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Tuesday
Sep142010

Easy Outing: Kline Creek Farm in West Chicago

The gravel lane leading from the Kline Creek Farm Visitor Center to the actual farm is just about ¼ of a mile, but the road is so lovely and peaceful that I felt like I was walking back in time 100 years. And that is just one of many reasons why it’s one of my favorite Go West Easy Outings yet.

The farm has a pair of Percheron work horses. Photos by Tara Burghart.Kline Creek Farm, which started as a log-cabin homestead in the 1830s, is located in West Chicago and is part of the Forest Preserve District of DuPage County. It’s a living-history farm that seeks to depict everyday life as it was on that actual farm but also hundreds of similar farms in DuPage County in the 1890s.

And I should mention two of its best features now: Entrance to the farm is free, and it is open year-round, unlike so many outdoor attractions. (The farm is open Thursday through Monday, closed on Tuesdays and Wednesdays and select holidays.)

Depending on what season you visit, you might see volunteers and staff cooking macaroni and cheese in a wood-burning stove in the summer kitchen, planting fruits and vegetables in the garden, curing sausages in the smokehouse, cutting wood, doing maintenance projects in the wagon shed, or – if it gets cold enough – harvesting ice from a nearby pond. You’ll likely spot two magnificent Percheron work horses, which help plant and harvest crops. For me, seeing such beautiful animals up close was quite a treat.

If you arrive at the farm by about 10 a.m., you and your children can likely help retrieve eggs from the chicken coop. If someone is baking bread, your kids can help knead it. Tours of the first floor of the farmhouse (original to the property) are offered on the hour from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. And you can roam the grounds to see the farm’s livestock, including Southdown sheep and  Shorthorn and Angus cattle.

A volunteer works on a knitting project.The Forest Preserve offers a great calendar on its website, and you can specifically check out the Kline Creek page to learn about various special events at the farm. This summer, for instance, the farm offered a weekly storytime featuring stories and costumed characters from the late 19th century. A “farmhands” day camp is also offered in the summer.

In September, there are weekly blacksmith demonstrations and presentations about hired help.

“We try to make it so that if you visit one week and then come visit the next week, you’ll see something different,” Kate Garrett, the farm’s heritage interpreter, told me.

The historical interpreters at the site dress in period clothing, but they don’t assume the guise of a person living in the 1890s. They are very friendly and knowledgeable and can address a wide variety of subjects.

For instance, because of my stage in life right now, I was fascinated by what Garrett was able to tell me about household chores (I’ll never complain about laundry again), meal preparation (the wife was expected to offer five meals a day – five!) and leisure time (they took it seriously. I would too, if I were preparing five meals a day.)

So I suggest talking to your kids a few days before the visit to get them thinking about what subjects they might find interesting: What was school like for farm children in the 1890s? Did it matter if you were a boy or a girl? What kind of chores would the kids be expected to do on the farm? Would these children have ridden the nearby railroad into Chicago? How often did they get to take a bath? (Well, since I already know the answer is once a week, with plenty of sponge baths in between, you might not want to suggest that topic if your children hate bathtime!)

Here are some other tips to help you enjoy your visit:

  • If you are bringing a stroller, opt for the sturdiest one you have, since the grounds are mostly exactly how you’d expect on a farm. Strollers aren’t allowed in the house, but the tour is short. I managed to take the tour with a squirmy, curious toddler. (She did briefly climb atop an antique chair, but hopefully we're not banned for life!)
  • Also because of grass and gravel, I’d suggest skipping the sandals and wearing closed-toe shoes like sneakers.
  • The grounds would be a beautiful place to take some quality photos of your kids, so don’t forget your camera.
  • A picnic area is near the visitor center, if you’d like to pack a lunch or snack. The visitor center sells cold water, bottles of sarsaparilla (sticking with the theme – cute!) and some hard candy, along with lots of very cool old-fashioned toys. The visitor center also has nice restrooms and a drinking fountain.

Note: The farm really is a beautiful spot and I took tons of photos. You can see the ones I wasn’t able to publish here in the Go West Young Mom Flickr album.

Reader Comments (1)

Tara,
Thanks so much for the great article on Kline Creek Farm! It was a pleasure to get to talk to you and show you around. We love drop-in, spur of the moment visitors, but thanks also for the advice to get kids thinking about the farm before taking a trip out.

I love it when kids (and adults) come already interested in life in the past. If they have questions we can answer or, even better, build off with demonstrations and hands-on involvement I think everyone gets an even more rewarding experience.

One of the things that sets us apart from a traditional museum is instead of just saying that "kids helped with lots of chores" we actually need your help to fill the wood box and plant green bean seeds.

I hope I get a chance to meet some of the Go West Moms and their families in the upcoming months.

Thanks again Tara!

September 15, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterKate Garrett

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