Lake Forest, Academy and City: A History

Finn Harrison, Senior Copy Editor

Lake Forest Academy was founded in 1857 and originally served as a boys preparatory department of what is now Lake Forest College. In 1925, LFA and Ferry Hall, the counterpart girls school, separated from the college establishment. But in 1946 the original LFA building burned down. The school bought the J. Ogden Armour house and moved locations. 

This past month Lake Forest Academy celebrated its 165th anniversary since its founding charter. The Academy shares its birth year with its namesake, the city it resides in, Lake Forest. If one were to write the history of one of these institutions without taking into account the other, they would not be painting an accurate picture. Lake Forest was founded as a Summer colony for affluent Chicagoan Presbyterians who considered the city’s prostitution and crime abhorent. They founded the Lake Forest Association, a fund to create a college, church, and academy to serve this new community. And so, in conjunction with the founding of Lake Forest itself, Lake Forest Academy was founded on the campus of Lake Forest College. 


Over the next half-century, Lake Forest became a haven for Chicago’s ‘Captains of Industry’ and their families, where recognizable names such as the Fields, the McCormicks, the Armours, the Dicks, and the Swifts had residences. As part of the North Shore, Lake Forest was already part of an affluent community, but the influx of Chicago’s newly rich led to the building of massive estates that came to litter the town. Examples included the since-demolished McCormick mansion, A. B Dick estate, and of course the J. Ogden Armour estate in which Lake Forest Academy currently resides. Madeleine B. Dugan, longtime resident, and, through her mother, a member of the prominent Lake Forest Dick family said, “My grandmother, one of the Aldriches, used to ride her pony with Lolita Armour along Deerpath Road, which, at that time, was just a dirt road. All those prominent families were close.” She went on to say that her grandparents’ family, the Dicks, and the Armours had adjacent estates. The Dicks’ property is nowproperty now being used as Lake Forest Hospital, while the Armours’ as Lake Forest Academy. Prominent families like the Armours and the Dicks ended up shaping much of what would become Lake Forest’s landscape, as the years went on former estates became schools, hospitals, housing developments, and even country clubs. 


By the 1920s, Lake Forest had become renowned as a den for old money Chicago, with its Howard Van Doren Shaw and David Adler designed Tudor style architecture,, sprawling estates, and famous country clubs. In 1925, when F. Scott Fitzgerald wrote the Great Gatsby, he based his character Daisy Buchanan off a Lake Forest socialite, Ginevra King, who would often be seen fraternizing with families such as the Armours. And this brings us to the Armour family. Jonathan Ogden Armour made his money in the meatpacking industry, notably, and perhaps notoriously, inspiring Upton Sinclair’s “The Jungle.” He built Mellody Farms as it was called for his daughter, the aforementioned Lolita Armour. It is said that even the grand stairwell in the estate was designed so Lolita could have the best wedding photographs. However, she would not see that day, as by the mid-1920s, Armour had lost much of his fortune, having to sell the estate. The house would remain vacant for sometime, it was even proposed that it be turned into a country club before it was purchased by LFA. The school has obviously taken on some additions since then. The merger with Ferry Hall led to the creation of new dorms and buildings such as the Marshall Field dorm, named after a member of the aforementioned Field family. Despite its illustrious and somewhat complicated history, one thing is for sure, Lake Forest would not be the same had it not been for its educational institution, LFA, that has literally been here since its founding, nor would LFA be the same without Lake Forest. It is after all, in the name.