Restoration of 1857 Lake Forest Town Plan, 2015

The Lake Forest Preservation Foundation is funding one quarter of the cost to restore what may well be the only surviving original, officially-signed version of the 1857 plan of east Lake Forest. The plan has traditionally hung at City Hall, and has reached a fragile condition requiring professional preservation to ensure its longevity. The work to ensure the future of this significant document is being undertaken by Chicago’s Conservation Center.

To understand the significance of the 1857 plan, Arthur Miller, Emeritus Archivist and Librarian for Special Collections Donnelley and Lee Library, Lake Forest College, provides the following context of importance based upon his research.

The Setting

The original area of Lake Forest rests on one of the narrowest patches of St. Lawrence River flow area in all the Great Lakes, located about a mile more or less just east of Green Bay Road.  This area is a rare gravel/clay moraine left from the glaciers. The 1857 town plan includes ten glacier-made ravine cuts through this terrain into Lake Michigan. The relatively rapid descent from Green Bay Road’s ridge to the bluffs at the Lake about 90-100 feet above the shore line and the many ravines east of the ridge create an irregularly undulating landscape on the higher western land and a series of tablelands punctuated by ravines on the east.

The Creator(s)

In 1988 Michael Ebner, in his book Creating Chicago’s North Shore: A Suburban History, first identified in print Almerin Hotchkiss as the designer of the town plan. Hotchkiss was born in 1816, and first worked at Brooklyn’s early Green-Wood Cemetery. By 1848 he was based at Bellefontaine Cemetery in St. Louis and, in 1855, he designed Chippiannock Cemetery in Rock Island, Illinois. In 1856 Hotchkiss visited Chicago to consult on a plan to create the university and suburb at Lake Forest. Hotchkiss’s plan for Lake Forest was registered with the County in July 1857. Underlying this document would have been instructions to the surveyor from Hotchkiss, presumably a sketch plan to guide the surveyor. Since any sketch and markers likely were discarded (or subsequently lost) when this plan was completed, the plan being restored is the earliest known version extant showing the designer’s intentions. The Lake Forest Association minutes show that Hotchkiss’s work was in hand by the LFA trustees by late March 1857, and that this was the basis of the County-registered plan in July 1857.

Distinctive Elements of the 1857 Plan

Hotchkiss’s plan includes his decision to create roadways that surf on bridges across the deep ravines near the Lake along Lake, Mayflower, Sheridan and other roads in the manner of railway trellises of the day that gave the sensation of flying. The 1860’s Highland Park plan, in contrast, ran roads more down the middle of tablelands near the Lake, and avoided some of the immediate engineering challenges of bridging the gorges. Lake Forest’s plan had east-to-west streets converging at the central depot, as at a gatehouse in a cemetery-–a familiar design concept for Hotchkiss. As a result, this is one of the first, in effect, gated communities. The curvilinear streets, too, were disorienting and meant to make finding unknown houses impossible. See Philip Pregill and Nancy Volkman, Landscapes in History: Design and Planning in the Western Tradition.

Documentation

It is believed that the large- format document displayed at City Hall may be one of the only remaining period copies of the 1857 plan. In fact, surviving documentation relating to the origins of the plan is scarce, most likely due to various fires in the community over the years, as well as the Chicago Fire of 1871. From this version of the original plan, apparently two large- scale copies were made on hard board, in foldable quarters or segments – one for the City and one for the County, at Waukegan, which apparently have gone missing in recent years.

Provenance

There are no copies of the plan found among the Lake Forest Association archival papers held in the Lake Forest College Archives, so this original 1857 plan of the City’s may have been given to the City by the Association or by the institution. This could have taken place in 1861-62, when the City was chartered; in 1878, when the archival papers were turned over to the Lake Forest University, now Lake Forest College, as successor; or perhaps most likely in 1899 or soon after from the institution when City Hall was built.

Significance in the History of American Landscape and City Planning

Hotchkiss’s design was an attempt to make a refuge for urban dwellers to escape the city. Lake Forest was incorporated in 1861 under a charter granted by the Illinois State Legislature and was primarily founded to support the establishment of church- related educational institutions. It was among the earliest, large-scale, residential developments in the Chicago region – predating Frederick Law Olmsted, Sr., and Calvert Vaux’s design for Riverside (1869) and Nathan Franklin Barrett’s design for Pullman, Illinois (1870s) by more than a decade. Lake Forest was established just five years after the first such planned community in America, Llewellyn Park, West Orange, New Jersey, was founded in 1852. While other designed suburbs predate Lake Forest, no other is of a scale comparable to Lake Forest’s original 1,200 acres.

The LFPF has a long history of providing grants for local preservation projects including restoration of the Lake Forest Train Station, Elawa Farm, Ragdale, Dickinson Hall, Walden-Bluff ’s Edge Bridge, the Entry Gates at Deerpath Hill Estates and Castlegate Court Subdivisions and relighting of the City’s historic gas lights. In 2014, LFPF established The Heritage Fund, a grant program that will award funding to one or more preservation projects annually based on need, impact on historical visual character of our community, and overall project cost.