Historic estate in Mettawa to be demolished
The country home known as Whippoorwill Farm is symbolic of the era of gentleman's estates, lively fox hunts and the equestrian pursuits of the well-to-do.
But the compound just north of Route 60 in Mettawa has been empty since its last occupant died nearly two years ago. And without another viable or cost-effective use, the familiar sprawling home and barn beyond the stockade fence are about to be erased from the landscape.
Residents were said to be getting a last chance to purchase items from the home, occupied for 60 years by the Korhumel family, before its imminent demolition.
The buildings, which include an expansive barn, have remained as a tangible image of the Mettawa's roots. The village took ownership more than a year ago and after considering alternatives, determined there was no better option.
A majority of residents who responded to a survey did not want the village to sell the property and felt it should be investigated for possible use as a village hall, according to Mayor Jess Ray.
But 're-purposing' the site for that use proved to be an expensive proposition.
"We went through an exhaustive study of the main house and barn," Ray said.
"As we started to look into it, we felt (each) building would be pressing close to a million dollars and for 550 residents, we didn't think that made a lot of sense."
Efforts to find other users, such as commercial interests or charitable groups, also were fruitless, Ray said.
Another small home on the property already has been taken down leaving the main house, barn and a shed to follow. Eagle Biomass Inc., of McHenry was awarded a contract for about $50,000 to demolish the home.
"It's a charming building, it really is," Ray said. "I, for one, am very disappointed we couldn't find a way to get it done. It would give us a rallying point but it just was too expensive."
Beginning in the 1920s, before Route 60 became a major thoroughfare, the compound just north of the then-two lane road west of Riverwoods Road emerged as a hub for the equestrian set.
According to information provided by the village, Paul Llewellyn's estate was known for award-winning show dogs. Horse riding was an important element of life there and would remain so through the 1960s.
"Eleanor Roosevelt used to come out there and ride horses," Mettawa Village Clerk Cathy Nelson said.
At one point in the 1930s, a riding ring was converted into a full-fledged track, which now is the site of the Whippoorwill Farm Preserve.
In 1950, the buildings and grounds were acquired by steel magnate Newton Korhumel, whose dealings ultimately would bring the first commercial and office uses to the town.
"It was an absolutely spectacular piece of property," Nelson said. "There were a lot of estates in Mettawa. Horseback riding was the foundation of the village."
Among the dignitaries with holdings in the area were Adlai E. Stevenson, former Illinois governor and presidential candidate, and Edward H. Bennett, co-author with Daniel Burnham of the 1909 Plan of Chicago, according to village history.
"It's not historical registry material," but it represents a historical period, Nelson said of the Korhumel house. "It kind of exemplifies what the village was about at that time. It's a cool house."
In 1959, a group of residents incorporated a portion of the area as Mettawa in order to control growth and preserve the rural environment.
Korhumel won court approval in 1994 to develop up to 1 million square feet of office and other uses in unincorporated Lake County. That was reduced to 700,000 square feet in exchange for sewer service.
Village leaders sought to annex his 84 acres and a deal eventually was struck in which his home and about 13 acres would be donated to the village upon the deaths of he and his wife. Irene Korhumel died in December 2010. The remainder of the property is developed, including corporate residents HSBC Finance Corp. and CDW.
Once the buildings on the estate are gone, the property will be left open space as part of the Whippoorwill Farm Preserve, overseen by the Mettawa Open Lands Association in partnership with the village.