The days when people believed they had to leave Illinois to fully enjoy themselves on weekends or in retirement are in the past.
Illinois has beautiful countryside, lakes and other attractions, too. More and more people who are nearing retirement are recognizing they can buy or build a second home within an hour or two of Chicago and its suburbs, using it occasionally while they are still working and maybe moving there full time in the future.
Places like Serosun Farms near Hampshire in Kane County, Lake Summerset along the Wisconsin line between Rockford and Freeport and Heritage Harbor in Ottawa, near Starved Rock State Park, are all attracting empty-nesters from the Chicago area who are looking for a nearby second home in a beautiful locale.
Amy and Tom Fahey of Elmhurst have purchased a lot at Serosun Farms and are now poring over photos and house plans, trying to decide exactly what type of home they want to build there.
"It will probably be a three-bedroom, frame farmhouse of some kind," Amy said. She has very recently retired after a 29-year career with J.P. Morgan Chase downtown and is looking for "life No. 2," as she calls it.
Serosun Farms is building homes with an emphasis on energy efficiency and sustainability. The development is part of a working 410-acre organic farm and equestrian center.
"I spent the first part of my life working to benefit my family," Fahey said. "I want to spend the second half giving back, doing something with regard to food and the health implications of what we have done to our food supply. I like the idea of going back to the basics and how things used to be done. I find that very interesting.
"I feel that I can make a difference by working with Jane Strickland and John DeWald at Serosun to develop the farmers market they have planned and I won't wait until our house is built to spend time out there. I want to get involved right away. I am very enthusiastic about Jane and John's passion for protecting and restoring the land and figuring out how to create a sustainable community where people can actually live."
"I loved Serosun Farms the minute I saw it," she added. "It is just spectacular."
And once the couple's 16-year-old daughter goes off to college in two years, the Faheys will likely move to Serosun full time, she said, even though they are only in their early 50s. Tom works as an accountant for Fort Dearborn Co., a packaging and labeling company, in its Elk Grove Village facility and has no plans to retire anytime soon.
"I'm not ready to spend my time golfing or boating or leaving Illinois," Amy Fahey said. "I want to work on improving the living environment here."
Serosun Farms (www.serosunfarms.com, (847) 683-4796) is welcoming homeowners of all ages who are looking for a rural life without all the work and responsibility of having their own farm or horse barn. While Serosun Farms will have a strong equestrian component, it has actually been designed to solve the problem of disappearing agricultural land and to appeal to anyone who has always wanted to live on a farm or who is committed to living in an organic community.
The farm is already producing organic hay, a limited number of vegetables and free-range eggs, according to DeWald, the San Diego-based developer who is creating the community with his sister, Strickland, who runs the equestrian center.
Once complete, Serosun Farms will feature a 160-acre working, sustainable farm and apple orchard, which will supply fresh produce, flowers, farm-raised meat and other specialty items to an on-site farmers market. There will also be 300 acres of open countryside with 8 miles of trails for riding, cross country skiing, walking, mountain biking and golf carts. Finally, it will feature the equestrian center, fishing ponds, a wildlife habitat, sports facilities, a playground and a community center with swimming pool, tennis courts, game room and event facilities.
All of the 114 custom homes will be situated on one-acre lots, clustered in the middle of the property. When residents look out their back windows they will see farmland, prairie or woods.
"Homeowners will be able to enjoy the benefits of living on a 400-acre farm without all of the work involved," DeWald said. "Many feel nostalgia about living on a farm or in the country. Maybe they grew up in the country or they always wanted to live in the country and never had the chance. Still others are committed to healthy living and eating locally grown, organic food."
The mixed-use community will be entirely built in a sustainable, environmentally-responsible manner, complete with composting and mulching programs, LEED green-building design; utilization of solar, wind and geothermal energy; wildlife habitat management; soil, water and other resource conservation; and innovative use of land, he said.
