688 Cherry

Stories and Structures: Downtown Winnetka and Beyond

688 Cherry

Winnetka, Illinois 60093, United States

Created By: Winnetka Historical Society


Both the current house at 688 Cherry and the house that stood here before it have interesting histories.

The original house was built by E. Ashley Mears, a corrupt developer who built several unfinished mansions, known as the Mears Sham Mansions, in the village. Mears, who was originally from Vermont, moved to Chicago in the 1860s and made a fortune in banking. After the Great Chicago fire, Mears recognized that Winnetka was on the cusp of a real estate boom and saw an opportunity to enhance his fortune. He purchased several plots of land and in the early-to-mid 1870s, built fourteen imposing mansions.

While impressive in stature with unique architectural features on the outside, none of the mansions were complete by the time they were sold. Most were sold as a shell of a house, and a poorly constructed one at that.

The Mears mansion at 688 Cherry was purchased and finished by James and Clarissa Willson, who were prominent residents in the Village. James Willson, for example, served as president of the village in 1874. Tragically, on February 14, 1884, the Willsons were horrifically murdered in the house. James was shot with a revolver downstairs while Clarissa, who was bedridden after suffering a stroke, was stabbed with her late son’s Civil War bayonet. A man named Neil McKeague, who worked as a butcher at Robert Moth’s store where the Chase Bank is now, was suspected of the murder, but he was acquitted during the trial due to a lack of evidence. The Willson murder remains unsolved today.

After the Willson’s were murdered, it’s unclear if anyone lived in the house again until 1910, when it was purchased by the Deily family and moved to 844 Pine Street. It was demolished in 1962 to make way for the A&P, which is now the Grand Food Center.

The land at 688 Cherry was vacant between 1910 and 1924 when Walter Bratschi purchased the lot and built the current house on the site. Bratschi, like James Willson, was a well-known figure in the Village. Born in Switzerland, Bratschi moved to Chicago in 1904 and started working as a plumber for a company on Clark St. He continued to work in the city until 1936, when he passed his Master Plumbing exam at age 50.

The next year, Bratschi opened Bratschi Plumbing, operating the business out of this house until 1939, when he rented the building at 801 Oak. Like Bratschi Plumbing, this house has remained in the Bratschi/Hoza family and is still owned by members of the family today.

This point of interest is part of the tour: Stories and Structures: Downtown Winnetka and Beyond


Leave a Comment



Download the App

Download the PocketSights Tour Guide mobile app to take this self-guided tour on your GPS-enabled mobile device.

iOS Tour Guide Android Tour Guide



Updates and Corrections

Please send change requests to changerequest@pocketsights.com.