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Lake Forest celebrates 150 years of history

This 1866 group photo was taken at 570 N. Sheridan. It shows members of the D.R. Holt family, and some friends.  The lad behind the first child on the left is Charles Holt, a founder of the modern Chicago law firm of Sidley & Austin.  His father, D.R., is the man behind him in the stove-pipe hat. The middle gentleman with a stove-pipe hat is Norman B. Judd, a close ally of Abraham Lincoln. The righthand man in a similar hat is the Rev. William C. Dickinson, the first faculty member of Lake Forest College, and the first installed pastor of the First Presbyterian Church.  The woman second from the right is Mrs. Ellen Hubbard Holt -- a sister-in-law of Gurdon S. Hubbard, a founder of Chicago. Photo courtesy of Lake Forest College Library Archives and Special Collections.

This 1866 group photo was taken at 570 N. Sheridan. It shows members of the D.R. Holt family, and some friends. The lad behind the first child on the left is Charles Holt, a founder of the modern Chicago law firm of Sidley & Austin. His father, D.R., is the man behind him in the stove-pipe hat. The middle gentleman with a stove-pipe hat is Norman B. Judd, a close ally of Abraham Lincoln. The righthand man in a similar hat is the Rev. William C. Dickinson, the first faculty member of Lake Forest College, and the first installed pastor of the First Presbyterian Church. The woman second from the right is Mrs. Ellen Hubbard Holt -- a sister-in-law of Gurdon S. Hubbard, a founder of Chicago. Photo courtesy of Lake Forest College Library Archives and Special Collections.

As Lake Forest celebrates 150 years as a town in 2011, its residents are looking back at a history that includes a focus on education, moral upbringing and community service.

In the 1850s, a group of Presbyterians from Chicago came to what is now Lake Forest — looking for a place to settle, and educate their children away from the city.

The same group founded the First Presbyterian Church of Lake Forest, Lake Forest Academy, Lake Forest College, and the City of Lake Forest, said Arthur Miller, archivist and librarian for special collections at the college.

“History provides a sense of place,” said Janice Hack, executive director of the Lake Forest-Lake Bluff Historical Society, and chair of the historical activities committee for the 150th anniversary celebration.

“It connects people with each other,” she said. “We all share this history whether you moved here last week, or your family has been here for seven generations.”

Though First Presbyterian Church now has 2,000 congregants, some of them can still trace their lineage back to those original settlers, said Pastor Christine Chakoian. She added that the history of the church and the town are still alive in the congregation today.

“In part it reminds our members of the civic mindedness of our founders, it’s part of the congregation’s DNA to reach out to the community,” she said. “There is a sense of responsibility, pride, connection, relationships.”

Though Chakoian has only been the pastor in Lake Forest for six years, she appreciates the sense of history that comes with the town and being a part of the historic First Presbyterian Church.

“There’s a sense of rootedness that I find especially winsome in an age when people move around so often,” Chakoian said. “To have a place of deep roots is a beautiful thing.”

In the early decades, Lake Forest was centered primarily on the schools, which Miller said was unique in city planning for that time.

When the Market Square was completed in 1915, it became the first town center planned around motor vehicles, and the first modern shopping center, Miller said. Because of these historic firsts, the Market Square is on the national register of historic places, he said.

When Miller first arrived in Lake Forest, he was surprised at how little the history had been researched. But he said residents were interested in finding out more about the origins of the city, and its founders.

In Lake Forest’s earliest years, several spots in the town were part of the Underground Railroad, safe houses used by escaped slaves, Miller said.

Sylvester Lind, an early founder of Lake Forest College, used his house on Deerpath Road as one of those stops, moving the runaway slaves through the house and onto their next stop, Miller said.

The 150th committee had at least 70 volunteers planning events throughout the year, said chairman S. Michael Rummel, a former Lake Forest Mayor. Events included a reenactment of the signing of the city charter at a city council meeting earlier in the year and an interactive online timeline of Lake Forest.

Rummel said he wasn’t surprised by the outpouring of support for the sesquicentennial planning.

“Lake Forest has always been a place where people are willing to come out and help, it’s a volunteer community,” Rummel said.

Funding for 150th activities has come entirely from private donations. The budget was $150,000, Rummel said.

Another part of the celebration includes a new book that will be published in September to commemorate the 150th celebration and focus on the last 50 years in the city. An earlier book about Lake Forest history was published in 1961 for the centennial celebration, Miller said.

Relatives of some of Lake Forest’s earliest residents are still proud of their heritage and keep track of their connections to the town. One is Madeline Dugan, whose maternal great grandparents Mr. and Mrs. A.B. Dick owned Westmoreland farm, which was on the lake where part of Lake Forest Hospital now sits.

Dugan said her great grandfather came to Lake Forest in the 1890s for summer vacations, but later moved to the town permanently. Dugan has been an active part of the community and taken an interest in her family’s history in Lake Forest for many years.

“It’s something that always interested both of my parents and they were proud of their longevity here in town,” Dugan said. “With so many new people in town, there aren’t that many of us with long histories anymore.”

Dugan thinks the location, proximity to Lake Michigan, and beauty of the Lake Forest is what draws and keeps residents in town, generation after generation.

Some residents are still learning about their connection to the town.

When Marion Cartwright’s family moved to Lake Forest, she knew she had a family history in the town, but was thrilled to discover the extent of her family’s involvement. Cartwright’s great grandfather was a minister at the First Presbyterian Church in the late 1800s, and president of Lake Forest College twice.

“I knew that I had some family history here, but we’ve just fallen in love with Lake Forest,” Cartwright said. “Just goes to show the heart and soul of this community and what a great place it is.”

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