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Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Do you know this place?

If you love to eat out and are always looking for nice places to wine and dine, I would suspect that you would recognize this familiar North Shore structure. This is the water tower and surrounding barracks at Fort Sheridan just south of Lake Forest in Highwood/Highland Park.

When I was growing up on the North Shore, all the communities, with the exceptions of Skokie and Highwood, were "dry" (including Evanston!). As a result, lots of liquor stores --- and other interesting types of businesses that might spring up near a military outpost -- were in Highwood. But also, wonderful restaurants were available for great dining - which continues on today.
Designed by the Chicago architecture firm of Holabird & Roche, Fort Sheridan occupied over 600 acres along Lake Michigan from 1887 to 1993. The land had been purchased in 1887 by the Commercial Club of Chicago and donated to the federal government with the hope that the army would use the gift to create a military post near the city. The purchase was motivated by the Haymarket Riot in 1886, when members of the Commercial Club had supported the use of the army as a national police force for the protection of property and the suppression of labor unrest. Apparently there was some fear that unrest might move out of the city and be directed toward the personal property of the city's business leaders.
The plan was supported by Civil War hero and commanding general, Philip H. Sheridan. After Congress accepted the gift, construction began in the spring of 1888. Eventually the fort was named after this general.

Troops from Fort Sheridan responded only once to labor unrest, in 1894 during the Pullman
strikes. In 1898, during the Spanish American War, Fort Sheridan became a mobilization, training, and administrative center and continued to house these functions through World War II, when over 500,000 men and women were processed through military service at the fort. From 1953 to the 1970s, Fort Sheridan serviced and supplied all NIKE antimissile systems in the upper Midwest. After 1973 the post again housed administrative and logistical support services. In 1988 Fort Sheridan was among those slated for closure by the Base Realignment and Closure Commission and in 1993 the army post was closed.After Fort Sheridan was slated for closure, residents of the area formed the Fort Sheridan Joint Planning Commission and developed a reuse plan with public participation. Ninety-four buildings, including 64 designed by Holabird & Roche, are situated on the 110-acre Historic District, designated a National Historic Landmark in 1984. An Army Reserve base continues to use about 90 acres.
Coming out of the plan was The Town of Fort Sheridan. It is the first new residential community on the North Shore in 100 years. While it is situated in Highland Park and Highwood, it is a town unto itself with architecture and amenities that are not found elsewhere. Fort Sheridan is a blend of new homes as well as restored historic structures. For example, the barracks are these fabulous one of a kind condos. The officers' quarters have become terrific single family homes near the lake. Fort Sheridan has its own train stop for traveling into the city.

One time I was showing homes to someone, who was relocating from out of area. As we drove through Fort Sheridan, he shared with me a story. Apparently his father had been in the military. At one point, during his career he had been stationed at Fort Sheridan. His father loved the assignment so much, that when a career advancement opportunity presented itself, he turned it down, because he didn't want to leave Fort Sheridan.
It really is a stunning site for a military base with a bluffs and ravines and 3/4 miles of shoreline -- untouched by development. Today it is owned and managed by the Lake County Forest Preserve. The beach is accessible to the public via a paved path from the public parking area at the forest preserve. If you come, meander down to the beach -- there are fabulous walking paths.


Fort Sheridan is part of the fabric of the North Shore. With the advent of this residential community, Highwood has become a terrific town with some wonderful stores and shops. If you haven't yet, come visit this interesting historic spot on the North Shore.

Sources: Wikipedia, Encyclopedia of Chicago, Fort Sheridan

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