John Gage and his brother George Gage, early pioneers of Lake County Illinois, arrived in Chicago in 1833 via the Erie Canal from Watertown New York. In February 1835, they moved north and claimed 1600 acres surrounding what is now called “Gages Lake” Illinois.
Decades later, John Gage (the major landowner of the Gages family) began selling parcels of his land holdings to individuals. One of the buyers was John Carne Jr. of Chicago, who purchased land on the north side of Gages Lake to open a resort in the 1890’s, which he called “North Grange Resort”. Later, he changed the name of the resort to “Gagemear”. The main building was located on the north side of what is now Lake Shore Drive, between the beach-walk west and the bend in the road, which is now called Lake Shore Drive. Gagemear, only a half day train trip away from the city of Chicago, offered city dwellers a chance to enjoy clean country air in a lovely “back woods” type setting.
As time marched on, the surrounding small villages such as Libertyville (which at one time was the county seat for both Lake and McHenry counties) began to grow and prosper. In the early 1900’s John Carne sold Gagemear Resort to Anton and Catherine Vendely of Cicero Illinois. The Vendelys closed the resort, and in 1922 they subdivided their land holdings on the north shore of Gages Lake. The Vendelys began to sell lots for the development of summer homes, and named the new subdivision “Idlewild”. The final subdivision track was presented to the County Clerk of Lake County, Lew A. Handee, and was recorded on August 18, 1922. The Vandelys deeded to the landowners of the subdivision the shoreline on the track of Gages Lake, so that no one person owned any shoreline in the subdivision.
When Idlewild was subdivided, Sears Roebuck founder Richard W. Sears owned what we now know as Wildwood. Parts of the Sears Estate are still in existence. One parcel, Rule Park, was the location of the Sears Mansion. Willow Point Beach was the site of the Sears barn. The mansion was struck by lightning in 1969 and burned to the ground. The barn burned a few years later. Willow Point Beach is located directly across from our lakefront fire lane. All that remains of the Sears mansion is the caretaker’s house, water tower, boathouse and gazebo, which can be seen from the Idlewild side of the lake. The former Wildwood Presbyterian Church gymnasium was the site of the Sears horse stable.
One of many interesting stories regarding Gages Lake history involves a house that was owned by Richard W. Sears. Mr. Sears decided to move the house across the ice of the frozen lake because no suitable safe route across land could be found. On February 18, 1916, the house (supported by beams atop heavy rollers pulled by horses) was moved across Gages Lake. This was a very slow process, and therefore it took many days. Unfortunately, halfway through the trip across the lake, a February thaw occurred causing one corner of the house to dip, which caused the house to fall off its rollers and onto the ice. The house (now unmovable) was dismantled piece by piece until all that remained was the skeletal structure including the fireplace and chimney. What remained of the house, beams, and rollers, sank into the depths of Gages Lake.
A couple of buildings on the Idlewild side of the lake that still remain from the time when Gages Lake was a summer vacation spot are the Allen Hotel (now occupied by Quality Heating and Cooling) and Mogg’s General Store and Filling Station (now occupied by Gages Lake Food and Liquor).
The Idlewild Improvement Association strives to make the subdivision a safe and fun place to live for all of our residents. The information included in “The History of Idlewild” has been handed down by previous residents to the current IIA Board. If there are inaccuracies in this essay, feel free to contact any IIA Board member so that corrections can be made.