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Friday, April 16, 2010

Grant Woods Forest Preserve

Grant Woods Forest Preserve in Lake Villa consists of over 1,118 acres of open prairies, woodlands and marshes teeming with wildlife.

The preserve was acquired by the Lake County Forest Preserves from 1976 to 1986, and an addition from 1990 to 1992. It is bordered on the north by Route 132 (Grand Avenue), on the west by Route 59, and divided by Monaville Road.

(Scarlet Paintbrush, Grant Woods - right)

In 1993, the Forest Preserve's staff forester discovered Kentucky Coffee trees growing in the preserve. This find is significant because the tree is not native to Lake County, and it is the first and only known occurrence of the tree in the wild in Lake County.

The tree's seed pods are known to be associated with Native American trade and games, and represent the likelihood that Native Americans frequented these grounds. Into the 1830s, the Pistakee lakes region was generally regarded as Potawatomi country. These Algonquin Native Americans planted corn and extensive gardens, and had villages, and burial grounds in the region.

Beginning in the 1870s, the area became popular for hunting and fishing. By 1882, when the Wisconsin Central Railroad was brought to Lake Villa by E.J. Lehmann, it spurred tourism growth, and more people began coming to the lakes from Chicago. Lake Villa Road, circa 1910, LCDM M-86.1.532

The most well known former land owners within the preserve's boundaries were the Stratton family and Otto Lehmann.

The Strattons arrived in Lake County from England in 1857. After John Stratton married Mary O’Boyle of Grant Township in 1872 they settled in the area of Lake Villa, within today's Grant Preserve. John became Lake Villa Township’s first supervisor in 1912, and his son William J. (1886-1938) followed in his footsteps.

William J. Stratton (above) went on to become the chairman of the Lake County Republican central committee in 1920, Illinois’ first director of Conservation (1925-1928), and Secretary of State (1929-1933). William's son, William G. Stratton (1914-2001), was Governor of Illinois from 1953 to 1961.

Otto Lehmann (1885-1953) was one of six children of Ernst Johann Lehmann and Augusta Handt Lehmann. Otto’s father founded the Fair Store in Chicago. Otto developed a 600-acre estate known as Chesney Farms (north of Grand Avenue), and over 100 acres are preserved within Grant Woods.

The main entrance to Chesney Farms was west of Route 59. The farm was known as a prestigious riding academy, and home to Otto’s prize Arabian horses.

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