In the mid-1850s, the elders of the 1st and 2nd Presbyterian Churches of Chicago decided to establish an institution of higher learning north of the city. They envisioned a co-educational university, which would include a boys’ preparatory department and a girls’ seminary department. During a scouting visit to find a location, they discussed a name for their site; one pastor suggested “Lake” for Lake Michigan and “Forest” for the woods, and thus the name Lake Forest came to be.
In 1856, Sylvester Lind of Chicago pledged $100,000 in matching funds to the project, and so Lind University was chartered on February 13, 1857. Lind lost his wealth in the Panic of 1857, and was unable to fulfill his financial promise. As a result, the school was renamed Lake Forest University in 1865 (and later changed to Lake Forest College).
The boys’ preparatory department, Lake Forest Academy, opened in the fall of 1858, and was the first school of any kind to open in Lake Forest. The collegiate department opened next in 1861, but as a result of the Civil War, it closed in 1863 and would not reopen until 1876. Both Lake Forest Academy and Lake Forest College maintain the tradition of tracing their founding to February 13, 1857, the date of the establishment of Lind University.
While a girls’ seminary department was also chartered as part of Lind University in 1857, the Young Ladies’ Seminary at Ferry Hall did not open until 1869. On August 2, 1869, the Lake Forest University Board of Trustees announced that: “…the Seminary for Young Ladies, included in the provisions of their charter, will be opening for the reception of pupils on Wednesday, Sept. 22d, 1869." In contrast to LFA, Ferry Hall maintained the tradition of tracing the school’s founding to the opening year of 1869 for anniversary celebrations. Today at LFA, “Ferry Hall Day” is celebrated annually on September 22nd.
In its first year, the Academy enrolled five students and one instructor, Professor Samuel F. Miller. Three years before his role as the first Headmaster at LFA, Miller had been an engineer involved in the building of the North-Western Railroad from Chicago to Milwaukee.
Classes were held in Clark’s Hotel (the first public building in Lake Forest) until the Academy Building was ready in 1859. Designed by architects Carter and Drake, and built at a cost of $4000, the Academy Building included a chapel in which the 1st Presbyterian Church of Lake Forest was organized.
From the beginning, the Young Ladies’ Seminary at Ferry Hall took immense pride in its campus and location. The school residents enjoyed comfortable amenities such as gas lighting and steam heat.
The first principal, Edward P. Weston, had previously served as Superintendent of Public Schools of Maine and as Principal of the Maine Female Seminary. In an era when girls typically did not study science, the school provided scientific laboratory tools as well as a “cabinet of minerals” for student use. There were courses in math, sciences, modern languages, philosophy, history, morals, Latin, and government. June 28, 1871, marked the first commencement ceremony, with four students graduating. In 1887, the school faculty voted to drop the name “Young Ladies’ Seminary” and the school became known simply as Ferry Hall.
- Early 1900s
- Moving to the Present Campus: A New Era for LFA
- 1950s and 1960s
- The Merger of LFA and Ferry Hall
During the early 1900s, life at LFA was closely entwined with Lake Forest itself. In 1906, Headmaster William Mather Lewis married Lake Forest socialite Ruth Durand, and the couple enjoyed tremendous local popularity.
At Ferry Hall, Principal Sabra Sargent took the helm from 1894-1904, immersing the young women in Progressive Era issues of the day. The students became active in the Missionary Society and YWCA, and reformers such as Jane Addams and Jacob Riis came to speak at Ferry Hall.
Principal Eloise Tremain arrived in 1918 and remained until 1945, making the school a financially strong and academically solid institution. She also set a tone of utmost propriety, placing a high value on proper behavior and etiquette.
In 1925, under the leadership of Richards and Tremain, both Lake Forest Academy and Ferry Hall legally separated from Lake Forest College. LFA still remained physically located on the college campus.
On May 26, 1946, Reid Hall, the Academy’s main building, was destroyed by fire. Headmaster Frank Bowditch saw this as an opportunity for LFA to leave the campus of Lake Forest College, and move to a new location. Bowditch oversaw the purchase of the old J. Ogden Armour estate (Mellody Farm) which included 800 acres of land for $400,000. The mansion was converted into classroom space, a library, infirmary, and cafeteria, while the stables, orangerie, and gardener’s cottage were converted into dorms. Bates House dormitory was quickly constructed, and athletic fields were created. The school opened for classes at the new campus in fall of 1948.
During the 1950s and 1960s, Headmaster Harold Corbin embraced the notion of language-centered education and brought Robert Frost to the school for a week-long visit of teaching and workshops. Impressed with the school, Frost returned again in 1961. Over the years LFA would host many writers and poets in residence, including Gwendolyn Brooks, Stuart Dybek, Rick Moody, and Paul Muldoon.
The campus expanded with the addition of the Charles F. Glore Memorial Gymnasium in 1953, the Marshall Field House dormitory in 1965, and the Corbin Academic Center in 1969.
