DuPage forest preserve district’s historic sites
- Photos (12)
Through the years, preservationists have convinced the DuPage County Forest Preserve District to join in efforts to save a number of historic buildings, including the 1840s Baker House near West Chicago and the Ben Fuller House in Oak Brook.
Some of the preserved buildings have been maintained or restored and are used regularly by staff and visitors, while others are unused and untouched. Forest preserve commissioners are set to review the district's policy for developing, preserving and operating historic structures.
Here's a look at those structures and what is being done with them.
Location: Along St. Charles Road at Churchill Woods Forest Preserve near Glen Ellyn
Background: The two-story limestone house and a neighboring administration building were constructed in 1936 by the Works Progress Administration and the Civilian Conservation Corps. The forest preserve used the administration building as its headquarters between 1936 and 1982. The house originally was used by Robert McKee, the district's first superintendent. Other superintendents and executive directors lived in the home until 1996, when it became a guard house. The house has been vacant since 2002.
Status: Both structures were spared from the wrecking ball in 2006 but are in disrepair. The forest preserve commission has agreed to use $100,000 that was supposed to pay for the demolition to have an architectural study done to determine whether the McKee House can be saved.
Location: North side of St. Charles Road in the West Branch Forest Preserve near West Chicago
Background: The house was built in the 1840s by Irish immigrant Peter Baker, who was a brick mason and farmer. It's believed to be a rare example of Greek Revival architecture in the area and one of the oldest brick homes in DuPage.
Preservationists saved the home from disrepair and demolition in the mid-1990s. Students and The Conservation Foundation, a Naperville-based group, helped raise money to restore the exterior after a lengthy fund drive.
Status: The district has kept the house as a visual attraction with no plans to use the interior for programming.
Ben Fuller House
Location: York and Spring roads in Fullersburg Woods Forest Preserve in Oak Brook
Background: Built sometime between 1835 and 1842, the Greek Revival-style farmhouse was the home of Benjamin Fuller, one of the first settlers of the area. To save the house from demolition, the structure in 1981 was moved to land owned by the forest preserve district.
Status: The house is being restored so it can open as a museum featuring history about the house along with interactive displays.
Graue Mill and Museum
Location: York and Spring roads in Fullersburg Woods Forest Preserve in Oak Brook
Background: Completed in 1852, the water-wheel powered grist mill was built by German immigrant Frederick Graue.
The mill, which features four, 1-ton buhrstones that ground grain, was an important structure for local farmers. In the 1860s, the basement was a haven for runaway slaves making their way to Canada as part of the Underground Railroad.
The forest preserve district took over the property in 1931. The DuPage Graue Mill Corp. came on the scene in 1950 when it began leasing the mill from the forest preserve to renovate it as a museum.
Status: The not-for-profit Graue Mill Corp. continues to operate blacksmithing, weaving and other exhibits in the mill.
Location: Near the Graue Mill and Museum in Oak Brook
Background: Frederick Graue's former home was completed in 1859. The forest preserve bought the two-story brick house in 1989 after a condemnation battle with the former owner.
The structure was restored after the forest preserve district in 1998 was awarded a $500,000 grant from the Illinois Historic Preservation Agency.
Status: The Graue Mill Corp. rents out the house for various events.
Location: Along Naperville Road at Danada Forest Preserve in Wheaton
Background: Philanthropists Dan and Ada Rice in 1939 built the 19-room country mansion as part of their racehorse training estate, which became what is now the Danada Forest Preserve.
Over the past decade, the district has made significant improvements to the property. In 2004, the district completed a $1.2 million addition to the mansion that replaced the large tent that used to be there for parties. The resulting atrium provides nearly 4,100 square feet of seating space and accommodates 250 guests.
Status: Danada House has become a popular spot for weddings and other catered events. The Friends of Danada, the not-for-profit organization that operates Danada House, is hoping to schedule more business meetings.
Mayslake Peabody Estate
Location: Mayslake Forest Preserve in Oak Brook
Background: Coal baron Francis Stuyvesant Peabody built a Tudor Revival-style mansion — now called Mayslake Hall — between 1919 and 1921. After Peabody's death in 1922, his family sold the estate to the Franciscan Province of the Sacred Heart Order of Friars Minor, which converted the mansion into a retreat house.
Through the years, the order sold sections of the estate. The forest preserve district bought the remaining 88 acres of the Mayslake property in 1993 after taxpayers approved a $17.5 million tax increase. Since then, it has consumed millions of additional dollars for capital improvements, such as new heating.
Status: The district is working to restore Mayslake Hall and to establish it as a cultural and educational center, officials said. The hall serves as a venue for architectural tours, lectures and artistic performances, which happen throughout the year. Mayslake has an annual budget of about $545,000 a year.
Greene Farm Barn and Oak Cottage
Location: At Greene and Hobson roads in the Greene Valley Forest Preserve near Naperville
Background: The farmhouse was built by William Briggs Greene in 1841, while the barn was constructed in three sections between 1850 and 1882. Once the largest barn in DuPage, the L-shaped structure included a corn crib, wagon shed, granary and animal pens. The forest preserve acquired the farmhouse in 1971. Last year, the district completed a $1.4 million stabilization of the barn that replaced rotting timbers with a new steel foundation structure.
Status: When the district acquired the property, it was understood that the farm eventually would be used for cultural, educational, historical and recreation purposes. So far, it's been only an aesthetic feature for people using the bike trail around the Greene Valley Forest Preserve.
Location: Along Old Grand Avenue at Fischer Woods Forest Preserve in Bensenville
Background: Established around 1838 by the Fischer family, the 5-acre Fischer Farm is believed to be one of the oldest remaining homesteads in the county. Several historic structures remain on the site, including a farmhouse built in 1920.
Status: The forest preserve leases the property to Bensenville Park District, which operates the farm.
Kline Creek Farm
Location: Along County Farm Road in the Timber Ridge Forest Preserve near West Chicago
Background: The farm is a living-history museum depicting local farm life in the 1890s. Bought in 1969 by the district, the site has original and reproduction facilities to create a realistic turn-of-the-century working farm. The farmhouse and barn were built in the 1880s. The smokehouse is the oldest structure, dating to the 1840s.
Status: Staffed with the help of volunteers, the farm is open daily and has events throughout the year. Last year, about 70,000 people visited the farm.
St. James Farm
Location: Along Butterfield Road east of Winfield Road near Warrenville
Background: The 607-acre property was purchased from industrialist Brooks McCormick in 2000 for $43 million, but the district didn't take possession until after McCormick's death in 2006. Even though the property is open to forest preserve users, residents are not yet able to spend time inside the site's historic buildings.
Status: The district is planning to make millions of dollars in improvements to the farm. The improvements call for a trail system as well as a considerable investment in the farm's equestrian facilities.
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