It’s been over a month since I’ve published a post. I’d like to say it’s because I’ve been gallivanting around the world to places with limited internet capabilities and soaking up life lessons while appreciating the small and seemingly insignificant moments that collectively define a life. But that’s not the case. Nonetheless, we’re doing okay – busy with work, extra-curricular activities, and knee-deep in the adventure of hybrid learning. But the effects of the pandemic are noticeable and life is far from normal. In hopes to gain some clarity and fresh air, I carved out some time in my work schedule and spent about a little over an hour walking around Fort Sheridan this morning. And while marveling at the vibrant colors, I couldn’t help but think that Oscar Wilde was right – all at once, summer somehow collapsed into fall.
Not many in the Army are familiar with Fort Sheridan and we were met with many blank stares when people asked where we were PCSing. The main post closed in 1993 and the majority of the land was sold to commercial land developers, with the government only keeping 90 acres – which is now home to the Sheridan Reserve Center and a collection of military housing maintained by Naval Station Great Lakes. It does feel like one of the Army’s best kept secrets – the ability to live on Lake Michigan surrounded by a walkable community with fantastic restaurants and bars? Heck yes!
My walk started at our house – I was standing on the walkway to our front door when I snapped this picture. Having trail access and the ability to hike/walk without needing to drive is very important to us so we were thrilled to discover that miles of both walking and biking trails are accessible from Fort Sheridan. The pandemic has only solidified the idea that having such access is imperative to our quality of life. As you can see, our house is not on the water but pretty darn close. Again – this Army family will take what we can get in regards to living on water!
About a half-mile walk from our house is access to the Openlands Lakeshore Preserve. Committed to connecting people to nature where they live, Openlands acquired the unprotected acres of ravines, bluffs, and lakeshore on the south end of post in the years following the closure of Fort Sheridan, eventually opening the Openlands Lakeshore Preserve in 2011.
There are multiple ways to get to the Town of Fort Sheridan (yup – the Army sold one of their most beautiful installations to commercial developers, who turned it into an award wining gorgeous neighborhood that maintains and celebrates its history – more on that later) but the path through the Openlands Lakeshore Preserve is by far the prettiest.
Fort Sheridan is about 8 miles south of Naval Station Great Lakes, which means this stretch of Lake Michigan has a rich military history. The Navy chose Lake Michigan as an aircraft training site during World War II because the inland lake was protected from an Axis attack. In fact, more than 100 fighter plans crashed and sank to the bottom of Lake Michigan between 1942 and 1944. And today, Naval Station Great Lakes is home to the Navy’s boot camp and is the largest training installation in the Navy.
But back to Fort Sheridan. Established in 1887 as Camp Highwood a result of the Haymarket Riot – Fort Sheridan has questionable beginnings. Renamed Fort Sheridan in 1888 after General of the Army Philip H. Sheridan upon his death, the post allowed the US Army to act as regional police race to subdue worker uprisings in Chicago, such as when President Grover Cleveland ordered troops from Fort Sheridan to ‘restore peace and order’ in Chicago’s Union Stock Yards.
During the Spanish American War, Fort Sheridan became known as a cavalry post but in the years leading up to World War I, General Leonard Wood increased levels of reserve training and Fort Sheridan served as the United States’ first Reserve Officers Training Center (ROTC). During World War II, Fort Sheridan was one of four Recruit Reception Centers in the United States and headquarters for prisoner of war camps in Illinois, Michigan and Wisconsin, with many incarcerated on post.
During the Korean War and the Vietnam War, Fort Sheridan was a reception and processing center for the military. It also served as the logistical support for Nike-Hercules missile sites throughout the United States. Fort Sheridan was among the first Army posts to be closed during the initial round of military base closures in 1990 but served as a training site during Desert Shield and Desert Storm until the official closure in 1993.
Upon Fort Sheridan’s closing, the majority of the installation was sold to commercial land developers, who thankfully refurbished the original residences and resold them. As a result, Fort Sheridan is home to some of the most beautiful houses in the area. The actual neighborhood is a mix of refurbished military housing and new(er) homes built after the military sold the land. When walking around Fort Sheridan, Clay and I lament how we’d be living in one original military homes situated in the area designated as a National Historic Landmark if only the Army hadn’t let it go. Typical Army, right? Our new housing is fine but we’re suckers for historic homes.
Designed after St. Mark’s Campanile in Venice, Italy, the Fort Sheridan water tower is part of the original barracks complex that have since been converted into townhomes. It was one of the tallest buildings in Illinois upon its completion in 1891 and is considered the most well-known landmark of Fort Sheridan.
This iron gate served as the main entrance to Fort Sheridan from the 1930s to the 1990s.
The Openlands Lakeshore Preserve has multiple entrance points throughout Fort Sheridan. Openlands believes that art helps connect people to nature and as a result, there are murals and sculptures throughout the landscape.
One of my favorites.
It is a little over a mile walk back to our house from the famed Fort Sheridan water tower. Lucky for us, the majority of the walk is along the sparkling turquoise water of Lake Michigan. I walked a little over 5 miles this morning. I was able to experience the solitude I craved and allow myself to bathe in crisp air. The following Henry David Thoreau quote came to me throughout my walk in the explosion of colors:
“As a single footstep will not make a path on the earth, so a single thought will not make a pathway in the mind. To make a deep physical path, we walk again and again. To make a deep mental path, we must think over and over the kind of thoughts we wish to dominate our lives.”
Everything is going to be okay.