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Lake Forest Country Places: Roadside

Lake Forest Country Places XXVI:

“Roadside,” 550 East Deerpath

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.

“Roadside” which was built in 1859 by a founder of Lake Forest, Sylvester Lind (1808-1892), later burned (1905) and was rebuilt on the original foundations as the home of Charles Dyer Norton (1871-1923) and his wife Katherine McKim Garrison, a daughter of the literary editor of the liberal periodical The Nation and grand-daughter of the seminal Abolitionists William Lloyd Garrison and James Miller McKim. The house’s antislavery associations, though, go back earlier: Lind himself was a key “conductor” in Chicago’s Underground Railroad during the era of the odious Fugitive Slave Law. Lind also was Lake Forest’s longest-serving mayor (on four occasions through the mid 1880s) and a founder of Lake Forest College which from 1857 to 1865 was known as Lind University. Charles Norton, an 1893 Amherst graduate, was an important trustee of Lake Forest College at a critical developmental moment from 1903 to 1911 and he played a leading, crucial role in Burnham and Bennett’s Chicago Plan (1909). In 1909 Norton left the area to serve prominently in the administration of Republican President William Howard Taft (1909-13) — first as Assistant Secretary of the Treasury and after 1910 as Secretary to the President.

The current house, renovated by architect Hugh M. G. Garden in 1906, is pictured as a model “Modern Colonial House” in Country and Suburban Homes of the Prairie School Period, the 1982 Dover reprint of Hermann Valentin von Holst’s 1913 book entitled Modern American Homes. “C. D. Norton,” too, is listed as a 1906 client of Prairie Style landscape architect Jens Jensen in Robert E. Grese’s 1992 biography of Jensen. Certainly “Roadside,” located immediately west of the First Presbyterian Church property on Deerpath and pictured as #21 in the Preservation Foundation Guide, exemplifies the goal of this series, the highlighting of Lake Forest country places of uncommon historical, cultural and architectural interest.

Sylvester Lind, the Nortons’ Grandfathers, and the Antislavery Movement

John J. Halsey’s 1912 History of Lake County, Illinois provides a biographical sketch of Sylvester Lind, a central figure in the founding of Lake Forest. Lind was born in Scotland in 1808, arriving in Chicago in 1837 to work as a carpenter. In 1842 he entered the lumber business and in 1849 organized the Lind & Dunlap firm with mills at Cedar River, Michigan on the western shore directly west of Door County’s Washington Island. Arpee reports that he was also in the banking and insurance businesses making and losing at least three fortunes as the economic health of early Chicago came and went. Before the railroad went through, his banking business in Milwaukee and Chicago led him up and down the old Green Bay Trail by Lake Forest where, “he informed [Halsey], he selected his future home….” (p. 514). An early supporter of the idea of the town and the college, he pledged $100,000 to the future “University” which was named for him from the institution’s founding in 1857 until February of 1865 when, his fortunes at a low ebb, it was clear he couldn’t meet his pledge.

Lind’s business interests prospered again, though, in insurance and real estate — until the Chicago Fire of 1871, Arpee recounts. After that often he was mayor through 1884 and working on public improvements, still greatly respected if no longer wealthy.

An article on “The Under-Ground Railway” in the May 1890 Stentor, the College newspaper (pp. 185-88), highlighted Lind’s importance to the anti slavery movement of the days when Lake Forest was founded. The article was written by an enterprising member of the class of 1891, William E. Danforth, who also conducted interviews with explorers George Kennan and Sir Henry Stanley who visited town and a bedside February 1890 interview with the legendary ex-slave and local driver Samuel Dent, who died in June of 1890 and is buried in the Lake Forest Cemetery. Lind was an active “conductor” on the Underground Railroad and a leader in the Chicago movement, with his Chicago River lumber yard there a staging point for smuggling fugitive slaves down the lakes. The Fugitive Slave Act was harsh, and a captain risked losing his ship if caught. Danforth’s article, though, details how Lind and others would arrange for the captain to look the other way for “deniability” while ex-slaves scrambled on board and stowed away. They then jumped off at the island refueling stop at Death’s Door between the Door County mainland and Washington Island, to wait for another ship heading for Detroit. This ship, in turn, would drift close enough to the Ontario shore in the narrow St. Clair River to permit the African-Americans to leap to freedom. According to “The Originals,” an unpublished, hand annotated typescript by the Rev. Dr. James G. K. McClure (1848-1932), Lind’s Deerpath Road home also was an Underground Railroad stop in the climactic two years leading up to the Civil War, 1861-65.  Lind’s concern for the plight of the African-Americans, some of whom probably were present in Lake Forest before the Civil War, was shared by others in town and carried over into the close, warm ties between the races through the rest of the nineteenth century.

