Grayslake man to preserve childhood memory as his retirement home
While exploring the woods near his home as a boy, Mark Miller became familiar with a log cabin along the Des Plaines River.
"I've been walking past it for 50 years, since I was 7 years old," said Miller, who grew up in Riverwoods near what became the Edward L. Ryerson Conservation Area in southern Lake County.
He couldn't have imagined the 700-square-foot cabin one day would be offered for sale. Or that his bid of $100.25 would allow him to save and repurpose a childhood memory.
"It's going to be a retirement project," said Miller, a truck and auto mechanic who has lived in Grayslake for 24 years. "It will be a winter home."
With a new environmental education center underway at Ryerson, two 1940s-era cabins which had served that purpose for decades were sold at a nominal price to be repurposed elsewhere.
Both have been disassembled in recent weeks, albeit in different fashions. Miller and a few friends used a skid steer to take down what was known as the Borland cabin.
"I looked in the building when I was a little kid and said, 'That's cool. I'd like to live there,'" Miller said. And so it will be.
He'll store the pieces and reassemble them in two or three years on the Tennessee River northwest of Nashville.
The other cabin was sold for $10 to The Burnham Group LLC, which has been involved with several historic preservation and adaptive re-use projects, according to spokesman Christopher Enck.
Burnham worked with Recyclean of Kenosha to take the larger cabin apart by hand. It was measured, drawn in computer-aided design, and then each piece was numbered, Enck said. A final destination and timeline have not been determined.
A location in Mettawa was the original intent, but there are considerations related to zoning, flood plain matters and other issues to consider, according to Enck.
"Like any unconventional project, there are many logistics that sometimes require multiple possibilities to be explored at the same time," he said.
The cabins were to have been demolished to make way for the new environmental education center. But the Illinois Historic Preservation Agency asked the district to look for suitable owners to relocate, use and maintain their integrity. The use has to be consistent with the cabins' listing on the National Register of Historic Places.
Miller's cabin was built in 1943 on a privately owned parcel for Chauncey Borland, a contemporary of Edward L. Ryerson, head of Ryerson Steel.
In the late 1920s, Ryerson bought property on the Des Plaines River for a country retreat and amassed 550 acres. The family donated the land to the Lake County Forest Preserve District in 1972.
Ryerson became a hub of environmental activities. In 1985, Borland's cabin was moved from the river bank about three-quarters of a mile to a spot along the entry off Riverwoods Road. It was used for natural history exhibits and later changed to a classroom.
It was paired with the Cramer cabin, built by Ryerson elsewhere on the property for Ambrose Cramer, the architect of his country home. The cabin was relocated as housing for farmworkers.
Untold number of students and campers visited over the decades. But both buildings had outlived their useful lives and didn't comply with current accessibility codes and had to be removed.
Director of Education Nan Buckardt taught many classes in the cabins during her 38-year career with the district. She said it's bittersweet to see them go but is excited for a new larger space.