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July, 2004

from the Lake Villa - Lindenhurst Review 22 July 2004
Bonner farm museum taking shape
Nestled along Sand Lake Road amongst subdivisions and a community park is a piece of Lake County history. Looking beyond the two white farmhouses that sit near the road, passers-by see large, red barns. Two concrete silos tower above the main barn, which is one of the oldest of its kind in the county.
This property, known as the Bonner Heritage Farm, was donated to the Lake County Forest Preserve by the Bonner family in 1995. It was homesteaded in 1842 by Scottish immigrants William and Margaret Bonner, who operated it as a dairy farm.
Soon, area residents will get a glimpse of Lake County's rich farming history, and the Bonner family's past, thanks to the efforts of the Forest Preserve. The now-defunct farm will reopen to the public Oct. 10 as a farming museum, featuring exhibits about the farm's history targeted to young Lake County residents.
"After several years of working on it, it's exciting to see it coming to fruition," said Project Manager Andrew Osborne.
When Howard "Shorty" Bonner, great-grandson of the farm's original owners, donated eight acres of the farm in 1995, forest preserve officials immediately started looking for ways to utilize the property.
During a master planning process, which included a citizen advisory committee, officials decided to preserve the buildings and the farm's history through family-friendly exhibits and activities.
Restoration work, including painting, began on the buildings' exteriors, including a the chicken coop, storage shed, outhouse, granary barn, hay barn and the main barn. Osborne noted that until additional funding is available, all of the buildings on the site will remain closed because the interiors have not yet been renovated.
"Right now, the buildings are just backdrops," he said. "I think they provide a romantic setting."
For the remainder of the site, forest preserve officials worked with designer Peter Exley of Architecture is Fun to develop a concept for the farm. The forest preserve also hired Michigan-based Exhibit Works to build the steel displays interspersed throughout the farm.
While there is still some work to be done, including signage and landscaping, Osborne can visualize the finished product.
"The entire property is meant to be very fun," Osborne said. "At the same time, it's very respectful of the agricultural history of Lake County."
Upon entering into the Bonner Heritage Farm site, visitors will find a map of the property and an area for children to use wooden blocks to build replicas of the buildings on the site.
The next stop will be a maze for children to walk through. The entrance to the maze will feature a sculptural portal that is being fabricated by a Chicago artist. The portal will have a tornado on top of it.
"The story is that a tornado touched down here not long after it was donated to the forest preserve," Osborne said, noting that the tornado demolished two metal buildings on the site.
The maze will feature straw bales for children to climb on and steel corn stalks to gaze at. Nearby there will be a playground area that will include a water-based activity.
"When we met with our advisory committee, one of the things that came up is getting messy," Osborne said. "We wanted to provide an opportunity for kids to be kids."
Traveling further into the site, past the main barn, which was built in 1848, visitors will find a barn-raising exhibit. The small-scale, half-built barn will allow children, with the supervision of forest preserve employees, to learn the intricacies of barn-raising. Nearby, guests can marvel at a windmill, hand-pump water and learn about the weather at a weather station. The latter, Osborne said, will be used to educate schoolchildren about weather in the future. The site also includes a half-mile heritage trail that features a number of exhibits. The first stop teaches visitors about chickens. It features steel chickens perched near large nests and eggs, each of which lists a fact about chickens.
Next on the heritage trail is an area about cows. Each of the steel cows will offer information about poetry, art and story-telling. The poetry cow, Osborne said, will feature a poem called "The Cow" by Robert Louis Stevenson. Stepping stones to each of the cows will look like cow patties, he added.
Along the trail are natural areas with benches and HI-SPY viewers, which give guests a detailed glimpse at the buildings or other items at the farm. One HI-SPY viewer provides a look at a piece of old, rusted farm equipment, which Osborne said will eventually be moved indoors for safety reasons. The equipment is original to the farm. The trail eventually winds its way back to the opposite side of the main barn.
"Anytime we can preserve a story that's representative to so many in Lake County, it's a good thing," Osborne said. "Four generations of Bonners lived here and worked here." The restoration work and exhibits were funded through $395,000 in state grants and forest preserve bond money, Osborne said.
A grand opening celebration will be held from noon to 4 p.m. on Oct. 10.
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