Workers at Kline Creek Farm near West Chicago had only one hour left before roughly 500 visitors were set to arrive for an Independence Day celebration at the 1890s living history preserve on July 1.
But the massive storm that walloped DuPage and Cook counties that day knocked down mature trees, damaged the chicken coup and destroyed the very benches where visitors were expected to sit. It also caused more than $4,100 damage to the farm's signature windmill, spurring a fund drive that's now in the works to save it.
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"We are just lucky it came prior to the event and no one got hurt," Keith McClow, Kline Creek education site manager, said.
More than two weeks later, workers still are helping the recovery effort at the DuPage Forest Preserve District living-history farm. Initially, the main farm was closed and camps were canceled for four days while staff and volunteers repaired the chicken coop, mended fences and removed debris. No animals were hurt, McClow said.
Since then, crews of three to eight people have worked in shifts alongside carpenters and forestry crews to get the farm back in working order. Some of the repairs were done with traditional hand tools, to keep in the spirit of the 1890s, McClow said.
In addition, this week the chickens were introduced to their rebuilt yard.
The overall damage totaled more than $20,000, not including man-hours spent on repairs.
"Add in staff salaries, other crews and equipment, and we'll be in the tens and hundreds of thousands of dollars for recovery," McClow said.
McClow said the most pressing need is repairing the farm's trademark American-style windmill, which was badly bent and twisted. The Midwest Open Air Museums Coordinating Council already has pledged $500 toward the repair that will cost more than $41,000.
But the DuPage County Forest Preserve District, which runs the farm, is seeking donations to hurry the repairs.
"Our blacksmiths asked if they could help, but with a 53-foot tower I think it's something we're going to have to leave to the professionals," McClow said. "But this is not something we've budgeted for."
Supporters who wish to help with the recovery effort can visit dupageforestgiving.org/donate now. Donations will be used for supplies and contracting services to return the windmill to working order. For details, call (630) 871-6400.