Forest preserve District of Cook County records

Summary Information

Richard J. Daley Library Special Collections and University Archives
Forest Preserve District of Cook County, Illinois (Ill.).
Forest Preserve District of Cook County records, Collection Description
Date [inclusive]
331.25 Linear feet
The Forest Preserve District of Cook County was created in 1914 with a mandate to “protect and preserve” the forests of Cook County. By 2004, the district had acquired more than 67,000 acres of forest lands. This collection contains the records of the district and other records that are relevant for the district’s history.

Preferred Citation

Forest Preserve District of Cook County records, Special Collections and University Archives, University of Illinois at Chicago

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Administrative history

The Forest Preserve District of Cook County (FPD) was created in 1914 with a mandate to “protect and preserve” the forested lands in and around Chicago. The district quickly became known as one of the most extensive systems of wildlife reserves near a large metropolitan area. Throughout its history, the FPD has tried to balance the conflicting goals of preserving the natural beauty of the land and ensuring its accessibility. By 2011, the district has acquired nearly 68,000 acres and now entertains as many as 40 million visitors each year.

The commissioners of Cook County serve on the FPD's governing body, the Board of Forest Preserve Commissioners of Cook County. The FPD's general office handles most of the day-to-day administration of the district, and it houses the following departments, each with its own superintendent who works under the direction of the general superintendent: conservation, finance (purchasing), maintenance, planning and development, resource management, and permits and recreational activities. The district also has a legal department and a law enforcement department. The district's holdings are divided into nine roughly coherent geographic regions throughout the county.

The Creation of the Forest Preserve District of Cook County, 1901-1917:

The idea for the FPD came from the Progressive Era desire to make natural lands available to the citizenry. Reform-minded organizations, such as Chicago’s Municipal Science Club, believed that exposure to open spaces—city parks, “outer parks,” and wildlife preserves—mitigated and healed the social problems created by industrialization and urbanization. To assess the possibilities for open spaces, Chicago-area municipalities created several park commissions. The reports of these commissions, including the influential 1905 report by the Special Park Commission “On the Subject of a Metropolitan Park System,” urged the city and county to invest heavily in parks and to set aside forested land for “preserves, or designated wilderness areas,” outside the city.

To put these recommendations into effect, reformers lobbied state lawmakers to authorize the creation of a forest preserve district, which would be a special taxing body that could acquire forested land. These reformers sometimes had contradictory goals. Some, such as Dwight Heald Perkins and Jens Jensen, two noted architects who served on the Special Park Commission, envisioned a system of open spaces that the county would maintain in near pristine beauty. Others preferred a system of “outer parks” that would be more extensively developed with a wide array of amenities for the general public. An example was the Outer Belt Park Commission of Cook County, headed by Henry Foreman, one-time president of the Board of Cook County Commissioners. This commission sought the construction of a special highway—or “outer belt”—that would run through the preserves and encircle Chicago. These competing visions, along with legal and political difficulties, hindered speedy agreement on a plan for a forest preserve district, and two statutes passed by the state legislature in 1905 and 1909 fell prey to partisan infighting and constitutional challenges.

Finally, however, the Illinois General Assembly enacted a law that survived a constitutional challenge and gained the support of most major forest preserve advocates. The Forest Preserve Act of 1913 set out a two-step process by which Illinois counties might establish forest preserve districts. First, the county commissioners would refer the question of establishing a district to the voters. Second, upon voter approval, the members of the county board would assume ex officio governance of the new district, which would operate as an independent taxing body with the authority to incur bonded debt and purchase or condemn land. In 1914, Cook County Commissioners referred a forest preserve measure to its voters, who approved it by a margin of over 100,000, and in 1915, the board officially organized the Forest Preserve District of Cook County. In 1916, the statute survived a constitutional court challenge in a “friendly suit” sponsored by Perkins, People v. Rinaker.

Growing Pains and Land Acquisition, 1915-1929:

The FPD’s most aggressive period of land acquisition was during its first thirteen years. This expansion aroused controversy because the new district implemented condemnation proceedings against landowners who declined to sell to the district. Yet by 1929, the FPD had acquired about 31,000 acres and had adopted a strategic plan to develop its holdings.

When the FPD was organized, its commissioners created a “Plan Commission” charged with overseeing land acquisition. This commission had eight members, of whom four were FPD commissioners and four were private citizens. The Plan Commission determined which land the district ought to acquire and negotiated with landowners for the purchase of these lands. By 1917, the Plan Commission had acquired enough acres to enable the district to dedicate its first preserve, the Dear Grove Forest near Palatine.

