A Local History of Lake Forest

Lake Forest is a beautiful city located in Lake County, Illinois. It has a rich and fascinating history from its founding to its current status as one of Chicago’s suburbs. Many Lake Forest residents commute into Chicago for work and spend time in the city, enjoying the amenities it has to offer. Learn more about this fascinating city as we dive into the local history of Lake Forest.

city of lake forest sigh


Photo of Lake Forest welcome sign

Lake Forest Founding and Development

Initially, the area that is now known as Lake County in Illinois was inhabited by the Potawatomi Native American tribe, although its more formal commercial and residential development began in 1857.

City planners came into the area, laying out roads that would offer limited access into what is now Lake Forest in an effort to minimize incoming traffic and maintain a tranquil, peaceful atmosphere for residents.

You can still see remnants of the early desire for seclusion on the east side of Lake Forest, which remains less accessible than other parts of the city.

Potawatomi in Lake County

Potawatomi Chief Crane and Brave from legendsofamerica.com

Lake Forest is one of the most architecturally significant and scenic suburbs of Chicago. Some of the neighborhoods within the city limits include homes designed by notable architects, such as Frank Lloyd Wright, Howard Van Doren Shaw, Arthur Heun, David Adler, George Fred Keck, and Henry Ives Cobb.

In addition to the significance of the building architecture, you can also see fascinating and renowned landscapes, designed by successful architects like Jens Jensen and Frederick Law Olmsted. Some of their landscaping projects are still visible throughout the city.

frank lloyd right house in Lake Forest illinois

Palo Dobrik Photography via curbed.com

Since its founding, Lake Forest has had a culturally diverse population. Some of the African American members of the community established the African Methodist Episcopal Church in 1866, which stood at what is now the corner of Washington Road and Maplewood Road. Other early residents moved to the area in search of refuge from the bustling city of Chicago.

Geographical Information

wooden arc in forest

Image via Flickr by TaylorStudiosInc

Lake Forest sits on 17.2 square miles of land and includes 0.07 square miles of water within its limits. Portions of the city sit near the coast of Lake Michigan, offering easy access for those who enjoy spending time on the water. Some of the most notable geographical elements of Lake Forest include its virgin prairies like The Skokie River Nature Preserve, which many residents care deeply about protecting.

More than a century after the city was first developed, a group of a dozen residents formed the Lake Forest Open Lands Association, a land conservation organization that sought to purchase or protect the open spaces in the city that were rapidly disappearing due to extensive development. The organization acquired more than 700 acres of land in an effort to restore various ecosystems, offer environmental education for the children of Lake Forest, and preserve animal habitats. These acres make up six nature preserves throughout Lake Forest, which include 12 miles of walking trails.

Skokie River Nature Preserve bridge in Lake Forest

The Skokie River Nature Preserve in Lake Forest via www.lfola.org

In addition to the prairie lands, the community includes savannah, woodland, and wetlands, some of which are preserved in perpetuity. Every September, the community throws an annual “Bagpipes and Bonfire” event to celebrate the restoration of the land. In its early days, the event included controlled fires, burned to clear out some of the underbrush and protect the savannah, as well as bagpipe music to honor the Scottish residents in attendance. In the past, the event has also served as a fundraiser for the Lake Forest Open Lands Association.


Lake Forest is about 40 miles east of Chicago. Commuters can rely on the Metra commuter train to get in and out of the city. The Union Pacific/North Line of the Metra has a station in the eastern part of Lake Forest, while the residents of western Lake Forest rely on the Milwaukee District/North Line to get to and from Chicago. Many people in this suburb also have their own private vehicles to get around. Access to the I-94 highway is available to residents via the Tri-State Tollway, while the Skokie Highway (U.S. Highway 41) runs through the city near the middle of its limits.

Notable People

A number of well-known people across various industries hail from Lake Forest or called the city home at one point. In the business world, some of the most notable people include Albert Blake Dick, who licensed autographic printing patents from Thomas Edison and served as the city’s mayor; Peter W. Smith, a successful investment banker; and Marcus Lemonis, chairman and CEO of Camping World. Several actors and entertainers also come from Lake Forest, including Vince Vaughn, Robin Williams, Kristin Cavallari, and Kipleigh Brown.

Mr. T, a professional wrestler, actor, and musician, also lived in Lake Forest. In order to construct his estate, workers cut down more than 100 oak trees, which some residents refer to as the “Lake Forest Chain Saw Massacre.”

Mr. T Lake Forest home

Mr. T Lake Forest Home via chicago.curbed.com

Arts and Culture

In its early days, Lake Forest was bustling with social activities, many of which centered around country clubs. Members of these clubs would attend dinner parties and watch post-meal entertainment in the form of shows and musical presentations.

Today, the city houses a number of art galleries, museums, theater and dance performance venues, libraries, and musical venues where members of the community can support the local arts. Two of the main museums include the Lake Bluff History Museum and the History Center of Lake Forest-Lake Bluff.

Other popular pastimes among residents include exploring the natural surroundings, dining out at the various eateries located throughout the city, and enjoying the entertainment opportunities, from live theater performances to nightclubs and lounges.

So, there you have it — our local history of Lake Forest and how it came to be the thriving Chicago suburb it is today. Do you know any fun facts about Lake Forest’s history that we left off?

Let us know in the comments! And if you need assistance with business consulting, financing planning, or accounting services, the team at Pasquesi Sheppard LLC is standing by to assist. We’re local to Lake Forest residents and make it easy to get the service you need, whether you’re starting a new business, building your company, or working on your taxes.