The Hills family was a prominent family in the early days of West Chicago. The Hills have been featured over the years in City Museum exhibits and in our annual Tales Tombstones Tell Oakwood Cemetery walk. Albert Hills was an important man in the early days of our community. He worked as a carpenter and built many of the early buildings in town. He is especially important to us at the City Museum because he built the original Turner Town Hall in 1884, now the home of the City Museum and listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Albert, an English immigrant, and his wife Helen Etheridge, had four children: Hobart, Harriette, Edith and Helen, born 8 years after her closest sibling. Harriette was very active in the community, a leader in the Women’s Club, a champion of establishing a public library in town, and a career woman who commuted to downtown Chicago for work for many years.
Helen was equally active in town, and had a very close relationship with their brother, Hobart. Most importantly for Oakwood Cemetery, Helen worked hard to ensure the preservation of Oakwood Cemetery and to ensure the lives of those who built our city were honored and their stories saved.
Helen suffered from a physical impairment, most likely a form of dwarfism or scoliosis. She might have been able to walk, but did need much help. She was born 20 years after her oldest sibling, Hobart, when her mother was 43 years old. Despite her ailment, she was heavily involved in every aspect of the community. She also was very industrious. An ad, pictured here, is from a 1914 classified section of the Chicago Daily Tribune soliciting customers for hand sewn baby clothes of every sort. We also found reports of her traveling with her family to New York and on other adventurous vacations.
As she came into the 1930s and middle age, she is pictured here in a wheelchair in the midst of her friends, but also became actively involved in government. In 1933 she was elected moderator of the semi-annual meeting of Winfield Township, and the next year took over as Township Assessor, a position formerly held by her father. She served as Assessor for over 15 years. History was also important to Helen and she served as part of the group that formed in the 1930s to save Oakwood Cemetery. This group worked together including various civic organizations, physically cleaning the cemetery, levying a “voluntary special assessment” to provide a fund large enough to insure permanent proper maintenance, and having a goal of turning the cemetery over to the city for future supervision. This goal was not accomplished until 1964, but the change ensured that this local landmark could be preserved to tell the story of West Chicago.
Helen’s dedication to her community lasted until her death in 1954, just two years after the death of her brother Hobart, who made it his life’s mission to care and watch over his sister. Helen was a true example of overcoming all odds in the face of physical adversity.