In their efforts to acquire land, the Plan Commission and the FPD sometimes used condemnation proceedings that were contested by two types of litigants. The first consisted of landowners who did not wish to sell their land and challenged the FPD’s right to condemn their land. The second consisted of speculators who, the district’s lawyers alleged, bought land merely in the hopes that they might resell it to the county at elevated prices; they challenged the prices that the district offered for their land. The district suffered some setbacks. In Washburn v. Forest Preserve District of Cook County (1927), for instance, the Illinois Supreme Court curtailed the FPD’s prerogative to acquire land that was not obviously linked to a particular forest. But in general, the district won most of its condemnation proceedings and took control of the land it desired.

The 1929 Advisory Committee Report and the New Deal Era, 1929-1941:

The expansion of the 1920s made it necessary for the FPD to devise a systematic plan for developing its thousands of acres. In 1926, it did away with the Plan Commission and set up an “Advisory Committee” to study the district's challenges and offer recommendations for its future management. Its 1929 tract, “Recommended Plans for the Forest Preserves of Cook County,” set out a strategic vision that the district followed for the next forty years.

The 1929 report issued specific recommendations that its authors believed would ensure that the FPD be administered more systematically and more autonomously. Some of its specific recommendations were the construction of a highway that would link all the preserves but not go through any protected areas, the construction of amenities and recreational facilities for visitors, and a careful study of each tract of land to determine development on a case-by-case basis. Along with these suggestions, the report adopted more general recommendations: it argued that the district should be less beholden to what the Advisory Committee saw as the undue influence of politicians and private groups seeking special privileges or patronage employment. It also urged the FPD to pursue a program of massive restoration of lands that the Advisory Committee believed had been overused and damaged.

The district adopted the Advisory Committee’s report and, on the recommendation of that committee, hired Charles “Cap” Sauers as the General Superintendent of the Forest Preserve District of Cook County to implement the Advisory Committee's program. His tenure marked the beginning of a long period of administrative continuity, at least at the FPD's supervisory levels. Sauers served more than 30 years until his retirement in 1964, and his successor, longtime employee Arthur Janura, served until 1991. Other administrative employees, such as Charles “Chick” Estes, Chief Engineer, and Roberts Mann, Superintendent of Maintenance and, later, Superintendent of Conservation, served several decades as well.

The Great Depression posed challenges for the FPD. After 1931, for example, the county's tax receipts had shrunk so precipitously that the county and the district had trouble paying their bills. But the Depression also brought new opportunities. The district enjoyed an influx of state and federal funds from such federal and state bodies as the National Park Service, the Reconstruction Finance Corporation created under the auspices of President Herbert Hoover, and the Illinois Emergency Relief Commission. Above all, the programs of President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal, especially the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC), but also the Civil Works Administration, the Public Works Administration, and the Works Progress Administration, allowed the district to embark on large projects to develop the preserves. Among such projects were the construction and renovation of hiking trails, picnic and toilet facilities, swimming pools, toboggan slides, and golf courses. Most notably, perhaps, was the Civilian Conservation Corps’s work on the “Skokie Lagoons.” The goal of this massive endeavor, which involved thousands of workers and may have been the largest single CCC project of the New Deal, was to build a series of seven lagoons to re-beautify the marsh areas around the Skokie River of northern Cook County.

By the time the United States entered World War II in 1941, the federal government had dismantled most of the New Deal programs that had aided the Forest Preserve District. But the large influx of federal funds had helped the FPD pursue many of the recommendations advanced by the 1929 report of the Advisory Committee.

New Expansion, 1940s-2000s:

After the war ended in 1945, the FPD embarked on a renewed land acquisition effort. From the 1940s onward, the district lobbied Illinois lawmakers for authority to take on more land. The legislature obliged with laws that incrementally advanced the maximum number of acres the district was permitted to require from the 37,000 acres permitted in the original 1913 Forest Preserve Act, to 60,000 acres by the 1960s, and to 75,000 acres by 2000. The legislature also empowered the FPD to take on different kinds of land. The original statute, as amended in 1921, allowed the district to purchase only land that already contained a forest, immediately adjoined a forest, or linked two or more forests. Under a law enacted in 1961, the district could now acquire any land, provided that it show the land was “capable of being reforested.”

In addition to expanding its holdings, the FPD also expanded the scope of its operations. It oversaw and administered, with the help of the Chicago Horticultural Society, the Chicago Botanical Gardens in Glencoe, Illinois, that was opened to nature lovers in 1972. The district also opened "nature centers" on its property, with a mission to give young people and others a chance to experience nature. The FPD had opened the first of these, the Hal Tyrell Trailside Museum, in 1931, and opened five others after World War II. By 2002, the district operated several other amenities for its visitors. According to one study offered 190 major picnic areas, 74 miles of paved bicycle trails, 190 miles of other trails, 34 fishing lakes, 90 baseball fields, 10 golf courses, 18 sleds hills, 11 boat launches, and 8 model airplane fields.

