Familiar Cook House designated Libertyville's first landmark

The Ansel B. Cook House, a familiar site to most Libertyville residents and visitors, is the first building designated as a local landmark by the village's historic preservation commission.

The move is regarded as the start of a long process to identify and protect local history that will include a survey of buildings downtown and in surrounding neighborhoods. A website will be developed to contain searchable photos and information on the findings.

Field work is set to begin in April, and the commission plans a community meeting to discuss the survey process.

Village officials adopted a historic preservation ordinance in 2012, but it has been slow going. Commission members weren't appointed until October 2014 and it wasn't until last November that the village board authorized funding for the building survey to be done by Ramsey Historic Consultants Inc., of Chicago.

"We're getting a lot of buildings torn down. We're trying to rein them in," commission chairman Jim Hartshorne said. "That's why we're doing the survey - to find out what buildings are what."

Designating the Cook House as a local landmark was the commission's next order of business. Situated in the heart of downtown, Cook House is a museum and archive and the backdrop for activities in busy Cook Park. The village-owned house built in 1878 is a logical first choice for the commission.

"We had to start somewhere. The Cook House seemed the proper one to do," Hartshorne said.

The Classical Revival-style house was built on the site of the first permanent dwelling in Libertyville and is considered the town's historical center. In 1921, the front porch was removed and replaced by the dominating four-columned portico. In 1960, then-Sen. John F. Kennedy gave a campaign speech on the front steps.

Cook was a masonry contractor who worked on the Old Chicago Water Works (Water Tower) and the Libertyville Town Hall (American Legion). He was elected to the state legislature twice from Chicago and once from Lake County.

He died in 1898 and his will instructed that, after the death of his wife, the property should go to the village for use as a library and park.

The Cook House is on the National Register of Historic Places. Local landmark designation means alterations require commission review and award of a certificate of appropriateness, according to Johanna Bye, associate village planner. The designation must be approved by the village board. The commission next plans local landmark designation for architect David Adler's former house at 1700 N. Milwaukee Ave.

In the interim, village officials have continued a moratorium on demolition of any buildings downtown, as the historic character has become a cornerstone of the area's success. Hartshorne said building owners have been cognizant of that and worked closely with the MainStreet Libertyville organization.

"We've been very, very fortunate we haven't had anybody tear down some nice buildings in the middle of town," Hartshorne said.

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The Ansel B. Cook House in Libertyville was built in 1878. COURTESY Libertyville-Mundelein Historical Society
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