Camp Algonquin placed on endangered-places list

Updated 4/2/2014 5:10 AM
  • Camp Algonquin in McHenry County made Landmarks Illinois' list of endangered places Tuesday.

      Camp Algonquin in McHenry County made Landmarks Illinois' list of endangered places Tuesday. Christopher Hankins | Staff Photographer

Camp Algonquin, one of the few "fresh air" camps in the nation, may be a step closer to being saved.

Conservationists are cheering the camp's designation by Landmarks Illinois as one of the Ten Most Endangered Historic Places.

"It's a good first step," said Elizabeth Kessler, executive director of the McHenry County Conservation District, which oversees the site.

The 116-acre camp at 1889 Cary-Algonquin Road in unincorporated McHenry County closed in 2011. It is one of only four camps built during the "Fresh Air in the Country" movement started in the late 1800s -- fueled by the belief that spending time in a rural environment would alleviate the problems caused by inner-city living.

"It's got a really nice history," said Lisa DiChiera, Landmarks Illinois advocacy director.

She said the idea behind the endangered list is to "bring new attention to these properties and why they are threatened."

Kessler said the designation builds awareness of and "indicates the community support for the historic structures on that property."

Camp Algonquin was established in 1907 on 20 acres along the Fox River. It was designed by noted landscape architect Jens Jensen and drew support from the Chicago Bureau of Charities, Chicago Board of Trade, Chicago Tribune, Oak Park churches and numerous private donors.

Metropolitan Family Services, a Chicago-based social services agency, took over camp operations in later years. But financial difficulties forced the agency to sell the site to the conservation district in 2004.

The YMCA of McHenry County operated the facility on behalf of the Conservation District until 2011 when it, too, ran into financial trouble, ceasing camp operations.

Today, many of the camp's 47 buildings are in disrepair and marked for demolition. Yet, conservation district officials hope to overhaul a few key buildings on the site for future use.

"There are four buildings that are currently under discussion by the McHenry County Conservation District board of trustees in our master plan," Kessler said.

Officials hope to preserve a recreation hall, a dairy barn, a dormitory and one of the cabins.

"The challenge right now is shoring up those sites to stabilize them because they are falling into disrepair, and the district does not have the financial ability to do that," Kessler said.

Legislation introduced by state Sen. Pam Althoff would give such districts authority to raise taxes to fund any future repair of historic properties.

"If that moves through the General Assembly, then the district could put a ballot measure forward to ask the residents if they support this initiative or not ... to allow the district to expand our role in preserving historic sites," Kessler said.

The legislation is working its way through the Senate, she said.

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