The 1857 Plat Map Finds Safe Home

The City of Lake Forest’s Original Registration Copy of Its 1857 Plan Transferred to Chicago’s Newberry Library

The Newberry Library, Chicago, has taken possession of the original 7’x4’ 1857 Lake County, Illinois, registration plan for Lake Forest, Illinois.  The transfer occurred March 10, 2020 from the City of Lake Forest, Illinois, after late 2019 approval from Lake Forest’s City Council.  In 1857 this new railroad garden suburb of Chicago was projected on the Lake Michigan shoreline about 30 miles north of the booming city along an 1855-completed rail line to Waukegan ten miles further north.  Lake Forest was a pioneering early picturesque residential enclave accessed from the city by train.  

The railroad suburb, a trans-Atlantic phenomenon barely a decade old, was transforming the ways that urban areas would develop.  Hotchkiss proposed about 285 larger lots of one to three acres typically between the lakefront and the new tracks to Chicago for commuters.  This 1,300 acre Lake Forest curvilinear street plan’s organization by St. Louis cemetery planner and landscape gardener Almerin Hotchkiss stands out as the largest of its type to that date and it went on to model novel characteristics found in other attractive suburbs. It spread across two and a half miles of shoreline and was about a mile wide at its center between Forest Park and the train station.  It was preceded by rural cemeteries dating from Mt. Auburn, Boston (1831) and including Hotchkiss’s cemetery work at Green-Wood, Brooklyn (addition, 1842), at Bellfontaine, St. Louis (1848), and at Chippiannock, Rock Island, Illinois (1855), and also ferry and railroad accessed garden suburbs.  These latter included Birkenhead Park, Liverpool (1847); St. Margaret’s, London (1854); Glendale near Cincinnati, Ohio (1851); and Llewellyn Park, East Orange, New Jersey, outside NYC (1853-57).  It was roughly contemporary with Le Vesinet, outside Paris (1858).  The Lake Forest plan also contributed to, among others, nearby lakefront Highland Park, Illinois (1867), and Riverside, Illinois (1868-69), these two also Chicago suburbs.  These early suburbs’ histories are described and illustrated in Paradise Planned: The Garden Suburb and the Modern City by Robert A. M. Stern, David Fishman, and Jacob Tilove (2013).   

The Newberry Library is an independent public research library on Chicago’s near north side, founded in 1887, with collections including 1.5 million books, 15,000 linear feet of manuscripts, and half a million maps, along with other materials.  Peer independent research libraries in the U.S. include the Morgan Library, NYC; the Folger Shakespeare Library, Washington, DC; and the Huntington Library, near Los Angeles.  In a 2012 book, The Newberry 125: Stories of Our Collection, its just-retired president, David Spadafora, characterized the library as “a remarkably diverse place held together by passionate curiosity and seriousness of purpose in assembling, preserving, making available, and using a remarkable cultural treasure.”  Following an over a century-old agreement with the John Crerar Library, now at the University of Chicago, to collect science and technology, and with the Ryerson and Burnham Libraries of the Art Institute of Chicago to collect books on art, the Newberry’s book and manuscript collecting zeroes in on history and the humanities, including literature, music, and dance.  The Newberry’s collections of maps are known worldwide. These maps are the focus of the Newberry’s Hermon Dunlap Smith Center for the History of Cartography, established nearly a half century ago by the late Lake Forest resident and map collector for whom it is named.  

Lake Forest was established just a couple of decades after Chicago—the latter a town by 1833 and a city in 1837--as a picturesque suburban village along the high lake bluffs with ravines and winding streets, the latter converging on its train station link to the city. The village center emerged at the campus of an educational institution operating in its own building by 1859, the institution and the town begun as one shared impulse by Chicago Presbyterians.  This was along the central street, Deerpath, between the lake and the train station.  It was not a typical commercial development, with its first published partial plan an inset on an 1861 Lake County map by a St. Louis publisher.  That was the year in which a state charter was approved for the City of Lake Forest, succeeding an 1859 village organization.  

The educational institution itself first published a small-scale plan in 1869 to attract students.  The 1857 registration plan had been drawn up by surveyor Edmund Bixby from instructions by St. Louis’s Almerin Hotchkiss between late March, according to Lake Forest Association Trustee Minutes at Lake Forest College’s library special collections, and the date of registration in late July, 1857.  The Trustee Minutes show the organization reaching out to Hotchkiss in October, 1856.  This copy of the plan was signed in July 1857 by four officials at Waukegan, Illinois, the county seat.  

According to Lake Forest resident railroad historian David Mattoon, this copy of the 1857 plan then was used for county record-keeping until the mid 1890s, when a new version was drawn by county surveyor James Anderson, Jr., Lake Forest.  This replaced the original, by then showing signs of its heavy use as the City of Lake Forest experienced a second major growth spurt.  This occurred with the 1895-organization of Onwentsia, an early golf and country club for elite Chicagoans.  This original registration plan copy then was returned to the City of Lake Forest, between 1895 and 1899, probably, when the new City Hall opened. 

The framed plan remained in City hands and for decades in storage, until 2014, when it was rediscovered and sent to be stabilized physically at Chicago’s Conservation Laboratory, with support from the Lake Forest Preservation Foundation joining City funding in the project.  During this process high-resolution digital photographic records of the plan were created, now on file at City Hall, at the History Center of Lake Forest and Lake Bluff, and at the Lake Forest Preservation Foundation office, Gorton Community Center.  Since the plan’s return in 2015 it had hung in its original ca. 1900 wooden frame in a City Hall conference room.  The frame will be returned to the City in due time and it can be used to display a hard copy of the plan, derived from the 2014-15 high-res digital files to be provided by the Preservation Foundation. 

Now the remarkable plan goes into the care of the Newberry Library, where it will be stored under optimal conditions in the Library’s 1980s climate-controlled stacks.  The Newberry also pioneered binding and other book and paper interventions in its 1890s facility, in the last half century including its pioneering in-house Conservation Laboratory for books and paper.  Any such needs for the plan can be addressed there in the future.  Should it be displayed, the Library’s exhibit space and equipment meets all necessary light and HVAC requirements, as well.