It’s interesting that the next owners of the property after Mrs. (Eliza O.) Lind, who lived until 1905, also had ties to the antislavery movement. Mrs. Charles Dyer Norton, born Katherine McKim Garrison, was the daughter of Wendell Phillips Garrison, according to Halsey (p. 519) “the literary editor of The Nation for forty-three years, and the grand-daughter of” both the leading radical Abolitionist, William Lloyd Garrison, and also James Miller McKim, who one contemporary judged among Abolitionists “‘scarcely second to Garrison’” (Dictionary of American Biography, VI, 103). Katherine’s McKim grandparents went with Mrs. John Brown to claim her husband’s body at Harper’s Ferry following the October 1859 raid on that place and Brown’s subsequent trial and hanging. As events would prove, this raised the leader of the doomed though prophetic attack to martyrdom — remembered in the words of the old song “John Brown’s Body.”

Also, time and space ran out on this article before its writer could track down his hypothesis that Charles Dyer Norton could be a grandson or relation of Charles Volney Dyer, who was the director of the Underground Railroad in Chicago and who visited Lake Forest on June 25, 1859 when he spoke at a large rally on the lake bluff celebrating this then-new community (Arpee, pp. 47 and 66-67). Arpee reports that Dyer, a medical doctor and railroad executive, harbored runaways in his home in Chicago and moved “thousands” on the Chicago, Burlington and Quincey — the line with which he was associated. On that summer day in 1859 Dyer would have walked by on Deerpath what would be the Norton place a half-century later on his way to the bluff’s edge picnic at which he spoke. This old home, then, has many established and surmised uncommon associations with leaders of the nineteenth century’s climatic phase in confronting America’s most persistent and pressing problem, relations between African-Americans and European-Americans.

Garrison and McKim especially faced the problem of slavery head-on in the manner of New England Puritan preachers of old, something the more moderate Lake Forest founders — concerned at the prospect of disruptive social upheaval — tended to avoid. Indeed, the Lake Foresters’ moderate position on slavery (against it in the western territories where they wanted to expand Chicago business interests, but willing to wait for it to die out in the south), may have contributed to their seeking such an enclosed, maze-like street plan with entry to the town confined for all practical purposes to the streets around the depot. Several clues suggest that African-Americans and perhaps fugitive slaves were on hand here in the late 1850s and early 1860s — before Emancipation. Covertly, too, Sylvester Lind and the Lake Forest founders took risks — Danforth reports Lind himself travelled down the lakes with Underground Railroad “passengers” to cue them when, literally, “the coast was clear” — and worked hard, short of John-Brown-like revolutionary acts, to gain freedom for African-Americans and to work toward the election of Lincoln in 1860.

Katherine Garrison grew up in Llewellyn Park, New Jersey, the four hundred acre sub-division with its unusual curvilinear street plan in Orange, laid out in 1853, where her grandfather McKim first had established the family seat. As Lake Forest College History Professor Michael Ebner has pointed out to this writer, picturesque Llewellyn Park is the immediate precedent for Lake Forest’s 1,200-acre curvilinear street plan of 1857. This 1857 plan can be seen as the first ever whole town in the romantic mode.

Charles Norton: Chicago Plan (1909) and Taft Administration (1909-11)

Charles Norton attended Amherst, graduating in 1893 with Lake Forester Harry C. Durand and with Lake Forest College Professor John H. Clapp. With this sound liberal-arts-college background Norton joined the Lake Forest College Board of Trustees in 1903, just as the institution divested itself of its professional schools in Chicago (dental, law, and medical) and dropped its graduate program here in Lake Forest. Instead, the College aimed to become a fine, eastern-like small liberal-arts institution. Halsey reports that Norton was “active” in his work for the College, from 1903 to 1911, when the College was establishing its new liberal-arts identity, planning a new traditionally-styled campus, and building some of its best buildings, especially Frost and Granger’s Blackstone and Harlan Halls (1908) and Shaw’s Calvin Durand Commons (1908). The 1906 plan for the campus by landscape architect Warren Manning was displayed in New York that year. Norton’s wife was the niece of the eminent east-coast classic architect, Charles McKim. McKim had worked on the seminal plan for the 1893 Columbian Exposition and designed the house which today is Chicago’s Fortnightly Club on Bellevue Place, the architectural inspiration for the old Halsey School which used to stand across the street west of City Hall on Deerpath.

