West Lake Forest history exhibit shines light on important part of town

“West Side Stories, The History of West Lake Forest,” the current exhibit at the Lake Forest-Lake Bluff Historical Society, has got people talking.

Where, exactly, is west Lake Forest is one of the biggest topics of conversation.

“Defining west Lake Forest was the first thing we did when we were doing research on the exhibit,” Curator Laurie Stein said. “How do people in town define west Lake Forest? What is the demarcation?”

Results of a February 2014 survey of 100 residents and former residents — a definitive 58 percent — put the demarcation line at Route 41.

“That is the definition we used for the exhibit,” Stein said.

The survey uncovered other interesting results.

“People don’t think of things north of Deerpath and west of Route 41 as west Lake Forest,” she said.

Where people live makes a difference in where they put the “west” boundary line.

“People who live in east Lake Forest were more likely to put the border further east. A lot of them said west Lake Forest is anything west of Green Bay Road,” Stein said.

Likewise, people who live in west Lake Forest were more likely to put the dividing line further west, saying anything west of Waukegan Road was west Lake Forest.

The ambiguous dividing line reflects a general misunderstanding of the history of the oldest area of town.

Sharing how the “west Lake Forest narrative was part of the greater Lake Forest history narrative” is one of the reasons the Historical Society tackled the project in the first place, Stein said.

“Sometimes it gets forgotten,” Stein said of the west Lake Forest’s history. “We all think of Lake Forest being founded in the 1850s and 1860s with Lake Forest College and the Presbyterians, but 20 years before that there were pioneers in [what is now] west Lake Forest.”

The Historical Society’s goal for the current exhibit was to educate residents about west Lake Forest’s contributions to the city’s history. The exhibit includes a variety of hands-on components, a timeline, artifacts, panels on the “faces” of west Lake Forest and even aerial maps showing the progression of development.

For the first time, duplicates of some exhibit panels, which are on display at the History Museum, 361 E. Westminster Ave., Lake Forest, through December, are on display elsewhere in town.

“We realized, when planning the exhibit, that we needed it to be out in west Lake Forest,” Stein said.

The traveling panels first appeared at Northwestern Lake Forest Hospital and have since migrated to Lake Forest Place and the West Lake Forest Train Station.

Future locations are also in the works.

Stein has even taken the exhibit on the road with a talk and PowerPoint presentation at such locations as Lake Forest Place.

“We had a good turnout,” she said.

When visiting the exhibit at the History Museum, visitors congregate around hands-on elements, including a copy of the 1919 school surveys hand-written and photographed by seventh- and eighth-graders nearly 100 years ago, which is on loan from the Lake County Discovery Museum.

A timeline spanning from the signing of the 1833 Treaty of Chicago to the BMW Championship, a major international event in west Lake Forest in 2013, provides a “spine” for the exhibit, Stein said.

Artifacts on loan and from the museum’s collection complete the exhibit.

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