The Prairie Club of Chicago: Raising Awareness and Enjoying DuPage County

by Brian Failing,
Community Services & Education

In 1908 a group of individuals came together to form the Prairie Club of Chicago. The organization was founded by Dwight H. Perkins, Henry Cowles, Stephen Mather and Lorado Taft. All were practitioners of some sort; whether it was sculpting, leading the national parks movement or teaching ecology, all were involved in the early movement to preserve our open lands across the local area, Illinois and the nation.

The Prairie Club of Chicago was most well-known for hosting organized hikes into the country. These hikes were created as a means to help residents of the city escape the crowded, inner-city and industrial environment of Chicago. Hikes were taken to areas deemed to depict the natural, untouched or picturesque prairie. 

With an appreciation and mind for conservation, respected landscape architect Jens Jensen became involved in this organization to raise awareness for the native countryside. The group organized the hikes in advance with scouting groups going out to each location to obtain permission from landowners to hike the land and create a travel route. Many of these hikes would travel through areas of Cook, Will and DuPage Counties.

Numerous early hikes led members through areas that would later become forest preserves. The history of the Prairie Club of Chicago has been preserved by means of photo albums and membership bulletins now housed at the Westchester Township History Museum. Some of these photos and descriptions showcase just a few of the many hikes taken through DuPage County that later became forest preserves. We hope that these images will encourage you to go and explore our preserves. 
Image © Prairie Club Archive, Westchester Township History Museum
Leaving Chicago, the Prairie Club would travel to Hinsdale where they would walk to Fullersburg Woods, which was considered an "old and picturesque village" in the early 1900s. The area included an old water power mill, known as Graue Mill, and an abundance of wildflowers and birds. This image shows the mill as well as one of the early dams located along Salt Creek in 1908.
Image © Prairie Club Archive, Westchester Township History Museum
The Prairie Club of Chicago usually made a trip to Salt Creek every month or two. The dam near the mill created a mill pond that was popular for recreation long before the forest preserve was created. Many hikers rented a boat on Salt Creek during the summer and were encouraged to bring their ice skates along during the winter. 
Image © Prairie Club Archive, Westchester Township History Museum
This photo was taken at an area known as DuPage Woods, which later became West DuPage Woods, during one of the club’s walks from Winfield to Warrenville around 1910. This walk traveled along the West Branch of the DuPage River. A map of the preserve from 1948 shows this spring, but we have yet to uncover it. 
Image © Prairie Club Archive, Westchester Township History Museum
Although the big boulder is located at the Morton Arboretum, this hike would have taken Chicago Prairie Club members through what would become Hidden Lake Forest Preserve. After stopping at this boulder — which is said to have held 17 people for a photograph — hikers crossed the DuPage River and passed through the former Arthur Cutten property on the on the eastern border of the preserve and into Downers Grove.
Image © Prairie Club Archive, Westchester Township History Museum
The Prairie Club offered a new walk in Wheaton in 1912. The walk began when the group arrived by rail to town via the Chicago, Aurora & Elgin Electric Railroad and then walked southeast to several wooded hills at Lily Lake, today known as Herrick Lake at Herrick Lake Forest Preserve. This walk provided the hikers with a good view of the country. 
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