After Amherst, in the 1890s, Norton entered the life insurance business in Chicago, for Northwestern Mutual. In 1906-07 also he was president of Chicago’s Merchants’ Club when he persuaded Burnham to undertake the three-year planning effort which resulted in the famous “Burnham Plan” even though the famous architect just had heard that he was ill, with three years to live (he lived six, Norton reported in an article in the 1922 history of the Merchants’ Club, because he so enjoyed working on the plan). In 1909 the dynamic, charismatic Norton joined the Taft administration as Assistant Secretary of the Treasury under fellow Chicago-Republican Franklin McVeagh. Then in 1910 Taft made Norton Secretary to the President. After this, according to Halsey, the Nortons eventually sold “Roadside,” as they’d named their Lake Forest home, to move to New York where Norton took up banking and continued his high profile volunteer service.

The Lind Place’s Old-Lake-Forest Simplicity

The original Lind place must have been quite simple or plain, reflecting the pious life and later reduced circumstances of the Linds. Their home and simple life, characteristic of the strict ways of the early settlers in town, appears to be the model for the family home of the protagonist described in Hobart Chatfield-Taylor’s 1894 novel, An American Peeress, which charmingly contrasts in the mode of the local-color movement then popular the plain life of pre-Onwentsia-Club (1895) Lake Forest with the stratified social ways of aristocratic England. In the simple village by the lake there is no cooking on Sunday evenings, but — after long prayers — cold sardines or jam and bread sparingly served up.

Surviving here into the 1890s was an almost-theocratic New England village of the 1790s, as portrayed for example in Connecticut Wit Timothy Dwight’s book-length narrative poem of 1794, Greenfield Hill. (Dwight, too, was influential in the founding of Lake Forest, as president of Yale from 1795 to 1817, mentoring Hiram F. Mather, pres. of the Lake Forest Association which launched Lake Forest, and Rev. Lyman Beecher who in turn both mentored founder Rev. Robert W. Patterson and also was the grandfather of Roxana Beecher, Lake Forest’s first public school teacher, 1860-63.) Chatfield-Taylor draws on the Lind lifestyle as a contrast to Old-World and big-city artificiality and social distinctions, echoing Dwight’s treatment of the same subject just a century earlier.

New England by 1894 had moved west; in Massachusetts and Connecticut the farms long had been deserted and their owners driven either west or into mill towns by relentlessly-changing economic conditions. But at a few places in the midwest, including here especially at the Lind place and the 1892 Hubbard/Nichols place recently demolished on North Green Bay Road, the old Puritan simplicity survived.

Hugh Garden’s 1909 Renovation: A Model of the Colonial Revival

Indeed, the Nortons were so charmed by this reactionary or nostalgic ambiance that in 1909 they remodelled and expanded the 1905-fire damaged house, which dated back to 1859, into a turn-of-the-century model Colonial-Revival dwelling. This declared as clearly as a sermon from an old pulpit the relevance of the simple old ways to the challenges of that fast-paced, chaotic time. Chicago architectural-history researcher Harold T. Wolff kindly has brought to my attention the employment of this house designed by Chicago architect Hugh Mackie Gordon Garden (1873-1961) in von Holst’s well-known and influential book, plates 79 and 80. Thus, through “Roadside” Lake Forest simplicity was featured in a way it could influence taste nationally in this 1913 pattern book. Indeed, the work’s influence is recognized through its 1982 reprinting for architectural historians and preservationists.

Garden’s white-clapboard, dark-shuttered and dormered “Roadside” is large, but unpretentious: low and uncluttered on the street facade, seemingly a self-contained house. But behind it the elongated whole spreads irregularly north, in the low and rambling way of old Colonial and Federal New England houses which evolved over generations. There is a second entry here on the east side, creating a gentle tension suggesting — indeed celebrating — such a layered past. It recalls, for example, the rambling but classic New-England homestead of “Grandfather” Hubbard found among the DeVillo Holt family photographs in the College library’s Special Collections (Mrs. Holt was a relation of Chicago founder Gurdon Saltonstall Hubbard). The charm of “Roadside” is considerable, avoiding the brashness of the new and the fashionable.

