Much of the land that is now considered significant to the city of Lake Forest at one time belonged to members of one family – the Swanton's.
Robert Swanton, and his wife Mary Ann Cole Swanton, arrived in Lake Forest in 1837, approximately 24 years before the city’s actual founding.
They owned a farmhouse located at 171 Laurel Avenue, and farmed land that stretched along Green Bay Road from Deerpath Road to Laurel Avenue, and possibly even further.
“My understanding is that we farmed the land west of Green Bay Road, west of the Skokie Ditch, north from Deerpath to approximately the Lake Bluff village limits,” said Frank “Pony” Swanton, great, great grandson of Richard and Mary.
Their son James was just 9 years old when he moved to Lake Forest with his parents. Back in those days, the city consisted mainly of wild grasses and trees.
As the years passed, and Lake Forest progressed, six generations of Swanton family members have dedicated much of their lives providing various services to the city’s residents.
A Civil War Solder
For James Swanton, it was service to his country. In the 1850’s, Swanton served as a Union soldier during the Civil War.
His mission was in reconnaissance, and according to the, this is where his earlier years of living in the area’s forests paid off. He was able to seamlessly maneuver himself through the trees to locate members of the Confederate Army, and to clear ambushes.
Swanton Land Becomes Lake Forest Land
When the war was over, James returned to homesteading in Lake Forest. In 1856, four years after the city’s founding, he decided to sell a portion of his land to the Lake Forest Foundation for the city’s formation.
In addition, his brother Richard sold his acreage on Green Bay Road to Howard Van Doren Shaw.
A Lake Forest Family Grows
In 1867, James Swanton married Catherine Miller Swanton, and the couple had 14 children; Kattie, Elsie, Harriett, James, Lillian, Susan, Francis, Thomas, Reuben, Lee, Annie, Ellen, Martha, and Myrtle. The birth order is not known.
They continued to live in the family’s farmhouse on 171 Laurel, and had an orchard on their property. An essay in the voice of James was written in 2002, when the Swanton family was awarded the Lake Forest-Lake Bluff Historical Society’s Centennial Award.
“One thing I was thankful for was my father’s farm at 171 Laurel I was,” the essay read. “I lived on it for seventy years, from the time we arrived here until I died.”
Generations of Service to the Community
James’ son Francis “Frank” and his wife Dora lived in a home on Westminster and Oakwood, and ran a landscaping business and sold grass seed.
He lent his professional expertise in the building of one of Lake Forest’s most historical locations – Market Square, when he assisted in the planting of its original landscape in 1917.
Frank’s brother Reuben worked at Anderson’s General Store, which was once located at Deerpath Road and Western Avenue.
His son Milton “Milt” also spent time his entire life in Lake Forest, and he and his wife Eleanor raised their children, Don and Virginia, in the community.
He was an active volunteer in the scouting program while his children were young. In their later years, Milt and Eleanor remained active as seniors in the community, with Milt even serving as vice president of the Lake County Council for Seniors in the 1980s.
Their daughter, Virginia Swanton, lived out all of her days in the city as well, passing away in 2007.
Francis’ son Roy served as the manager of Onwentsia Club, and throughout the generations, the Swanton family gradually earned a reputation for being kind and generous to all members of their community.
Former resident Christine Pernecke, of Madison, Wis., recalls the kindness that was shown to her during the many days she spent in the Lake Forest home of Roy Swanton.
“He was an uncommonly kind and good man who extended kindness to people in ways that were important,” she said. “He represented what it meant to be a good member of the community.”
Roy and wife Dora’s son Pony has also spent his entire life in the Lake Forest and Lake Bluff area. Born in the early 1940’s, he has also dedicated much of his time to various organizations through the years.
“Having a deeply rooted family history brings a sense of belonging and ownership,” Pony explained of the contributions his family members have made to Lake Forest. “It is also a sense of gratitude and appreciation for my ancestors’ hard work, and a desire to give back to the community.”
The Generations Continue
In 1979, Pony and his wife Kathleen “Gridely” purchased the popular Robertson’s Men’s Store, which was located on Deerpath Road in the same building as the recently closed Blockbuster Video.
“As local business owners we developed an attachment to our customers, our community and our fellow citizens,” Pony explained. “We appreciated our good fortune, fun and friendships and never had a thought of moving elsewhere.”
In 1982, the sixth Lake Forest generation of Swantons was born to their family, when Pony and Gridley had their son Padraic.
They enjoyed a successful 14-year run at Robertson’s, but decided to close the store for good in 1993. That did not keep the couple, who live in Lake Bluff, from remaining important figures in the community.
Pony has served as both the village cerk and as a trustee for the , is a volunteer at Lake Bluff’s , and is a member of the American Legion.
His wife Gridley has served on the board for the Chamber of Commerce, as a volunteer at , and also at the Vliet Center.
Their son Padraic, now in his 20s, has begun his own service by serving as a member of the Lake Bluff Fourth of July Committee.
And it is quite possible that the seventh Lake Forest generation of Swanton’s may not be too far off, since Padraic Swanton is engaged to be married this August.
“It’s hard to foresee the future,” said Pony, “but Padraic sees the advantages of growing up here, and presumably would like to raise a family here.”