News from Garfield Farm
On May 7, Saturday at 8:30 pm, Garfield Farm Museum will hold its 23rd annual Garfield Farm Museum Awards for historic and environmental preservation at the Dunham Woods Riding Club in Wayne, IL. These awards recognize individuals and groups whose efforts parallel the museum's three themes: history, farming and the environment.
The Gifford Park Association of Elgin, IL, Charles Greenhill of Lake Zurich, IL, and Dan and Tina Larsen of LaFox, IL are the 2011 winners of the Historic Preservation Awards and Barbara Reed Turner of Long Grove, IL will receive an Environmental Preservation Award.
As Garfield Farm Museum began and continues to be a grass roots supported effort, the museum founders and governing boards know how challenging it is to preserve this country’s heritage. The public as a whole does not realize how much work and personal commitment is made by individuals and groups in these efforts. The awards are intended to recognize such work and to shine a spotlight on them as role models for others to emulate in their communities. It is easy to assume someone or the government will step forward to help preserve a piece of farmland, or give their property for a nature sanctuary or rescue a piece of America's heritage from destruction but in reality more is lost than preserved for future generations. Groups or individuals who determine and recognize it is up to them or nothing will be done, this is the hallmark of the American spirit. In an era where much is focused on self interest, these individuals and organizations go against the grain, inspired for the present day and the future common good.
Individuals that step up to the challenge display a true compassion for their beliefs by doing and not just talking. Americans have a deep if not fierce attachment to the land that they own. Founded as a nation of landowners, offering opportunity to own land that monarchies in Europe disallowed, the concept of giving one's land to benefit of all is rarely done. Thankfully, the love of a piece of ground can be so great that some rare individuals will do whatever it takes to save it. The recently published 36 Acres by Tobin Fraley documents the Reed Turner family's great love for their woodlands that in 1975 they gave the land as a nature preserve in the heart of rapidly developing northwest Chicago suburbs. Their involvement did not stop there as evidenced by Barbara Reed Turner's continuing involvement with the property and its restoration as one of the region's finest restored woodlands. Although assumed by many as they drive by this natural gem to be a piece preserved by the Long Grove Park District, it would not exist without the Turner family's commitment. Barbara Reed Turner, who has experienced many decades of change, can be proud of making change that kept a special place from disappearing and is thus an appropriate recipient of a Garfield Farm Museum Environmental Preservation Award.
Something had to be done. For the Larsens of LaFox, IL and Charles Greenhill of the north Chicago suburbs, American history here on the prairies and lakes of Illinois sat threatened. In historic preservation, the elements are an unceasing threat. Water, wind, heat and cold, insects and rot make saving and maintaining the past an ongoing challenge. In what would otherwise be a watery grave, rested a wreck of American craftsmanship built to keep America free. In the heartland of the U.S., young Americans trained and risked their lives to prepare for America's greatest challenge of the 20th century, World War II. For 67 years, a F4U-1Corsair fighter plane sat on the bottom of Lake Michigan slowly deteriorating as its had crashed on a training flight. Though the cold waters of the lake helped to slow its decay, the opportunity to restore this rare survivor still was possible. Yet the greatest challenge in historic preservation is to buy time. Stabilizing a structure from further loss is often the greatest step in its long term value. Stabilized, it can be further preserved and restored as resources become available. Yet this first step is often the most daunting. When no other way could be found, it was the personal commitment of Charles Greenhill to see that this once metal bird of the air could literally rise from the foam. In 2010, because of his help, the Corsair was raised to start its journey of recovery as it will be restored at the National Naval Aviation Museum near Pensacola, Florida. In spite of crashing and sinking to the cold depths of Lake Michigan, this warbird will serve to remind all who see it of the brave Americans that made our present day possible. Mr. Greenhill's effort is worthy of a Garfield Farm Museum Historic Preservation Award.
It was a bold, brash statement of faith in the opportunity of a new land, as it sat on the slight rise of the Illinois prairie in Blackberry Township near present day Elburn, IL. By today's standards a modest, yet for 1845, substantial white frame Greek revival farm house looked southward across a wide expanse of tall prairie grasses that thrived in a rich productive black soil. For any who knew this neighborhood and to those who have an eye for the subtle that defined Illinois farm landscape for almost 150 years, this Byron Kendall farmhouse typified the prosperity of the American farm tradition. The advent of monster tractors and combines, eliminated many such small farmsteads that dotted Illinois‚ horizon every mile and have now almost all disappeared. A drive through Illinois‚ vast consolidated farmland today suggests prairies simply gave way to unpopulated vast acreages of corn and beans. With development and the return of a commuter rail to the town of Elburn, this landmark of the years was threatened. Between county planners who recognized the house's historic architecture and the anticipated mega house developments along this rail line, a deal was cut to relocate the house to a similar development in nearby LaFox, IL. Here it was to be restored and put in the new development. With the unexpected collapse of the building boom, the future of this house was put in doubt as it sat alone in an empty field up on cribs of railroad ties, boarded up, holes developing in its roof. Although LaFox and it residents were the first in Illinois to establish their hamlet as unincorporated historic district, the neighbors were duly worried as to the fate of this relict. Finally, Daniel and Tina Larsen, just a few doors down the street in their own historic home and barn, stepped forward. They would move the house to their property and restore it as a home once again. It is these single acts, where the individual steps forward that are great examples to all of us. The museum is honored to present the Larsens a Historic Preservation Award.
These three stories highlight great things that can happen when one voice speaks out and says this will be done. Imagining what combined voices could achieve when all seems improbable is the real story of the Gifford Park Association of Elgin, IL. Travel back to the 1970s. America was challenged on so many fronts. None seemed more dismal than a drive through our once prosperous industrial towns whose long established neighborhoods seemed to be as gray and overcast as clouds over shuttered factories. Elgin was home of the once famous Elgin Watch Factory. No railroad conductor would be without his trusted Elgin pocket watch to keep the trains on time. Inheriting grandfather's Elgin or giving the first college graduate of the family an Elgin watch was a most treasured memento and rite of passage. Yet by the 1970s, the factory was long gone. The houses that employees built such as classic factory worker cottages to towering Victorians of upper management ˆ all too were showing their age or being torn down. In 1979, a handful of residents in the Gifford Park neighborhood came together. They could see the beauty of the homes disguised by years of remodeling, artificial siding, of lack of attention to the handcrafted details. By promoting historic preservation as a real way to bring vitality back to their neighborhood, they have succeeded beyond their founding dreams, inspiring not just their neighborhood but other neighborhoods and the Elgin downtown to make historic preservation the rule and economic necessity of opportunity. A role model to other communities, the Gifford Park Association is long overdue for recognition with a Garfield Farm Museum Historic Preservation Award.
The evening begins with a reception and dinner at 6:45 pm. Dinner is $50 per person. Reservations are required and can be made by contacting the museum at (630) 584-8485 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Garfield Farm Museum is located 5 miles west of Geneva, IL, off of Illinois Rt. 38 on Garfield Road. Garfield Farm is a former historically intact 1840s prairie farmstead and teamster inn that is being restored by volunteers and donors as a working 1840s farm.