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General Scope and Contents note

This collection contains materials generated primarily by the Forest Preserve District of Cook County. These materials document the history of the district, the people who founded it, some of its day-to-day operations, and its planning, construction, and development. It includes correspondence, memoranda, reports, financial records, legal files, construction plans and blueprints, minutes of meetings of the Board of Forest Preserve Commissioners and of advisory bodies, and photographic prints, negatives, and glass "lantern slides."

This collection also contains materials generated elsewhere. These materials are of two types. The first includes correspondence, memoranda, and reports from people who served on different park or government bodies while they worked for the district. The second includes pamphlets and reports from other park districts in Illinois, the United States, and other countries, and matters that deal with the years prior to the district's creation.

The materials in this collection come from several accessions. The precise provenance and original order of much of this collection were difficult to ascertain, but they have been maintained wherever possible. The series have been organized thematically. One group of files, Series IV, sub-series 5, "Unbound Proceedings," is located at an off-site facility and researchers must request these files at least ten (10) business days prior to their visit to the reading room.

Series I, "Administration records," pertains to the day-to-day operations of the district and includes materials that come mostly from the office of the General Superintendent. Series II, "Legal Department records," contains files, reports, and condemnation proceedings, most of which come from the legal department directly or through correspondence with the office of the general superintendent. Series III, "Records from the Departments of Maintenance and Conservation," contains materials whose provenance appears to be from the Department of Maintenance, Department of Conservation, or both. It also contains one file furnished by the "Hal Tyrell" Trailside Museum, a nature center operated under the direction of the Department of Conservation.

Series IV, "Governance records," contains the minutes and other records of the Board of Forest Preserve Commissioners, and it has other files relevant for the FPDCC's relations with other government bodies, other park districts, and citizens' groups. Series V, "Planning, Development, and Construction records," has the records of the advisory committee, of the department of engineering, and of the office of the landscape architect. It also contains records of some of the specific construction and development projects pursued under the district's authority.

Series VI, "Construction Blueprints and Other Large Blueprints," contains oversized blueprints, most of which are master plans or control plans or detailed construction projects undertaken on Forest Preserve property. A small number of these blueprints deal with other topics, including construction projects at state parks outside of Cook County and a historical map used by one of the district's founders, Dwight H. Perkins.

Series VII, "Newspaper Clippings," contains the clippings from local newspaper articles that mention the Forest Preserve District. These clippings have been digitized. Series Zero (0), contains over 10,000 photographs, negatives, glass slides, and illustrations created by early advocates of the Forest Preserve District, employees of the district, or on behalf of the district.

Links to the finding aids for each Series are located below in the Finding Aid Links note.

The materials are arranged into the following sub-series:

Series I: Administration records, 1904-1996:

Sub-series 1: General Headquarters Miscellaneous Correspondence, 1929-1967

Sub-series 2: General Headquarters Correspondence with Forest Preserve Commissioners and other County Officials, 1927-1967

Sub-series 3: Correspondence with the Public, 1928-1944

Sub-series 4: Charles Sauers Personal Correspondence, 1933-1964

Sub-series 5: Concessions, Recreation, and Special Events, 1913-1996

Sub-series 6: Employment records, 1929-1985

Sub-series 7: Financial records, 1927-1993

Sub-series 8: Reference Library, 1904-1962

Sub-series 9: University of Illinois at Chicago Campus Controversy records, 1955-1960

Sub-series 10: Public Information Office, ca. 2001-2011

Series II: Legal Department records, 1916-1991

Sub-series 1: Legal Department Files and Correspondence, 1916-1970

Sub-series 2: Accident and Incident Reports, 1930-1991

Sub-series 3: Land Acquisition records, 1921-1965

Sub-series 4: Condemnation Proceedings, 1916-1946

Series III: Records from the Departments of Maintenance and Conservation, 1904- 2010

Sub-series 1: Maintenance and Conservation Department records, 1914- ca. 1998

Sub-series 2: Roberts Mann papers, 1931-1969

Sub-series 3: Nature Bulletins, 1945-1965

Sub-series 4: Nature Centers, 2002-2010

Sub-series 5: "Historical" files, ca. 1909-1992

Sub-series 6: Other Media, 1973- ca. 1999

Series IV: Governance records, 1915-1999

Sub-series 1: General Governance files, 1927-1966

Sub-series 2: Other Parks and Other Park Organizations, 1929-1966

Sub-series 3: National Park Service records, 1934-1964

Sub-series 4: Annual Messages of the Forest Preserve District and Cook County Board President, 1921-1987

