Robert L. McKee
1936 photo of the Forest Preserve of DuPage County Headquarters and Superintendant's Residence (courtesy Lance McKee, grandson of Robert and Ada)
Robert L McKee
In 1934, Robert McKee became first superintendent of the Forest Preserve District of DuPage County during the difficult years of the Great Depression. At that time the District included only three small, bare-ground properties that sat behind locked gates at York, Bloomingdale and Herrick Lake. Only two years earlier, McKee had been hired as a caretaker, for $15 a week, to look after the York preserve. However, he was soon promoted to Chief Forester and then Superintendent when his early experience as a US Government surveyor, and later as a tree surgeon for Davey Tree Company, proved him to be a valuable asset in developing the preserves. Over time he persuaded the County Board to begin a plan to purchase wooded tracts that became available in different parts of the county. Using the labor of relief workers from the CCC camps at MacDowell Grove and Fullersburg Woods, he reforested hundreds of acres of old farm land, cleared trails, dug wells and built picnic shelters. Often the laborers worked for a meal, typically home-made soup made by Robert's wife Ada, who also acted as unpaid secretary for Forest Preserve business.
McKee was a dedicated conservationist, fighting local water pollution and the onslaught of Dutch Elm disease. He believed that wild places should be preserved and yet remain accessible to the public. An active volunteer and supporter for the Boy Scouts, he encouraged their explorations and activities within the preserves. He also believed in the preservation of historic sites and was instrumental in saving and restoring historic Graue Mill (c.1852) at Fullersburg Woods.
Robert McKee retired in 1962 and died in 1967.
In this 2006 video, Russell McKee, son of Robert and Ada, talked about his childhood memories of the 1936 construction of the buildings.
1936 - The construction of Forest Preserve Headquarters
The compound of 3 hand-hewn limestone buildings on St Charles Road at Churchill Woods Forest Preserve served as both headquarters and superintendents' residence until 1994. The main two-story Colonial Revival structure is flanked by two wings - to the west, a Forest Preserve meeting room and to the east, a three car garage. A basement level housed offices and includes a river stone fireplace. An adjoining Administration building was known as "the workshop" to the McKee family and also housed office space and guard's quarters. A small well house sits between the two buildings.
The main structure was designed by Oak Park architect Harold Kohlman. It was fully funded by the Works Progress Administration (WPA) and much of the labor was provided by workers from the Civil Conservation Corps (CCC) camp at MacDowell Grove. The stone was quarried from the Salt Creek riverbed after coffer dams were built to redirect the water. The large slabs of rock were hauled up the banks on horse-drawn wagons and then were transported to Churchill Woods where they were chiseled into bricks at the site.
Robert L McKee in 1955 at Graue Mill (photo courtesy Lance McKee)
Robert and Ada McKee on their 25th wedding anniversary (photo courtesy Lance McKee)