Ralph Waldo Emerson, Nominalist and Realist, in Essays: Second Series, 1844
724 N. Western Ave., Lake Forest, IL 60045
Many guidebooks would identify this place as “Historic Market Square”. And that would be correct. The central open green space, in addition to the pleasant surroundings, can’t help but draw the visitor to this site. Market Square has a distinctly Old World European feel that mixes architectural styles to form a unique whole.
Almost one hundred years of history can be linked to this spot. Locals see a downtown shopping area. However, when one looks beyond the obvious, there is so much more to observe. Now, step back to 1915 where this development has its foundation.
In the early 20th Century, the downtown area was populated by dilapidated buildings. With the goal of upgrading and beautifying the city’s business center, the Lake Forest Improvement Trust was created. The project was funded commercially and not by civic building. Howard Van Doren Shaw (1869 – 1926) was selected to design the space. He lived in Lake Forest on Green Bay Road in a residence named Ragdale. Later in his career, Shaw was the recipient of a gold medal presented by the American Institute of Architects (AIA). A tablet on the decorative fountain at the east end of the Square honors Shaw’s design and plan.
Shaw planned to accommodate motorized vehicles in the Square. It was to become an example for future town centers. Listed in the National Register of Historic Places, Market Square has been recognized as the first shopping center in the United States.
Building was completed in 1916. First National Bank of Lake Forest anchored the west end of the Square. In 1931 Marshall Field & Company moved into the bank’s former location. The bank had constructed a structure on Bank Lane & Deerpath and relocated their operations. In the beginning, apartments were located above the shops. The apartments have now been converted into offices as the space has evolved.
Market Square is closed on three sides, forming a horseshoe. The best view is from the eastern end looking westward. The Metra station that serves the east side of Lake Forest is on the opposite side of Western Avenue. Clever use of space allows a glimpse of the picturesque square from the train as it stops or passes. That quick look could be enough to spur a return trip to see more and possibly do some shopping. That good marketing strategy works as well today as it did in days gone by.
The view isn’t quite as striking if you enter from the west but is beautiful nonetheless. Driving in means entry from North Gate, Bank Lane or Western Avenue. Exit via South Gate, Bank Lane or Western Avenue. An expanse of green in the city center is refreshing, inviting people to gather and linger. A flagpole and the aforementioned fountain are centerpieces on the open lawn. There are eight benches to sit and relax to the gentle sounds of water in the fountain, in season. The flagpole was dedicated in 1917 honoring local men who served in World War I.
Be sure to look up at the pair of brick towers. The South Tower is capped by a copper dome, cupola and a weathervane at the apex. On three sides copper Roman numerals form clock faces and the clocks do tell time. A small balcony is located under each clock. The North Tower has a sundial on the south face in full view of the Square. This tower has a glass cupola with a copper top and its own weathervane.
This is a place where the merchants would like you to shop as you absorb the historical splendor. Two directories, complete with maps, are posted at key points as you enter on foot. A framed 2012 Directory is mounted on the wall of Lake Forest Book Store to the southeast. The other may be found on the side of the Megan Winters boutique at Forest & South Gate on the southwest.
There is a blend of chain stores and local shops. Familiar names such as bluemercury, J. Crew, Talbots and Williams-Sonoma are in Market Square. Forest Bootery sells shoes, Kiddle’s has sporting goods and The Lake Forest Shop offers ladies apparel. Use the map to branch out and locate restaurants, gift shops and service businesses just a stroll away. If you love to shop, Market Square is for you.
Anyone with an interest in architecture, city planning or landscape design would enjoy an outing in Lake Forest touring Market Square.
Arpee, Edward. Lake Forest Illinois, History and Reminiscences 1861 – 1961. Rotary Club of Lake Forest, 1963.
Dart, Susan. Market Square. Lake Forest – Lake Bluff Historical Society, 1984.
Kelsey, Susan L. and Paddock, Shirley M. Downtown Lake Forest, Then & Now. Arcadia Publishing, 2009.