Lake Forest's 1901 East-Side Train Station

by Arthur Miller

Lake Forest’s train station on McKinley Road and Western Avenue is a contributing structure in the Original Lake Forest National Register Historic District established in 1976. It is significant for its historic role in the community and for its architecture. It replaces an earlier depot built to serve the Lake Forest College-centered east Lake Forest street plan of 1857, developed by Almerin Hotchkiss. This larger replacement structure was designed to serve the needs of the new Onwentsia Club southwest of the station on Green Bay Road, with its large city crowds for horse shows (1900-70), polo matches, and other events.

It was planned by architects Frost & Granger for their father-in-law, Marvin Hughitt, president and builder of the Chicago & North Western Railway. All three men lived in Lake Forest, the architects each in homes they designed. By 1900 the firm already had designed other local buildings: City Hall (1899), Lois Hall, Lake Forest College (1899), and Reid Library and Chapel, Lake Forest College (1900). Soon, too, Howard Shaw’s 1916 Market Square would take its style cues from the Tudor brick and half-timbered train station and City Hall, also nearby to the southwest. Indeed, it was the first of the four sides of the Square, which is recognized as the first town center built around motor vehicles – the first City Beautiful town center not dependent on public buildings as anchors...in a word, the first shopping center.

As railroads went through difficult transitions in the 1960s and 1970s, the need to restore the train station came to the attention of the 1976-founded Preservation Foundation, which raised the $400,000 needed then for renovation. This sparked a Renaissance of train stations along what became the North Line of Metra. It reflected the town’s heritage of public/private partnerships for improvements. Now, once again, the train station needs restoration and improvements, including a new roof (back to the original, longlasting slate) and new climate systems, interior floors, and many other features.

The Preservation Foundation is undertaking a survey of the building by a Chicago-based, recognized preservation architect to craft a plan for the rehabilitation of this important and still very vital local landmark. We are working with the City and will report more on this as we proceed.