The Edward L. Ryerson Conservation Area (Ryerson Woods) is unique in the country - nationally recognized for its ecological, historical and architectural significance. Located on the east bank of the Des Plaines River, the area has long served as a natural corridor for travel by land and water. Major Native American trails forded the river at the present site of Ryerson Woods.
Settlement of the area began in 1834 when the Potawatomi Chief Mettawa helped Captain Daniel Wright, Lake County Illinois' first European land owner, build a pioneer cabin just west of Ryerson Woods. Early residents subdivided the heavily wooded land into 5 to 20-acre woodlots to ensure a supply of lumber for fuel, fence posts and lumber. Cattle grazed the area and removed the understory shrubs, creating a park-like setting.
Starting in the 1920's Edward L. Ryerson and several of his friends built log cabins in the woods to use for weekend getaways; several of the cabins still remain. In 1938, Ryerson purchased 250 acres of adjacent farmland where he became a gentleman farmer, raising Arabian horses. The farmland is now being restored to prairie.
By 1942, he had built their Greek Revival summerhouse at "Brushwood Farm" which is now used by the staff of the Friends of Ryerson Woods.
In the 1960's, Ryerson and his friends began, under Ryerson's leadership, to donate and sell their land to the Lake County Illinois Forest Preserve District.
In 1972, 279 acres of the Ryerson Conservation Area were dedicated as an Illinois Nature Preserve, owned and managed by the Lake County Forest Preserve District, recognizing the unique unspoiled natural woodland areas.
Today the district owns and manages the 561 acres of property to preserve the natural and cultural history of the area, as well as to provide environmental education and recreational opportunities.
The Ryerson Conservation Area possesses one of the finest deciduous hardwood forests in the Chicago Region. The forest consists of four distinct types: a wet flood plain forest of ash, silver maple and hackberry along the Des Plaines River; a mesic sugar maple forest on the better-drained terrace soils; a dry-mesic upland forest of oaks and hickories; and a wet upland flatwoods forest containing swamp white oak and wet meadows. The most dominant feature of the nature preserve is the Des Plaines River and its floodplain.
The relative spacious and undisturbed woodland provides an excellent habitat for wildlife. Deer, raccoons, opossums and woodchucks can often be seen; foxes, skunks, beaver and muskrats also make the woods their home; coyotes are returning to the area. Birds of all kinds, including bluebirds and several species of hawk, make Ryerson Woods a wonderful place for bird watching, especially in the spring when the warblers are migrating through. Spiders, reptiles, amphibians, insects and many unseen creatures can also be found in the ecosystem.
The Lake County Discovery Museum maintains a Ryerson Woods archive of materials and records. These items are part of the Museum's collection and may be viewed by appointment only. Please contact Diana Dretske, Collections Coordinator at 847.968.3381 if you would like to research the collection.
The Lake County Discovery Museum
27277 Forest Preserve Road
Wauconda, IL 6008
Friends of Ryerson Woods 21850 N.
Riverwoods Rd., Deerfield 847.968.3343|
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