While exploring the woods near his home as a child, Mark Miller became familiar with a log cabin along the Des Plaines River.
“I’ve been walking past it for 50 years, since I was 7,” said Miller, who grew up in Riverwoods near what became the Edward L. Ryerson Conservation Area in southern Lake County.
He couldn’t have imagined that the 700 square foot cabin would ever come up for sale. Or that his $100.25 bid would allow him to save and reuse a childhood memory.
“It will be a retirement project,” said Miller, a truck and auto mechanic who has lived in Grayslake for 24 years. “It will be a winter house.”
With a new environmental education center underway in Ryerson, two 1940s cabins that had served this purpose for decades were sold at a nominal price for reuse elsewhere.
Both have been taken apart in recent weeks, albeit in different ways. Miller and some friends used a skid steer loader to dismantle what was called the Borland cab.
“I looked around the building when I was little and said, ‘That’s cool. I would love to live there,'” Miller said. And so it will be.
He will store the parts and bring them up in two or three years on the Tennessee River northwest of Nashville.
The other cabin was sold for $10 to The Burnham Group LLC, which has been involved in several historic preservation and adaptive reuse projects, according to spokesperson Christopher Enck.
Burnham worked with Recyclean of Kenosha to dismantle the larger cabin by hand. It was measured, drawn in computer-aided design, and then each piece was numbered, Enck said. A final destination and timeline have not been determined.
A location in Mettawa was the original intention, but there are considerations related to zoning, floodplain issues and other issues to take into account, according to Enck.
“Like any unconventional project, there are many logistics that sometimes require exploring several possibilities at the same time,” he said.
The cabins were to be demolished to make way for the new environmental education center. But the Illinois Historic Preservation Agency has asked the district to seek out suitable owners to relocate, use and maintain their integrity. Use must be in accordance with the cabins listing on the National Register of Historic Places.
Miller’s cabin was built in 1943 on a private lot for Chauncey Borland, a contemporary of Edward L. Ryerson, manager of Ryerson Steel.
In the late 1920s, Ryerson purchased property on the Des Plaines River for a country retreat and amassed 550 acres. The family donated the land to the Lake County Forest Preserve District in 1972.
Ryerson has become a hub of environmental activity. In 1985 Borland’s cabin was moved from the river bank about three-quarters of a mile to a location along the entrance to Riverwoods Road. It was used for natural history exhibits and later turned into a classroom.
It was twinned with the Cramer Cabin, built by Ryerson elsewhere on the property for Ambrose Cramer, the architect of his Villa. The hut was moved as housing for farm workers.
Countless students and campers visited over the decades. But both buildings were past their useful life and did not meet current accessibility codes and had to be removed.
Director of Education Nan Buckardt has taught many classes at the cabins during her 38-year career with the district. She said it was bittersweet to see them go, but she was thrilled to have a new, bigger space.