YCC crew restores historic landscape of Stevenson home over summer

Linda Blaser
lblaser@pioneerlocal.com | @LindaJBlaser
July 31 6 a.m.

YCC crews also:

• Planted eight oak trees at Independence Grove in Libertyville

• Replaced a fence at Bonner Heritage Farm in Lindenhurst

• Restored the prairie view at Spring Bluff Forest Preserve in Winthrop Harbor

• Maintained trails at Nippersink in Round Lake

• Planted native seeds in nursery at Rollins Savana in Grayslake

Work to restore the historic home of Adlai Stevenson II surged ahead this summer through the blood, sweat — and possibly tears — of a Youth Conservation Corps (YCC) crew.

The teenagers installed a 216-foot length of white slatted fencing, including sinking 27 8-foot-long fence posts, attaching three 1-by-14-foot slats per section and painting the entire fence white.

“It was quite a job,” YCC Manager Luke Bowman said.

The teens’ combined effort brings back an important historic element of the property, which is poised to receive a National Historic Landmark plaque at a special ceremony on Oct. 12. The house is located at 25200 N. St. Mary’s Road in Mettawa.

“We replicated the original fence in order to restore the look of the property to the way it was when (Stevenson) lived there,” said Katherine Hamilton-Smith, director of cultural resources at the Lake County Forest Preserves.

In fact, a famous photo of Stevenson sitting on the original fence graced the cover of LIFE magazine in 1965, after he died.

The YCC crew of three boys and three girls, plus crew leader and assistant crew leader, also spent several weeks clearing out invasive plants and trees that grew around a large oak Stevenson often stood beside to view the river.

“We made a lot of headway,” Bowman said of the clearing project.

Removing the fast-growing maples from around the slow-growing oak was essential to maintaining the historic tree and opening up the canopy so the oak will get the sunlight it needs.

It is the second year a YCC crew worked on clearing out the small-diameter sugar maples, buckthorn and other invasives that grew beneath the historic oak.

“This year we made it all the way to the river,” Bowman said of the clearing. “Now we’re working both directions to make the view wider.”

Work on the historic Stevenson home — particularly the fence — was one of the top priorities for the 2014 YCC summer program.

“I was willing to set the whole summer aside to get the fence right,” Bowman said.

A total of 36 teenagers from across Lake County spent eight weeks this summer working on restoration and construction projects to improve forest preserves throughout Lake County. For the past 15 years, YCC has partnered with the Lake County Forest Preserves to provide summer employment for high school students and to teach them valuable life skills.

“We’re working extra hard right now to maintain the property and have it look wonderful,” Hamilton-Smith said of the Stevenson home, which houses the Adlai Stevenson Center on Democracy.

The National Historic Landmark plaque presentation this fall will bring together a number of dignitaries, elected officials and other special guests to mark receipt of the prestigious honor.

“National Historic Landmark designation is a big deal,” Hamilton-Smith said. “This won’t happen again (in Lake County) any time soon.”

The Stevenson house is the second Lake County Forest Preserve District property to receive the designation — the first was a portion of the Fort Sheridan Historic District — and it is the first 20th-century Illinois politician’s home deemed a national landmark.

YCC crews also:

• Planted eight oak trees at Independence Grove in Libertyville

• Replaced a fence at Bonner Heritage Farm in Lindenhurst

• Restored the prairie view at Spring Bluff Forest Preserve in Winthrop Harbor

• Maintained trails at Nippersink in Round Lake

• Planted native seeds in nursery at Rollins Savana in Grayslake

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