land. Joseph Heinzen probably did not envision that kids would be having 'cosmic glow' birthday parties in the 21st century, but that is what they are doing after 85 years of continuous operation as a bowling alley.
Gross Point had a school as early as 1857, but in 1895 Joseph Heinzen built a 2-story schoolhouse near the corner of Wilmette Avenue and Ridge Road. Grades 1-4 were on the first floor and grades 5-8 were on the second floor and there was a large front porch. Today his name can be seen on the cornerstone of the limestone foundation to the building now used as the American Legion Hall Huerter Post in honor of Peter J. Huerter, the first Gross Point, Illinois man to die in World War I.
The most prominent structure Joseph Heinzen built was the Gross Point Village Hall in 1896. His name sits proudly on the cornerstone of this beautiful and elegant brick Victorian structure which now is the home of the Wilmette Historical Museum. This was a frame structure with brick veneer on a limestone foundation. The hall served as the village police and fire stations, the village clerk's office as well as a community center. In 1989 the building was designated a Wilmette local landmark, and in 1991 it was awarded a place on the National Register of Historic Places.
Joseph Heinzen was the president of the village of Gross Point from 1905-1907. Later he became a Wilmette Village Trustee from 1914-1920. During the depth of the depression, he was called upon to serve again and was appointed trustee in 1932. Reelected trustee again in 1934, he became ill and could not attend meetings although he tried to offer his counsel. When he died in 1937, the Village lost a trusted servant. In recognition of his work, the flag on the Village Hall was flown at half-mast for two days.