WGN Radio’s Your Hometown series will highlight Lake Forest on Thursday, September 29.
Located about 30 miles north of the Loop in Lake County along Lake Michigan, Lake Forest is part of the area known as Chicago’s North Shore.
Originally Potawatomi land, white settlers began farming the land around 1835. The addition of the railroad in 1855 brought increased settlement. Sylvester Lind and a community of Presbyterians, all abolitionists, helped to establish Lake Forest and Lake Forest College, then called Lind University, in 1857. Lind, Lake Forest’s first mayor who served four terms, was active with the Underground Railroad, helping enslaved people settle in Lake Forest or find freedom elsewhere.
Lake Forest incorporated in 1861 and by 1869, it earned the reputation as one of Chicago’s most exclusive suburbs, attracting a Who’s Who of prominent residents like Ogden Armour, Marshall Field, architects Howard Van Doren Shaw and Charles Sumner Frost, and others.
City planners created a picturesque street layout that incorporated Lake Forest’s natural features like ravines and bluffs and helped to minimize incoming traffic. This all created a more serene and secluded atmosphere for residents. The east side of Lake Forest in particular remains much less accessible and is one of the most scenic, historic and architecturally significant areas in Chicagoland, with homes and landscapes designed by noted architects including Frank Lloyd Wright, David Adler, Howard Van Doren Shaw, Frederick Law Olmsted, and Jens Jensen.
The business hub of downtown is Market Square (“the Square”), located across from the Lake Forest Metra station. Distinguished as “America’s First Planned Shopping Center”, Market Square opened in 1916 and was designed by Howard Van Doren Shaw as both retail and residential space. The aesthetically-pleasing tree-lined square with towers built of limestone has been on the National Register of Historic Places since 1978.
Chartered in 1898 and one of the oldest public libraries in Illinois, the Lake Forest Library was originally located on the second floor of the Lake Forest City Hall, a building designed by Charles Sumner Frost who was also the architect of Navy Pier. Since 1931, the library has been located at 360 E. Deerpath in a National Register Historic District. The building itself is in the Art Deco style with a domed rotunda, similar to Chicago’s Shedd Aquarium.
Population growth led to Lake Forest expanding west of Green Bay Road in the 1950s. The Lake Forest Open Lands Association, created in 1967, worked to acquire and protect more than 700 acres of wetlands, pre-1830 prairie, woodland and savanna that comprise six nature preserves with 12 miles of walking trails. In 1989, city officials enacted the nation’s first building scale ordinance to regulate demolition of single-family homes in exchange for the construction of larger multi-units.
Lake Forest is home to Halas Hall, the headquarters of the Chicago Bears, and the Ragdale Foundation, an artist residency program founded in 1976 that is housed within Ragdale, the former summer retreat of architect Howard Van Doren Shaw built in 1897.
Many famous and notable names have called Lake Forest home including astronaut Jim Lovell, writers Dave Eggers and Rebecca Makkai, filmmaker John Hughes, actors Vince Vaughn and Robin Williams, musician Andrew Bird, and founder and owner of the Chicago Bears George Halas.