Throughout the late 1960s and early 1970s, the relationship between LFA and Ferry Hall became much closer as the schools embarked on a kind of co-educational program. In general, the trend was moving away from single-sex education, and LFA and Ferry Hall were adapting to the times. Students took classes at both schools, riding buses between the campuses. Finally, in 1974, the two independent schools merged into Lake Forest Academy - Ferry Hall. Within a few years all the students lived at the LFA campus, and the Ferry Hall property was sold. LFA-FH would go through a turbulent time reflective of the overall cultural upheaval of the era.
During the mid 1980s, Tom and Bondy Hodgkins, took over as head couple at LFA-FH. They re-embraced the model of scholarship and athletics and emphasized a traditional prep school atmosphere. In 1988, the school decided to phase out “Ferry Hall” from its name, and use the name Lake Forest Academy.
In 1982, Reid Hall was added to the National Register of Historic Places. In 1985, Hutchinson Commons (the dining hall), the Keller Chapel, and the MacKenzie Ice Rink were all dedicated. In 1987, the Wetzel-Schoellhorn Track was dedicated and construction began on an enclosure for the MacKenzie Ice Rink. The school also proceeded to annex itself from the City of Lake Forest, and conducted a mid-1990s sale of property to developers of the Academy Woods subdivision. In 1999, a newly built dormitory named Atlass Hall opened for boys.
In 2001, Dr. John Strudwick came onboard as Head of School at LFA and brought a new vision to the traditional prep-school model by embracing the notion of global pluralism. He developed the globally focused Head of School Symposium and expanded international student travel. He also championed innovation and 21st century technology skills building among students and faculty, leading to the launch of a pioneering one-to-one iPad program and wireless connectivity in 2011.
Over the course of his tenure, Dr. Strudwick oversaw many improvements and expansions to the physical campus. In 2001, the Cressey Center for the Arts opened, providing a venue for performances and assemblies. In 2006, the West Village faculty homes were constructed. In 2009, the James P. Fitzsimmons Athletic Wing was dedicated, and in 2010 the Crown Fitness and Wellness Center was completed. In 1911, Durand Hall was relocated and remodeled into Weinbrenner House faculty apartments, making space for a new girls’ dormitory, Ferry Hall (completed in 2012). The Reyes Family Science Center was built in 2013.
Campus building renovations and improvements continued as older academic facilities were updated; in 2014 the Corbin Academic Center and Korhumel Wing were remodeled and included the addition of the JC Cowart Media Commons, and in 2015 improvements were made on the lighting, sound, and production capabilities of the Cressey Center for the Arts. Fall of 2016 saw the opening of the JC Cowart Student Center, containing the dining hall, snack shop, bookstore, mailroom, student recreational areas, and the Stuart Center for Global Leadership. This was followed by renovations on the English Classrooms in Reid Hall in 2017 and finally the construction of the Deborah MacKenzie Turf Fields in 2018.
In 2018, Dr. Strudwick launched the leadership phase of a multiyear Inspire and Invest campaign as part of an effort to grow the permanent endowment and raise money to provide deserving students access to scholarships and attract and retain top tier faculty.
When Dr. Strudwick retired in 2019, he left behind a legacy of impressive campus improvements and a well established commitment to educating global citizens.
In Spring 2020, under the leadership of the new Head of School José M. De Jesús, the LFA community was faced with a monumental and unexpected challenge; a global pandemic had interrupted school life, forcing the Academy to temporarily close and pivot immediately to remote learning. In fall 2020, LFA successfully implemented a hybrid learning environment that combined remote and in-person instruction. Using new digital technologies to include remote students and adhering to strict health and safety protocols for on-campus students (including on-site Covid 19 testing, social distancing and masking) the school successfully navigated in-person instruction at a time when many schools were unable to remain open at all.
Additionally during this time, the Academy continued to build out its facilities, adding four new faculty apartments on the east side of Atlass Hall and replacing the roof on the Corbin Academic Center. In spring of 2022, planning began on the creation of a new Health Center to be located in the old dining hall space, (Hutchinson Commons, aka “Hutch”).
In spring 2022, the Inspire and Invest initiative closed having raised over $23.57 million, which surpassed its original goal of $20 million. At the end of that academic year, Jose De Jesús left LFA to accept a head position at a school in New York, and the LFA Board of Trustees appointed Christopher O. Tennyson as the next Head of School effective July 1, 2022.
Prior to his appointment as Head of School, Chris Tennyson had worked at LFA for over two decades, recently serving in the positions of Assistant Head of School and Associate Head of School, in addition to Dean of Students and a member of the Mathematics faculty.
During Chris Tennyson’s inaugural year as Head of School, the new Health Center was completed and opened to students. The facility offers one location for physical and psychological health services for the LFA community and includes modern examination rooms, overnight accommodations, a laboratory, private rooms for individual counseling, and larger rooms for group therapy. There are plans to add an outdoor garden as well.
In winter 2023, the LFA Board of Trustees approved the next major campus improvement: a new athletic field house. Fundraising and planning is now underway for a much needed expansion of the current athletic facilities.