Wagner Farm

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(Photo credit: Liz Chilsen)

Historic Significance

When the Wagner family first moved to Glenview on Christmas Eve 1855, the current Chicago suburb was home to 5,000 farms, dairies and orchards. By 1902, John and Catherine Wagner had purchased 100 acres of prime farmland, where they eventually built a brick house and raised an assortment of crops, chickens, cows, ducks, horses and pigs, as well as five children. Two of their daughters lived in the farmhouse their whole lives.

By the end of the 20th century, Glenview had changed immensely, transitioning from a farming community to a wealthy suburb on Chicago’s North Shore. Land values had skyrocketed since the Wagner family first built their farm, with nearby properties often selling for more than a million dollars. As developers continued to build newer, larger houses, historic homes became increasingly threatened in Glenview.

(Photo credit: Liz Chilsen)

Threat at Time of Listing - 1998

By the time the final Wagner family member passed away in 1997, the 20-acre parcel of land was one of the last working farms on Chicago’s North Shore. The heir’s will specified the land be sold to the highest bidder, regardless of whether the new owner encouraged preservation or development. Given the now sky-high property values, it seemed highly likely that the property would be subdivided for townhouses and luxury residences, destroying one of the last working dairy farms in Cook County.

However, many Glenview residents and the Glenview Park District hoped to save the site, both for its aesthetic value and for its ability to illustrate an important but quickly disappearing part of Glenview’s past. Community members organized an advocacy group, Citizens Organized for Wagner’s Farm (C.O.W.S.), to help mobilize and, working with Landmarks Illinois, included the Wagner Farm on our 1998 Most Endangered list.

(Photo credit: Liz Chilsen)

Preservation Efforts

Such advocacy helped bring attention to the historic farm and, in a referendum that same year, Glenview residents voted for the Glenview Park District to purchase the site. In 2000, the Park District officially took ownership of the farm for $7.2 million. C.O.W.S. and the Glenview Park District worked carefully to preserve the farm’s “charming rustic quality,” including saving its farm animals and ensuring authentic restoration of its farm buildings.

In 2006, the Historic Wagner Farm Heritage Center Museum opened to the public. The 18.6 acre property—still one of the last working dairy farms in the county— is open to the public for recreation and learning. “The farm provides a unique opportunity for families to learn about our farming heritage and experience first-hand ‘the way things used to be,’” the farm’s website states. In addition to the dairy cows, the historic center has chickens, draft horses and pigs, as well as a traditional 1930’s-era Grocery Store. The farmhouse and barn has also been restored, creating a Heritage Center full of interactive exhibits on early 20th century farm life. In addition to such educational programs, the farm hosts local 4H events, dances, festivals, a traditional “threshing day” celebration and other special events. By 2017, Wagner Farm had received over 1 million visitors. For its impressive and dedicated work to saving this historic and educational farm, C.O.W.S. was awarded Landmarks Illinois’ 2003 Richard H. Driehaus Foundation Preservation Award for Advocacy.

“This is the only place in the area that has the original topography,” said Todd Price, former director of the Historic Wagner Farm Heritage Center, in a 2008 article in the National Trust’s Preservation Magazine, entitled “Buying the Farm” by Arin Greenwood. “I like to walk the farm and notice the subtle roll in the terrain. It’s neat to have that here in an urban area. You can stand on top of our barn and see the Sears Tower. If you turn around, you see the cows grazing.”

(Photo credit: Liz Chilsen)

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