Farmhouse collects politician’s legacy

2017-06-18T14:00:00Z Farmhouse collects politician’s legacyBy Phyllis Coulter, Illinois Farmer Today Illinois Farmer Today

METTAWA, Ill. — The Illinois statesman who played a role in national and international politics during the Cold War loved to travel the world, but he also loved his 70-acre farm in northeast Illinois. He called it home during most of his history-making adult years.

The Adlai E. Stevenson II house in Lake County Forest Preserve was declared a national historic landmark in 2014. The property, near Libertyville, includes the stately house, stables and a large, lush lawn.

Stevenson’s farm produced hay, and he raised horses and sheep with the help of property manager Frank Holland.

“He was involved and interested in the farm,” said Katherine Hamilton-Smith, director of public affairs and development for Lake County Forest Preserves. She was active in the home’s restoration effort and the process to get it named as a historic landmark.

Stevenson, who was born in 1900, bought the 70-acre property with his wife, Ellen Borden, in 1935 and lived there until his death 30 years later.

“It’s the one property that best represents him,” said Robie Lang, National Historic Landmarks Program historian.

While Stevenson traveled the world in that 30-year period, this was home.

A photograph of Stevenson, seated at his desk, now sits on the same desk in the historic house, which is open to the public.

When Stevenson lived here, he welcomed many famous guests including Eleanor Roosevelt, author John Steinbeck and actress Lauren Bacall.

In 1960, when John F. Kennedy was deep in the Democratic primaries in his run for president, Kennedy flew to Chicago to visit Stevenson at his home to get his prestigious endorsement. Stevenson was the party leader at the time, and there was speculation Stevenson still hoped he might get the nomination himself, Lang said.

Stevenson came from a political family of note. His great grandfather, Jesse Fell, convinced Abraham Lincoln to run for president. His grandfather, Adlai Stevenson, for whom he was named, was the 23rd vice president of the United States from 1893-97 with President Grover Cleveland.

His own political career is a mix of wins and losses. Stevenson was governor of Illinois from 1949 to 1953 and ran for president in 1952 and 1956, losing both races.

In his first presidential election bid in 1952, he had not sought the nomination, but gained favor during his welcome address. He lost by a “fairly large margin” to Dwight D. Eisenhower. In his second try, in 1956, he lost to Eisenhower again.

But Stevenson was involved in establishing the United Nations, was later a UN ambassador and played a role during the 1962 Cuban Missile crisis. He was active in political issues until his death in 1965.

He was known for his wit and humor, having famously said, “If I couldn’t laugh, I couldn’t live, especially in politics.”

One of his three sons, Adlai Stevenson III, now 86, followed his political path, running for governor of Illinois unsuccessfully in 1982 and 1986. Stevenson III was elected U.S. senator from 1970-81. He created The Adlai Stevenson Center on Democracy in 2008. It is also based on the property here.

At one time, corn and soybeans were grown on the land that had a large garden, sheep and horses as well as Dalmatian dogs named after King Arthur’s court, Stocker said. The grounds have been restored as they were in 1965, without the farmland portion.

The home, which features art deco décor inside, underwent a $2 million restoration from 2000 to 2008. Inside, the house is a colorful display of buttons and election campaign materials from Stevenson’s runs for Illinois governor and his presidential bids.

The house also includes photographs of Stevenson’s World Tour in 1953, less than a decade after World War II. He wrote for “Look Magazine” about meeting many world leaders. It gave him insight for international work he would do later with the United Nations, Stocker said.

“He is a lasting figure,” Stocker said.

Copyright 2017 Illinois Farmer Today. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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