Friday, October 26, 2018

The St. James Forest Preserve (And the Historic Road and Railroad That Ran Through It)

CB&Q 14351, on display.
St James Farm is a 200 acre preserved farm that has been owned by the DuPage County Forest Preserve since 2007, located on the northeast corner of IL-56 (Butterfield Rd) and Winfield Rd. 

Sign facing IL-56.
According to the Forest Preserve, the property was acquired by Marion McCormick in 1920, nephew of McCormick Place namesake Cyrus McCormick. Interestingly, another McCormick, Robert, owned the nearby Cantigny Park.

Marion passed the property to his son Brooks, who bequeathed the property to the Forest Preserve upon his death in 2007.

I had been meaning to visit this place for sometime, and on a day that I simply felt like going for a walk, as opposed to tracing, photographing, and researching abandoned railroad lines, I decided to visit this place, not knowing a thing about it. 

Wanting a nice, solitary walk, I did get that from this place, and you will too. About a quarter way through the trail that loops around the land, I took out my phone's map for navigation, on which I have my Abandoned Railroad Rights-of-Way Map as a layer. I knew I was close to the Illinois Prairie Path, and thus the abandoned Chicago Aurora & Elgin right-of-way, but I didn't realize that it literally went right through the farm, and even had a couple stops, which I learned thanks to handy informational signs in the preserve. 

So much for not dealing with abandoned railroads today! I must have a sixth sense. 

"I see dead railroads!" In this case, a CA&E right of way that isn't part of the Prairie Path.
Given the vast network of abandoned lines, I suppose this is none too surprising. But the more I walked around the farm, the more history was there. And I'm not talking about the preserved barns, garages, and horse stables, which are beautiful and well maintained by an obviously caring Forest Preserve staff, but history that would otherwise go unnoticed by the vast majority of patrons, myself included.

And I'm not even talking about the railroad, as one of the main roads through the preserve was actually a very old alignment of Butterfield Rd, which is now 100 yards south, and a 4 lane divided highway.

Pictured: The historical alignment of Butterfield Rd. Also, gorgeous autumn colors.
What Butterfield Rd looks like today, for comparison's sake. It was expanded to four lanes in 2012ish.

This sign explains the former presence of the railroad, which I knew, and Butterfield Rd, which I didn't. Thank you for keeping the history of this place alive!
Walking clockwise around the preserve, I specifically avoided the buildings and stables, opting instead for the peace and tranquility of the forest. It was only on my way back that I decided I needed to photograph them!

The entrance of what I'm assuming was the house or some sort of common area. This is the first thing patrons of the preserve see upon entrance from the parking lot.

Built 1930, Restored 1985 according to the concrete on either side of the back entrance.
Stables on the back end of the property.


Looking closely, you can see some machinery still intact from the time period. I highly doubt any of it is still functional.
Backside of the other building. Stables?
As I made my way around clockwise, the first intersection in the loop allows one to turn toward the farm, Mack Road, or continue on the loop. Not sure where I wanted to go at this point, I turned left and came across the cemetery the McCormick's built for their deceased dogs and horses. 

Very sad sight, but also a lot of love here to keep their memory alive. May they rest in peace.
I decided to walk the loop, despite not really knowing how long it was. In the distance there were many trees, and probably hundreds of geese in the meadow in the foreground. 

Looking toward the farm from the Horse and Hound Cemetery.


At this point, you're maybe 30 feet higher than the surrounding area, but surrounded by trees, the feeling that you're really high up intensifies.
It was here that I realized the path led to the Illinois Prairie Path, and that I'd be blogging this today. 

This sign could just as easily read Chicago left, Aurora right.

Looking toward the farm, or West. The Prairie Path diverges from the ROW at the bend, as the farm was still privately owned when the path was built.

Looking towards Wheaton, or East.

I have one very small complaint. I think the barbed wire fence is a little excessive since this is now public land, and the fence ends where the sign is displayed, so anyone wishing to trespass would have no problem doing so. Maybe it's there for historic preservation, but it just seems wrong, in my humble opinion.

The Path circumnavigates the south end of the farm, and goes under Butterfield (IL-56) here.
From this point, I reentered the preserve and walked north to what was the old Butterfield Rd, unbeknownst to me, and where it crossed the CA&E. 

Source: USGS Historic Map Viewer, 1908 Wheaton Topo Map with a little opacity to show Butterfield now and then.

Sometimes a row of trees is just a row of trees. Other times it signifies where a rail line used to be. This is the latter.

This lake in the background was constructed after the CA&E left town, and no remnant outside of the utility lines exist of the ROW.

West of here, the CA&E went under IL-56. The Prairie Path rejoins the ROW shortly after crossing IL-56 and Winfield Rd.
A little backtracking to the rest of the farm after taking some pics of the ROW led me to find even more treasures of the place.

Looking East toward the rest of the farm.
A small and quaint foot bridge leads you over a creek.
Looking south on the bridge.
A short walk further and you come across a caboose!

I like big cabooses and I cannot lie.
The signs outside of the caboose tell the story of Gary Siding, one of the stops on the CA&E line, which happens to be a few yards from here, and how Brooks McCormick won this caboose at a WTTW auction. It was recently repainted in proper CB&Q colors.


From there, some art is on display, as well as some interesting landscape architecture.



As the philosopher Robert Plant said, "If there's a bustle in your hedgerow, don't be alarmed now."

And then I found myself near Gary siding, where the ROW intersects with the path in the farm.
Once again, the utility lines are the only clue.
Gary Siding looking West according to The Trolley Dodger


A shot of the yellow barn.
Next, I learned what an Allée is, a row of trees planted parallel to one another. There are three within the farm, according to the sign. I found two. Both were gorgeous.



From there, you're behind the buildings and thus near the end of the loop.
This is a great place to go for a walk that also keeps local history alive, and I am truly grateful that the property was able to be preserved and gifted to the Forest Preserve as opposed to being redeveloped. As always, I hope you enjoyed this blog, and thanks for reading!

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