The private lake and acres of ancient trees tie residents of Countryside Lake to the wild 1920s, when the founder of ComEd discovered the site and turned it into a country estate.
Houses grand and small built over the decades join the former hunting lodge and other buildings constructed during the few years that Samuel Insull and friends owned the land near Mundelein. However, it's the community's natural beauty that impresses most visitors. Amenities around the 142-acre lake include a boat dock and beach.
Insull built the lake, fed by a spring and Indian Creek, by building a dam and then dredging the area. Residents brag about the fishing in the waterway, which is only 10 feet deep.
The electricity magnate, who also built a home in Vernon Hills that is known today as the Cuneo Mansion, fell upon hard times after bringing electricity to Chicago and its suburbs and expanding rail lines that became the North Shore, South Shore; the Chicago, Aurora and Elgin railway; and, eventually, the CTA.
The Great Depression ruined Insull financially, and President Franklin D. Roosevelt attacked him frequently. Defenders say he became a scapegoat for the Great Depression, eventually being tried (and acquitted) three times on charges of security fraud before dying in Paris in 1938.
The four-bedroom home of Louis and Tony Sorrentino, built in 1986, represents a later era of Countryside Lake houses with its two-story great room and backyard swimming pool. Design details include oak woodwork curving over doorways, rosy marble in the master bath, clinker bricks, custom winding staircase, a see-through brick fireplace and upscale appliances in the kitchen.
Despite all these features, the ones the visitor might appreciate most are the many windows -- including bays and leaded glass -- and French doors that make the most of the natural beauty of the site. The home sits on 4 wooded acres that harbor a stream, and is just one block from the lake.
"What's so unique about Countryside Lake is it has all the ambience of a resort, but it's close to all the wonderful things that Chicago or Milwaukee offer," said Louise Sorrentino. "It's equal distance from both of them."
The house is listed for $689,000 with Pat Kappeler of Lake Homes Unlimited and recently went under contract but has not yet closed.
Louise Sorrentino also loves the wildlife she gets to observe, including turtles laying eggs, foxes running across her yard, and deer and coyotes.
A long list of birds was included in a 2007 Lake County Health Department study of the lake, including red-tail hawks, double crested cormorants, osprey and great blue herons.
The forest is hundreds of years old, and all this natural beauty gives Sorrentino a sense of responsibility for preservation.
Almost 100 homeowners signed on to help bluebirds with nesting boxes, she said. And one of the chores of the homeowners association is monitoring the health of the lake and lobbying for its protection.
"It's really, really spectacular," said the homeowner. Other homes on the market from the same era about a quarter century ago include one for $469,000 on an acre and another that is on the lake, has 2.5 acres and is priced at $1.2 million.
Countryside Lake was a great place for the Sorrentino children to grow up "like a community from years ago," said their mother.
"Where else can you go and have all this?" agreed Kappeler. "It's like going to the forest preserve, but it's their own. And you're close to the expressway to downtown or shopping or whatever. And it's unknown and undiscovered."