A historical landmark: 12 facts about Adlai Stevenson's home in Mettawa
Known as "the man from Libertyville," Adlai E. Stevenson II (1900-65) was an influential political figure in the United States and abroad.
He served as governor of Illinois (1949-53), ran twice for the presidency (1952 and 1956), and served as United States Ambassador to the United Nations (1961-65).
Today, Stevenson's home, tucked between St. Mary's Road and the Des Plaines River in Mettawa, is a designated Illinois Historical Site and listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The home, designed by Chicago architects Perkins, Wheeler and Will, is part of the Captain Daniel Wright Woods Forest Preserve. There are many fascinating facts about the house. Here are a few:
• Stevenson and his wife, Ellen Borden, purchased 70 acres of land off the Des Plaines River in what was then considered Libertyville in 1935. Mettawa was incorporated in 1960. He affectionately referred to his home as "the farm" and joked about calling it "Belly Acres."
• The first house they built was covered in steel vertical panels, known as "fireproof" construction. It burned down soon after it was built. Many of the family's belongings and antiques were lost in the fire. The house standing today is the second house, built on the site in 1938. Like the first house, it was originally painted yellow, which was Borden's favorite color.
• The house is a characteristic mix of modern and Art Deco style due to the simplicity of its design and use of geometric shapes, symmetry and features that are either stepped or curved. Art Deco was a popular international design movement during the 1920s and 1930s. The many large windows, porches and decks featured throughout the home provide beautiful views of the expansive property.
• The home has four fireplaces.
• The most important room is the study. When he was at home, Stevenson spent the majority of his time at his desk in this room, writing speeches and books and meeting with dignitaries. The desk was originally a laundry table.
• Many influential figures of the day walked the grounds of this home for events or meetings with Stevenson, including then Senator John F. Kennedy, close friend Eleanor Roosevelt, journalist Edward R. Murrow, and actors Alfred Lunt and Lynn Fontanne.
• The home is a National Historic Landmark. It is one of two in Lake County, with the other being Fort Sheridan.
• Stevenson's Rolodex sits on his office desk. It contains names of people including Jacqueline Kennedy, Bill Blair, John Steinbeck, Harry Truman and Lauren Bacall, listed as Betty Bacall.
• A second building on the property is the service building, built in 1937 by the firm of Anderson and Ticknor of Lake Forest. This building housed the garage, horse stalls, and the apartment of the caretaker, Frank Holland, and his family. Holland was farm manager and caretaker for the Stevensons from 1937 to 1963, and again from 1965 to 1970. The horse stalls are heated.
• In 1969, most of the property was sold to Edison Dick, a longtime friend of Stevenson. In 1974, Jane and Edison Dick donated the estate to the Lake County Forest Preserves, which has since worked to restore and preserve the site, and educate the public on its history.
• Interpretive signs placed along self-guided trails provide historical information about the site. The peaceful setting allows visitors to experience the historic landscape similar to how it appeared when Stevenson lived here. Self-guided trails around the property are open 6:30 a.m. to sunset daily.
• The home is open to the public for guided tours. The adjacent service building features exhibits about Stevenson's life and career and is open for public viewing from April through October. Learn more at LCFPD.org/Stevenson.
• Kim Mikus is a communications specialist for the Lake County Forest Preserves. She writes a bimonthly column about various aspects of the preserves. Contact her with ideas or questions at kmikuscroke@LCFPD.org. Connect with the Lake County Forest Preserves on social media @LCFPD.