Another area attracting "weekenders" who may potentially become full-time residents in retirement is the 2,300-lot Lake Summerset community near the Wisconsin state line. The land was subdivided and developed by Boise-Cascade in 1971. The community is about half developed, said Nancy Weaver, a broker with Best Realty LLC (www.bestrealtyproperties.com, (866) 390-2378) in Davis. It features single-family homes built over the past 44 years amid trees on the rolling terrain surrounding a 285-acre, spring-fed lake.
"Our buyers generally fall into two categories -- families with children who are drawn by the lifestyle and the great schools and those buyers who are getting close to retirement so they are buying now and using the home on weekends. But within five to eight years, they plan to relocate full time," Weaver said.
The closest town is Durand, which is 4 miles away. It boasts a population of about 1,500 and offers churches, a post office and grocery facilities. The larger communities of Freeport and Rockford, as well as Monroe and Beloit, Wisconsin, are also within a reasonable drive, she added.
An annual membership fee of $665 allows Lake Summerset members to enjoy water activities, including power boating, sailing and water skiing. There are two beaches and two marinas on the lake, as well as a clubhouse, a swimming pool, tennis courts, bocce courts and even disc golf. Members may also enjoy the great outdoors at the private campground facilities. Seventy-five campsites lie on 25 acres of beautifully wooded terrain.
Lake Summerset offers some of the best sport fishing in the Midwest. The lake is carefully stocked with walleye, Northern pike, tiger muskie, large mouth bass, small mouth bass, channel catfish, bluegill and crappie, creating an excellent fishing environment.
Ann and Harry Hultgren of Indian Head Park, which is near LaGrange, abandoned dreams of a second home in Wisconsin or retiring to North Carolina as soon as they set eyes on Heritage Harbor Ottawa, near Starved Rock State Park.
Heritage Harbor Ottawa (www.heritageharborottawa.com, (815) 433-5000) is a 142-acre resort community along the Illinois River with a 32-acre marina (with space for 400 boats), an on-site restaurant, many year-round recreational opportunities and a wide variety of housing choices including single-family cottages, lots available for custom construction, condominiums and townhouses.
While Heritage Harbor Ottawa is an all-ages community, many residents are empty-nesters from Chicago's suburbs who are living at there part time now in anticipation of possibly moving there full time in the future.
"It was barely an hour from our home and we loved it. Even though we weren't boaters when we came here, we bought a three-bedroom home along the Illinois River and just love the view of the barges going up and down the river and the pleasure craft and the river itself," said Harry Hultgren, who owns a manufacturers representative company serving the heating. air, plumbing and industrial markets.
The Hultgrens also enjoy cycling or hiking along the old I & M Canal tow path, playing golf at the nearby courses and enjoying the quaint town of Ottawa. They even have joined an annual-fee boat club that allows them to take out a watercraft whenever they wish. Trips to nearby Starved Rock State Park and Matthiessen State Park are also on their agenda some weekends, unless they simply choose to read and relax in their lovely home.
"Heritage Harbor is an hour and another world away from the Chicago area -- but if we need to get back for a party or something, we can easily do it," Ann, a professional actress, said. "Harry also has fond memories of going to Starved Rock with his parents when he was growing up."
Tammy Barry, director of sales and marketing for Heritage Harbor, said its team has worked with a number of retirees who want a resort-like atmosphere for their retirement home, but also want to be close to their network of family and friends in the Chicago area.
"For these buyers, Heritage Harbor Ottawa is a good compromise because they get a low-maintenance home in a resort setting, but it's close enough to Chicago that they can easily visit family and vice versa. In fact, many love that the fun lifestyle at Heritage Harbor is something that makes their kids and grandkids want to come visit," she said.
"We currently have 80 full-time residents at Heritage Harbor and many more who are transitioning, spending three or four days a week here with the intention of retiring here and using it as their base for traveling. They love that they can get gorgeous, low-maintenance waterfront property that is less than 80 miles from Chicago and within 15 miles of four different state parks," Barry said.
"They have also grown to love Ottawa. Living here is like living in Mayberry. Everyone knows everyone else. There are quaint restaurants, a butcher shop and even a grocery store where they still carry your groceries to the car."