Research on the 1900 built Chicago & North Western Railway station, now the Metra North Line or east Lake Forest station, began in 2008-09 with work on the Historic Structure Report commissioned by the Preservation Foundation and carried out by Harboe Architects. This brick and limestone eastside station, the first side of Market Square in effect, is the fourth on that property and the first one built with masonry. The main station was augmented by a west-side warming house, now Pasquesi’s, and a tunnel—the last abandoned in 1970. This building went up just as piped natural gas and electricity were beginning to be available in town, leading to hybrid lighting fixtures and heavy reliance on redistributed natural light, a mid 19th century innovation. This information about the station’s history and technology comes from research by David Mattoon, a former Preservation board member who is active in many railroad safety and preservation efforts. He is a Lake Forest High School and Lake Forest College graduate, also with an engineering degree from Purdue.
The first phase of rehabilitation was the slate roof for the two buildings and their sheds, the latter restored to their original hipped shape. The main station roof had been missing its dormers since ca. the 1960s, according to Mattoon. These dormers were reconstructed, two on the east and two on the west. They functioned in 1900 to channel natural daylight through refactors into the center of the building, since electric service from Highland Park did not begin in 1900 until 4 pm, as Mattoon discovered. The light from the dormers came out over the ticket window, from a lay-light or skylight. This is represented by a simulation completed last spring, its framing built by project manager for Preservation, also its president, Jim Opsitnik. He and David Mattoon had researched electrically-lit bulb options that could re-create the feel of the original, since attic infrastructure prevented restoration of the original channeled daylight. Another such skylight was between the tracks over the tunnel, to illuminate and distribute sunlight in that long space.
At the same time, in the summer of 1900 natural gas was piped to Western Avenue businesses, with a line east to the station, which would open in November of that year. As a result, the lighting fixtures shown on the photograph of the interior are combination gas and electric ones. Mattoon also located the latest programmable LED bulb technology to simulate the gas flame lighting the waiting room and the ticket area. Gaslight could be used on days too dark for sunlight to suffice.
A more detailed and more carefully accurate account of the station’s hybrid technology in 1900 written by David Mattoon will appear in a future issue of First and Fastest, the journal of the Shoreline Interurban Historical Society.
Thank you again to those whose generous contributions made the rehabilitation of the interior of the train station possible.