From Pastures to Commerce Shopping Malls and Subdivisions Shape the Landscape of Vernon Hills

Article excerpt

Byline: Mark Spencer Daily Herald Staff Writer

Editor's note: With the end of the century nearing, the Daily Herald is looking back on history of many area communities. Today, we reflect on Vernon Hills and the area that eventually became the village.

The bustling retail destination of Vernon Hills was nothing more than a collection of farms south of Libertyville when the 20th century arrived.

Route 59A (now Route 60) and Milwaukee Avenue - among the busiest intersections in Lake County today - were two-lane roads. Travelers on Route 59A had to stop for cars, horses or even cattle, on Milwaukee Avenue.

But the dairy farms that dominated the landscape gave way to shopping malls and residential subdivisions, beginning with the first bit of suburban development in the 1950s and later with the construction of Hawthorn Center mall in the 1970s.

Just 40 years ago the new-found village of Vernon Hills had barely 100 residents. Today population estimates top 20,000.

Surrounding towns like Libertyville and Mundelein may claim to be more established than their upstart neighbor, but Vernon Hills has a rich - albeit later-blooming - history of its own.


Chicagoans buy land

Wealthy Chicagoans began to buy farms south of Libertyville as passenger train travel to the city opened up. Samuel Insull, utility magnate and founder of Commonwealth Edison, was among the first gentlemen farmers to purchase property.

Insull's family lived in a large, white, wood-frame farmhouse that once stood on the west side of Milwaukee Avenue, north of what was then Route 59A, and is now Route 60.


Insull mansion built

Construction of Insull's Venetian-style mansion began in 1914 just southwest of the farmhouse where the family lived. The house, with its gardens designed by Jens Jensen, was completed in 1916.


Hawthorn School

Hawthorn School opened in 1926 with about 60 students as the consolidation of the old Coon and Butterfield schools and the original one-room Hawthorn Farm School, which had educated the children of area farm workers at its location on Butterfield Road.

Insull opened the school at his Hawthorn Farm, which is believed to have been named for the imported Hawthorn trees he planted from his native England.


Cuneo presence

Amid the Great Depression, Insull's $100 million utility empire collapsed in 1932 and he fled to Europe in advance of an embezzlement indictment. John F. Cuneo Sr., the son of a wealthy real estate developer and a successful publisher in his own right, purchased the home in 1937.


A farm for city folks

The U.S. Navy acquired 184 acres a quarter-mile west of Milwaukee Avenue in October 1945 and opened the Libertyville Training site. Toward the end of World War II, naval aviators used the base to train for takeoffs and landings before trying their first aircraft carrier landings on Lake Michigan.

- Starting with needy children touring the farm in 1948, John Cuneo Sr.'s Hawthorn Mellody Farm began turning into a local tourist attraction.

The following year, Cuneo opened his milking parlor, seen as the state-of-the-art in sanitary dairy production. Chicago Mayor Martin Kennelly attended the grand opening.

Hundreds of thousands of local children and their parents visited the farm in the years to come. For some, the farm on the west side of Milwaukee Avenue was the first time they ever saw where the milk delivered to their home came from.

Seeing a good promotion for the Hawthorn Mellody dairy, Cuneo expanded the farm into an amusement park over the next few years. Eventually it included a zoo, a frontier town with a miniature train ride and a sports museum called the "Club of Champs."


A village is born

The Lake County Board approved a zoning change Jan. …