Editorial: The dilemma over the Stevenson home

Anyone who has owned something old may be able to empathize with the decision the Lake County Forest Preserve District board will wrestle with over the fate of the Adlai E. Stevenson Historic Home in Mettawa.

Pony up and make expensive repairs in hopes it will solve the problem for a while, or get rid of it.

When the item has some special connection, such as your dad's car or the house you grew up in, the decision is more emotional.

And, that's where many Lake County officials likely find themselves after learning the county will have to spend $1 million or more to make the house and adjoining service building watertight. For an 80-year-old structure, the expenses wouldn't end there. So, demolition is among the options if board members vote in June on a 2022 capital improvement plan that includes $100,000 for a preliminary master plan.

What's sobering is that this isn't just any house. It is a place of history. Once it's gone, it's gone.

Right now, it's too soon to know what ideas board members may find that could help preserve that history, but we hope some will surface.

"We would save some money (demolishing the house), but we would look back on it and see an open field and regret it," Commissioner Ann Maine said during an exterior tour of the house and presentation last week.

The 6,000-square-foot house and grounds known as "The Farm" were donated to the district in 1974 and later rehabbed. The property was designated a National Historic Landmark in 2014.

These days, the district leases space to the nonprofit Adlai Stevenson Center on Democracy, created at the urging of Stevenson's son to host nonpartisan and nonideological discussions about democracy and major issues in the country and the world so attendees can be participants in the solutions. It has hosted leaders to engage in questions about important issues from political reform to climate change.

The grounds are open daily to self-guided tours, and group tours can be arranged to see the home of an American statesman and former Illinois governor. Stevenson was the Democratic nominee for president in 1952 and 1956, and served as U.S. ambassador to the United Nations. He played a pivotal role in the Cuban missile crisis.

Stevenson lived in the house for most of his adult life. It was the place where he crafted speeches, articles and books and met with dignitaries and important historical figures, such as Eleanor Roosevelt and John F. Kennedy. A place of history, indeed.

Like many governments, the Lake County forest district looks to maximize resources and minimize expenses. These days, that's a tough balancing act, requiring great financial stewardship. We wish them well in their task on this issue.

Several commissioners remarked that Stevenson's legacy, not the buildings, should be preserved. Yes, preserving his legacy is important, but as Maine aptly said last week, there is "something incredibly moving" about standing in a place where history was made.

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