LFLB History Museum

"New" Hotel: Destination Lake Forest

Location: Mayflower between Rosemary and Maplewood, along Lake Michigan
Drawing of the new Lake Forest Hotel from a publication of Lake Forest University.
Location: Mayflower between Rosemary and Maplewood, along Lake Michigan

In its first decade, much of the early development of Lake Forest wound its way through the forest and shied away from the lake. The Lake Forest Hotel, built in 1870, bucked this trend. Located on the bluff above Lake Michigan, east of Mayflower and Rosemary, the sumptuous six-story hotel came with a building price tag of $80,000 and was designed by renowned early Chicago architect John Mills Van Osdel. It drew vacationers who sought North Shore wilderness and beaches, yet preferred comfortable, modern accommodations.

Locals called it the “New” Hotel, to distinguish it from an older Lake Forest Hotel a few blocks to the west. This New Hotel had everything except fireproof construction: 60 rooms which could hold 120 guests; a lake view; gas; hot and cold water; bathrooms; telegraph wire service; an ice house; separate laundry rooms; stables and sheds; and even drinking water from an artesian well.

Advertisement for the new Lake Forest Hotel, April 24, 1874, Chicago Daily Tribune.
Despite the appeal of its luxuries to summer visitors, after just a few seasons the New Hotel fell heavily in debt and reverted to the ownership of the Lake Forest Association. It ceased operation as a hotel and provided convenient dormitory and classroom space for the resurrected Lake Forest University, which opened its doors in 1876.

Because the building was designed as a warm-weather resort, it lacked heating infrastructure. Students could either freeze in the winter or light potentially dangerous fires. In December 1877, one of these fires spread, consuming the entire building in less than three hours. College classes took place in the Old Hotel until a new college building, the current Young Hall/Brown Hall, went up in 1878.