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Lake Forest Association, 1856-78

Lake Forest Association, 1856-78

The Lake Forest Association was organized in February of 1856 in the Second Presbyterian church of Chicago to launch a town and educational institution, a university, on a wooden site east of new railroad tracks paralleling the lake front about a mile west of it north from the city through Evanston to Waukegan, forty-five miles north of the heart of the city.  This line was completed to Wuakegan in January of 1855 and after some scouting work by committees the site about thrity miles north along the high bluffs was chosen.  On one of these scouting trips the name was chosen based on what the travellers saw, the wooden landscape and the picturesque body of water beyond -- Lake Forest. 

The organizers were Chicago Presbyterians, New England descendants and Scots, who were moderates on some of the key political and relgious questions of the day, in particular, the question of slavery.  Firmly abolitionist and supporters of the Underground Railroad, they came down short of the extreme views of men like John Brown who in 1859 would mount an attack against a fort at Harper's Ferry to start a slave uprising.  These Presbyterians were persons of means and ambitions for Chicago.  to keep Illinois firmly anti-slavery, too, they chose not to confront liberal German anti-slavery advocates who differed with them on lifestyle issues such as the Sabbath and drinking.  A move to the suburbs with daily access to the business center was the solution. 

The group first sold shares to raise funds to acquire the land at Lake Forest.  When they had two thousand acres on both sides of the tracks there they hired in October 1856 an eastern-trained and St. Louis-based landscape architect Almiren Hotchkiss to lay out their new town.  Hothckiss was a noted cemetery deisgner, and translated his manner of proceeding into a larger form for his Lake Forest plan, comleted by March of 1857 and registered at the coutny seat, Wuakegan, in July 1857.  The plan employed only about 1,300 acres of the land bought, that which was eat of the tracks.  These tracks formed the western boundary of the plan, the lake shore the east side, and ravines north and south the limits there (there was no Sheridan Road until the 1890s).   The streets were curvilinear, like his drives or lanes for the cemetery he created at Rock Island, Illinois in 1855, Chippiannook Cemetery whih is still operating.  Ambitiously his streets were envisioned to cross ravines going north and south on three major streets, yeilding elevated housjng sites on parcels of two or three arcres, some three hundred lots in all.  In 1857 also there was a meeting where shares were exchanged for the actual buidling lots, though one-half of these were held out for sale by the univeristy to fund its buildings and endowments.  The land west of the tracks generally was sold, though a Western Avenue was laid out along the tracks, a locus for business houses near the depot, at which the radiating generally east-west raodways converged.  In effect this was a gatred community, impenetrable by casual visitors to its winding paths among ravines and woods. 

For the first seven years the executive committee of Trustees met and kept minutes, as well as for the larger group itself.  In 1859 Lake Forest organized as a village and then in 1861 as a city.  The Association had been the rpecedessor group for this municipal effort.  The university too was launched with a boys' prep school in 1858 and with its own buidling by January of 1859.  But the Collegiate Dept., of Lind University, begun in 1859 informally (tutorial program) and with scheduled classes in 1861, lapsed in 1863 due to wartime exigencies, and did not start up again until 1875 or more likely 1876, as Lake Forest University (after 1865).  By 1878 a permanent brick five story building, now Yong Hall, was built.  The Univeristy on stable terms, the Association finally disbanded , naming the educational institution the successor body.  This became in time Lake Forest College, where the records which survive still are strored -- minutes of the Association, of its working trustees, and even its early deeds and transfer records.  Hothckiss's plan survives in two known original copies, one at the City of Lake Forest and one at the County Buidling (Recorder of Deeds), Waukegan. 

Sources:

Lake Forest Association.  Articles of the Lake Forest Association, Adopted February 28th, 1856 (Chicago: Democratic Press Job Office, 1856), 16 pp.

Records, Lake Forest Association, Archives, Lake Forest College.

Schulze, Franx, Rosemary Cowler, and Arthur H. Miller, 30 Miles North: A History of Lake Forest College, Its Town and Its City of Chicago (distrib. U. of Chicago Press, 2000).