Jens Jensen’s Prairie-Style Landscape of 1906

No doubt the simplicity and naturalness of the house’s presence on Deerpath is enhanced by the low, Prairie Style design for the adjacent grounds by landscape architect Jens Jensen in 1906. The atmosphere is restful, with strong horizontal lines punctuated by now-towering trees which allow for sun openings. Jensen appears to have done more significant landscapes than any other practitioner in Lake Forest and around it, including a decade of work foresting what was the hundreds-of acres J. Ogden Armour estate in west Lake Forest and extending into Mettawa. Enjoying the settled, mature look of the Jensen landscape done for the Nortons in 1906 Lake Foresters can ponder how much of what they assume is the natural appearance of their community in truth is the restored woodland and prairie design work of this master from early in this century. “Roadside” reminds visitors once again that almost every acre of this City and the surrounding countryside is artist-designed landscape — worthy of respect, of preservation, and when developed of sympathetic and minimally-invasive building.

The Linds’ and Nortons’ “Roadside” speaks softly of quiet Sundays, gentle people if not gentry, and virtuous restraint. Though one tends to favor the Roosevelt and Wilson presidencies which bracketed Taft’s for their idealism and action, certainly an administration in which a figure such as Garden’s client at “Roadside” could prosper and advance wouldn’t have been devoid of good judgment, indeed wisdom. Here shines through the old Republican energy tempered by restraint and principle, traits which seem so often to have been swept away at this end of the twentieth century.

Three Notes on Last Month’s Article

(1) The “Ragdale” log cabin definitely is not the one in which Abe Lincoln grew to maturity in southern Indiana. Rather it is a replica, but one fashioned from logs taken from an 1820s log cabin from the Little Pigeon Creek community where Lincoln lived (1816-30) and cut down to the size of the Lincolns’ cabin there. This was done to create as authentic as possible a replica for the 1933-34 Chicago Century of Progress located near what is now Meigs Field. The logs authentically are of one structure from Lincoln’s community at the time he was there, with only a few having been replaced since the cabin was moved to the “Ragdale” compound in the mid 1930s. But this 1820s log structure, modified for the Century of Progress, must be the oldest structure now in Lake Forest — even though originally it was built elsewhere and has been cut down to the Lincoln cabin dimensions (eighteen feet square). This description is based on a conversation, as I recall it, with cabin owner Alice Judson Hayes on Tuesday, January 14, 1997; the conclusion that this is Lake Forest’s oldest structure is my own.

(2) I stated last month that the Ryersons’ own 1928 log cabin at Ryerson Woods (on Riverwoods Road south of Rt. 22) was designed by architect Stanley Anderson, based on consulting the College library copy of the Anderson job book. Paul Bergmann, who has the Anderson drawings as well as the original of the job book, doubts that this is so, though Anderson did other similarly-handsome log or vacation cabins for Lake Forest families (Stuart, Donnelley) and did other ancillary buildings on the “Brushwood Farm” estate. North Shore architectural researcher Susan Benjamin, who currently is teaching an historic preservation course at Barat College and who drafted recently the “Brushwood Farm” National Register application, has suggested that architect Edwin H. Clark also did work on the “Brushwood Farm” estate, along with Anderson and Ambrose Cramer who designed the 1942 main house. Until the matter is cleared up, though, readers can be assured that the Ryerson cabin near the Des Plaines River bank is a handsome retreat dwelling worthy of a respectful and appreciative visit as representative of the best design of its type and era. It reflects its period’s enthusiasm, in the wake of Sandburg’s 1926 Abraham Lincoln: The Prairie Years, for simple-life, log-cabin rusticity.

(3) The Society of Friends Meeting House in Lake Forest is southeast of the corner of Ridge and Old Elm Roads in Lake Forest, not southwest as appeared in the article. It was built on part of the “Norcroft” property donated by Sidney Haskins now of Philadelphia, spouse of the late Sylvia Shaw Judson Haskins who brought the “Lincoln” cabin to “Ragdale.”

Arthur Miller
February 15, 1997; rev. 6-5-11