Sub-series 5: Unbound Proceedings, 1920-1964 [These are stored at an offsite facility and boxes must be ordered at least ten business days in advance]

Sub-series 6: Agendas for FPDCC Board Meetings, 1993-1996

Sub-series 7: Bound Proceedings, 1915-1999 (with gaps)

Series V: Planning, Development, and Construction records, ca. 1911-2001

Sub-series 1: General Construction and Development records, 1918-1994

Sub-series 2: Records from the Office of the Landscape Architect, 1948-2001

Sub-series 3: Advisory Committee Records from the Office of the Landscape Architect, 1923-1984

Sub-series 4: Advisory Committee records, 1929-1965

Sub-series 5: Department of Engineering records, 1940-1997

Sub-series 6: Blueprints and Bids, 1914-1967

Series VI: Construction Blueprints and Other Large Blueprints, [verify dates], [verify sub-series]

Sub-series 1: Master Plans and Control Plans, ca. 1930-1975

Sub-series 2: Flood Control Project, Skokie Lagoons, ca. 1920- ca. 1940

Sub-series 3: Miscellaneous Projects, [verify dates]

Sub-series 4: National Park Service and State of Illinois Projects, ca. 1930 – ca. 1940

Sub-series 5: Unidentified blueprints, [dates to be determined]

Series VII: Newspaper Clippings, ca. 1950 - ca. 2002

Series Zero (0): Photographs, Negatives, Glass Slides, and Illustrations, [verify dates], [verify sub-series]

Sub-series 1: Glass Lantern Slides, ca. 1900-1948

Sub-series 2: Glass Negatives, 1903-1929

Sub-series 3: Skokie Lagoons Project, ca. 1930-ca. 1940

Sub-series 4: Skokie Lagoons Project, ca. 1933-1942

Sub-series 5: Encoded Prints and Negatives, first grouping, 1920s-1970s

Sub-series 6: Encoded Prints and Negatives, second grouping, [date range to be determined]

Sub-series 7: Illinois and Michigan Canal Scrapbook, 1933-1935

Sub-series 8: Miscellaneous Photographs, Slides, and Negatives, ca. 1920 - ca. 2005

Sub-series 9: Oversized Photographs and Illustrations, [date range to be determined]

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Administrative Information

Publication Information

Richard J. Daley Library Special Collections and University Archives May 2011

801 S. Morgan Street
Chicago, Illinois, 60607

Restrictions on Access

Some items in this collection are restricted until fifty (50) years after the date of creation. These items are found in Series I, sub-series 6, "Employment records." Please consult the complete finding aid for information on specific folders in that sub-series and their status.

Restrictions on Use

Some items in this collection include CD-ROM's, computer disks, DVD's, film reels, and other audio-visual media. The library might not have the equipment for patrons to view these items. Patrons interested in seeing these items should call ahead to see whether and how they can view them.

Processing Support

Processing and encoding were made possible by a generous grant from the Gaylord and Dorothy Donnelley Foundation (

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Controlled Access Headings

Corporate Name(s)

  • Civilian Conservation Corps (U.S.).
  • Forest Preserve District of Cook County, Illinois (Ill.).
  • Forest Preserve District of Cook County, Illinois (Ill.). -- Archives

Personal Name(s)

  • Janura, Arthur Lloyd
  • Jensen, Jens, 1860-1951
  • Mann, Roberts
  • Morrill, John Barstow
  • Perkins, Dwight Heald, 1867-1941
  • Sauers, Chas. G. (Charles G)


  • County forests -- Illinois.
  • Forest reserves -- Illinois -- Cook County.
  • Natural areas.

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Finding Aid Links

Finding aids for individual series in this collection can be accessed here:

Forest Preserve District of Cook County, Series I: Administration records, 1904-1996

Forest Preserve District of Cook County, Series II: Legal Department records, 1916-1991

Forest Preserve District of Cook County, Series III: Records from the Departments of Maintenance and Conservation, 1904- 2010

Forest Preserve District of Cook County, Series IV: Governance records, 1915-1999

Forest Preserve District of Cook County, Series V: Planning, Development, and Construction records, ca. 1911-2001

Forest Preserve District of Cook County, Series VI: Construction Blueprints and Other Large Blueprints

Forest Preserve District of Cook County, Series VII: Newspaper Clippings

Forest Preserve District of Cook County, Series 0: Photographs and Illustrations

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