Jean and John Greene Nature Preserve~History
The Jean and John Greene Preserve runs down to the Lake Michigan shoreline between two iconic and historically significant sites, Villa Turicum to the north and Fort Sheridan to the south. Along very different histories, both eventually became neighborhoods for many local families. Villa Turicum was built as a splendid private estate, while the fort was established as a major military base. Both had profound impacts on this ravine that has now been restored to preserve a very rare boreal micro-environment.
The Greene Preserve was once part of the 300-acre McCormick estate, Villa Turicum. Designed by prominent architect Charles Platt, the 44 room Italianate palazzo was modeled after the Villa D’Este in Tivoli, Italy and was built between 1907 and 1912 for Edith Rockefeller and her husband Harold McCormick. Situated on the high plateau overlooking Lake Michigan to the north, the grounds were covered in native oak, maple and hickory. Though the McCormicks spent millions on the property, the home and its astounding landscaping, which included formal gardens and terraces along the bluff to the lake, Mrs. McCormick was said to have spent only a few weeks in the home, yet kept it fully staffed for many years after moving to Europe. Left to decay after her death in 1932, the villa fell to the wrecking ball in 1956 and the property was eventually sold to a developer who established the current suburban neighborhood.
Tea House Pavilion*
The Tea House is the only remaining structure from the original estate. Its remnants can be glimpsed through the trees on the plain above the north slope of McCormick Ravine.
The site of what is now Fort Sheridan was established in 1670 as a French trading post situated on a trail connecting Green Bay to early Chicago. By 1870, Chicago was a rapidly growing commercial center of about 300,000 in population. Increasing labor unrest in those years led to numerous demonstrations, protests and strikes that culminated in the 1886 Haymarket Riot and precipitated the development of Fort Sheridan. The riot, in which eight people were killed, erupted from a protest that took place a day after police killed or wounded several strikers at the McCormick Reaper Works, owned by Cyrus McCormick, whose son would marry Edith Rockefeller and build Villa Turicum. Marshall Field, a prominent Chicago entrepreneur, led area businessmen concerned about spreading violence to petition the Secretary of War to set aside area land for a military installation. The Fort Sheridan area was selected and the 632-acre Fort was opened in 1888.
Fort Sheridan’s buildings represent a significant period of architectural history. Prominent Chicago architects Holabird and Roche designed the fort with the help of their friend, landscape designer, O.C. Simonds. The distinctive yellow brick is a hallmark of the compacted clay of the terminal glacial deposits in the area.
While Simonds preferred that much of the natural areas be preserved, the bluffs held deposits of sand, gravel and clay left by the glacier that were useful in the Fort’s construction. To produce the cream-colored bricks, the bluffs were stripped of clay, leaving them vulnerable to erosion.
The most prominent of the Holabird and Roche structures is the water tower, built in 1891. It remains a notable landmark today. The tower served an essential purpose as an elevated water storage tank, and, at 227 feet tall, it was taller than any structure in Chicago at that time. It became the symbol of Fort Sheridan’s military might. In 1940, the top of the tower was modified and the tower’s overall height reduced to 169 feet.
In 1982, Fort Sheridan was designated a National Historic Landmark. Fort Sheridan joins 2,540 sites across the country recognized as places that possess exceptional value and quality in illustrating or interpreting the heritage of the United States. The Fort was decommissioned in 1993.
*There is no access point to Fort Sheridan or the McCormick Tea House from the Preserve.