Bungalows, Bison, and Bears

Oh My

From Farms To Subdivisions

The Lord’s Park Neighborhood is located on the east side of Elgin about a mile east of downtown, and immediately east of the Elgin Historic District. The neighborhood is primarily single-family residential with a few commercial buildings on Chicago Street, but its most distinguishing feature is the 120-acre park. The area the encompasses this neighborhood today was all farmland and rural properties towards the end of the 19th century. However that farm character of the area was destined to change when Land owned by Lansing Brayman was sold to Jonathan Force and Eliza Vail. Force started a nursery specializing in raspberries and strawberries. He had greenhouses for flowers and vegetables, and had a number of apple and cherry trees on the property in 1865. Over the years starting in 1874 Force’s land was subdivided for development. This early subdivision of land predates the park and contains the oldest homes in the neighborhood. This area is roughly bound by the North side of Linden and both sides of Forest however the majority of the development happened in the late 1890’s after the creation of the park.

In the mid-1800s Willow creek woods was part of Dr.Joseph Teffts farm located just east of the Kane/Cook County line. Full of oak and hickory trees, with a meandering brook and rolling topography. In 1889, Messrs William Grote and A.B. Church who were active in the development of the Northeast Neighborhood of Elgin, led a group of investors to purchase the farm for development. The original concept was divided the land into 5 and 10 acre residential plots. They were dissuaded from this course of action by  Alfred Lavoie. Along with the interest of George Hunter the superintendent of the watch factory they worked on creating a park there. In less than 20 weeks they found 20 investors known as the Oakwood syndicate to contribute $1000 each to buy the land and reserve 50 acres as a park. They proceeded to create the Oakwood Park subdivision in June of 1889. It had lots around a meandering oakwood boulevard but left a large parcel of land to the west of these lots as parkland. In 1892 the park parcel was offered to the City of Elgin at cost, citizen voters, however, rejected the proposal almost 3 to one. 

The syndicate then held the land until George P. Lord visited what was then known as Oakwood Park.  He became very interested in the possibilities of a park there, almost immediately purchasing the land himself and donating it to the city. The agreement of February 22, 1893 stated that the land should always be used as a public park known as Lord’s Park; that it should be suitably improved, beautified, and maintained; and that liquor never be sold or given away there.

Parcels were added to the original 50 acres of park in 1893, 1895, and later and now today the park is 120 acres. Lord himself supervised the development of the park using ideas gathered in his Eurpoean travels. By 1899 the park had two lagoons, formed by damming Willow creek. A large pavilion was created in 1898 to replace one that had previously burned down, a zoo, an electrically lit bandstand, and a shelter house at the Forest Avenue Entrance. All of this linked by picturesque drives and walks. At the dedication of the new pavilion in 1898, Lord said:

"“Break away from the noise and tumult of the city, leave behind you the cares and perplexities of business and life and come out to this lovely and charming health resort. Drink in it’s pure air, and listen to the music of birds singing into the trees, and while in the park give loose rein to your imagination. Picture to yourselves that you are in the veritable Eden of beauty that was made for your own special pleasure and enjoyment and if you can thus enter into the spirit of the place be assured that you go out from here greatly refreshed and strengthened.”

Construction of the Zoo began in 1895 with a bear den. The first bison arrived in 1905. Eventually enclosures were built along with winter quarters for the animals. In the 1960s the caged animal enclosures were removed and pits were filled in. As a result many of the exotic animals were sent to other zoos. Today there are elk and buffalo and other domestic animals such as goats, calves, llamas, pigs, and rabbits.

George and Mary Lord had collected animal and other natural history specimens on their travels so that by 1904 they decided to commission a museum to house them. The result was the Lord Memorial Museum, completed in 1907 by architect David E. Postle . The Audubon Society took over operation as a natural history museum in 1920 and pressed for the construction of the east wing. The east wing of the building was finally built in 1999 according to original plans. [Alft, Elgin Daily Courier, April 30, 2000]

Growth of The Neighborhood

Although the earliest known houses in the neighborhood date from the 1860s-1870s. Most development did not occur until the 1880s or later. The Apostolic Christian Church as an institution of the neighborhood for years until it moved to Elgin’s West Side in 1981. Their first church was built in 1886 at the southeast corner of Lillie and Preston. A larger building was built in 1895, which was later replaced by the present building in 1930. In its early years, 95% of the congregation, which were primarily german-swiss, lived within ten blocks of the church. The current congregation occupying this church is the El Mesias United Methodist Church.  

Streetcars began running to this area in 1890 when the park was known as Oakwood Park. The street cars originated in Fountain Square downtown and ran east along Chicago Street to Liberty Street. There the tracks turned north to Forest Avenue and then east two short blocks terminating in the park. Eventually, extra cars were run on band concert nights. The shelter house at Forest Avenue was built when the park became Lord’s Park to mark the entry. By 1909 Forest Avenue had been extended east as a wider formal approach to the park. In 1925 a more grand approach to the park was constructed with building of Franklin Boulevard which also helped connect the new addition to the park which contains the land that now houses the Tennis Courts and the pool.

Architecture of The Neighborhood

The Lord’s Park area is well represented by many of the different architectural styles and vernacular and popular home types from 1860-1980s. The decades of growth were 1890s and 1920s, followed closely by the 1950s.

The Lords Park Pavilion at 100 Oakwood Avenue is an example of Classical Revival Style. A revival of interest in classical models began with Chicago’s World Columbian Exposition of 1893 and continued through 1950. The Classical Revival Style is characterized by asymmetrical facade, usually two stories high, and often with a monumental two-story portico with a triangular pediment supported by classically style columns. This style is more popularly used for commercial buildings than for residences.

The symmetrical face of the pavilion faces the juncture of two lagoons in the park. There is a long, wrap-around porch with classical columns at the second floor level of the structure. The projecting bay with front gable roof prominently marks the main entrance reached by a set of cascading steps on either side of the bay. There is a three-part window with a fanlight transom in the front gable, as well as cornice returns, and a cupola at the top. A series of small, hipped dormers punctuate the hipped roofs on each of the side wings. This building was built through the beneficence of George and Mary Lord who also bought and donated the parkland to the city. This building was designed by Elgin Architect David E. Postle

Located in the North End of the Park the Elgin Public Museum is an example of Classical Revival Architecture. It was designed by the firm Postle & Mahler. Built in 1907, the brick building is more restrained in style than the Lords Park Pavilion. It features a brick and stone front portico with a triangular pediment supported by Ionic columns. There is a stone cornice with dentils, stone quoins, and stone label hoods with keystones over the three-part windows. The roof is ceramic tile. An east wing in the 1907 plans was left off due to insufficient funds. The wing was added in 1998-1999 completing the original design intent.