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Lake Forest Country Places: Glen Rowan

Lake Forest Country Places IX:

“Glen Rowan” at 500 N. Sheridan

One of a series of articles by Arthur Miller, Archivist and Librarian for Special Collections at Lake Forest College, originally published in the Lake Forest Journal, 1994-1997; some have been replaced or updated.

See also: A more recent, expanded guide text and information about the restoration of the Glen Rowan House terrace, fountain, and reflecting pool, 2011, and given an award by the Lake Forest Preservation Foundation in 2012 (p. 4 of the Foundation’s newsletter, summer 2012).  

The house of Clifford W. and Alice Reid Barnes, on the east side of Sheridan Road across from what now is the Middle Campus of Lake Forest College, in many important ways is a survival into the present of the remarkable spirit of the Country Place Era — between the World’s Columbian Exposition of 1893 in Chicago and World War II. Clifford Barnes was a key Chicago social reformer of the period and close associate of Jane Addams, founder of Hull House and of the settlement-house movement. A leading Protestant minister, he exerted important leadership in Chicago (founding there the Chicago Sunday Evening Club and the Chicago Community Trust) and Lake Forest. His daughter, Lilace, also embodied the ideals of social betterment her father had helped pioneer. The house itself, by architect Howard Van Doren Shaw in 1908, with its spacious grounds is a fine example of its type.

The link of the Barnes family to Lake Forest College offers a window into the thinking here of a century ago. Alice Barnes’ mother, Mrs. Simon Reid, had donated both the Lily Reid Holt Chapel and the Arthur Somerville Reid Library in 1899, just across the street from the future site of Glen Rowan. Lake Forest College Professor of History Emeritus Richard Hantke remembers Clifford Barnes walking the campus after the young Assistant Professor’s arrival in 1942; Barnes died in 1944. The Edward Arpee history of Lake Forest reports that, with Barat College, Barnes was the last to keep milk cows east of the railroad tracks (during wartime, since food was rationed). One College alumnus from before World War II recalled working on the estate: for a growing young man the heaping portions at meals in the servants’ hall stood out in recollection, following an afternoon of heavy yard work and farmyard chores — duties kept alive, no doubt, by Depression and wartime impulses for self-sufficiency and wartime rationing. Later, in the 1970s, Lilace Barnes herself perpetuated a three-generational link to the College through her gracious entertaining of new College faculty and their families in her 1960s Lanza designed smaller house in the picturesque ravine south of Glen Rowan, but around the old Glen Rowan Arts & Crafts dining table. In 1968 she sold Glen Rowan to the College. But until her death in the 1980s she remained an ardent champion of social betterment, advocating affordable housing in Lake Forest in the 1960s and 1970s. She was the first woman College trustee and the first woman elder of the Presbyterian Church.

In addition to Glen Rowan on the College campus today, Howard Shaw designed Calvin Durand Commons, in 2012 known as Calvin Durand Hall (1907), the western four houses of Campus Circle (1917), and the Barrell garage (1912), now Hixon Hall on South Campus (mentioned in a previous column on the Finely Barrell estate on Rosemary Road). This range of structures — domestic and institutional — gives an insight into the social-reform ideals of that time. Settlements in labor-strife-torn Chicago were endeavoring to reweave the social fabric after the damage of the Industrial Revolution (wages held down by the bountiful supply from constant immigration, huge profits accumulated by trusts and distant and disengaged owners). At the same time reformist (“City Beautiful” Movement) campus planners saw the College as a social microcosm. Here classes lived together in harmony, social stations mutually linked by shared daily experiences and interdependence. This too is reflected in Shaw’s Market Square, an orderly bringing together of the town’s shopping needs with housing above for the shopkeepers and artisans (seamstresses, etc.). At the College the English Great Hall at Commons recreated the feudal togetherness of the lord’s hall: here all classes — students, faculty, and administrators — convened for meals. Miss Martha Biggs, College librarian from 1942 through 1972, her first year got a room on campus, all her meals at Commons, and $1,000 — which in 1972 she realized was more discretionary real income than she ever had later! Truly then a small college was a self-contained community, with little need for cash.

Shaw’s “Glen Rowan,” then, was a setting for an Arts & Crafts, Reform Era experiment in transplanted William-Morris-inspired aristocracy: a paternalism meant to blunt the hard edge of industrialization’s specialization and its diminution of the value and importance of the individual. The landowners cared for their dependents, unlike the factory owners who too often squeezed their workers from a distance. The Campus Circle houses of 1917, indeed, appear to Shaw Society director Paul Myers to be cousins of the supervisors’ houses built in that same wartime year at College trustees’ president Clayton Mark’s Marktown in East Chicago, Indiana. Today Marktown stands an oasis of English Arts & Crafts idealism in a vast industrial district, next to the Mark works (now owned by a conglomerate).

Glen Rowan, as well preserved as almost any Lake Forest Shaw house today, remains a felicitous evocation of the Edwardian/Chicago Renaissance ideals of orderly, art-inspired living. In good Arts & Crafts ways the house avoids being symmetrical or ornamented, though. In front there is an Italian-garden/English-Renaissance-garden terrace, with a small pool and with evergreen plantings to soften the lines of the balustrades. This provides a transition from the large, red-brick house to the broad English lawn which slopes gently toward the ravine to the south, and dotted with oaks trees recalling the Scottish rowan oaks of the house’s name. The formal garden west of the house, almost obligatory in 1908, is no longer extant. But the sweep of the grounds, from College Road (this northern part was the location of the Reids’ 1872 wood-frame “Lilacs,” demolished about 1970) to the ravine to the south, gives a sense of the original scale of the lots planned when Lake Forest was laid out by Almerin Hotchkiss in 1857 (see Michael Ebner’s Creating the North Shore, 1988).

Today the College uses Glen Rowan as its parlor and guest house, as well as making it available on a limited basis for corporate and other groups. The handsome public rooms, decorated with an English country flair in the early 1980s by Charlotte Simmons, are settings for special College events, including for example the annual recognition dinner for graduating library student assistants. The Arts & Crafts Shaw-signature features include the vaulted entry gallery, the plaster friezes in the dining room, the inglenook and fireplace in the south sitting room, and the MacIntosh-like fireplace in the south second-floor bedroom (now a conference room), much like the one in the dining room at Shaw’s own Ragdale here in Lake Forest.

Arthur Miller

July 2, 1995; additions, etc. September 12, 2012