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Collections Cameo, November 2013

Lake Forest Gem, 1867

The Lake Forest Gem was a short-lived, four-page monthly newspaper published in town in 1867. Advertised as “The first printed paper in Lake Forest,” it was a successor to earlier handwritten efforts like The Rising Sun, which was briefly distributed in 1860.

Our archives contains only one issue of the Gem, Volume 1, Number 2, dated July 1, 1867, donated to the Historical Society by Richard and Betty Cutler in 2004. (For five additional issues, see Lake Forest College Donnelley and Lee Library.) The Gem is a gem of our museum collection, presenting a slice of life in Lake Forest only six years after the city was incorporated, when Lake Forest was home to fewer than 800 residents.

The proprietors of the Gem were a pair of ambitious teenagers: Wells C. Lake and William J. Fabian. Their newspaper office was listed as "Forest Lawn, Lake Forest," the 644 E. Deerpath home of the Lake family across the street from the Academy building. According to historian Edward Arpee, they printed the Gem on a small press in one of Forest Lawn's outbuildings. That two school-boys should take it upon themselves to print a newspaper for the entire town symbolized the extraordinarily central role education took in the community from its founding.

The cover page (at left) features a serial story called "The Golden Belt,” by “May,” chronicling the travels of a hero called Aster. In this installment, Aster receives the titular belt after leading one warring clan of elves to victory over another. “Odds and Ends,” on page two, includes jokes and other humorous anecdotes. In their editorial, Lake and Fabian express gratitude for the success of the first issue of the Gem, and for the notice it received in the Waukegan Gazette.

Of greater interest to modern readers may be the “City News,” (below) which paints an evocative picture of the early days of Lake Forest. “We notice Horses and Hogs still running at large,” Lake and Fabian write. “These horses seem to have the full run of the city. They race up and down the streets, get in the way of the trains, besides scaring children into fits and ‘frightening people out of their wits.’ Will not someone pen them up? The City promises to pay five dollars for each animal so taken up, and fifty cents a day for keeping the same.”

The “Personal” column indicates the arrival for the season in Lake Forest of several prominent summer residents, including Robert Reid, Dr. Sawyer, and C. B. and J. V. Farwell.

Pages three (above right) and four (below right) contain several advertisements for some of the small community’s as yet few businesses: Lake Forest Market, now operated by Dwelly & Son; Anderson, Lind & Co., dealers in dry goods, stationery, crockery, wooden ware, toys, groceries, medicines, &c; and John Giles' Confectionary and Fruit Store. And we cannot omit the sole classified ad: “For Sale, A Drum, good as new. For further particulars, address: Edward L. Webster, Lake Forest.” Whether the sale of this drum was the result of Webster’s desire for funds or at the behest of his Lake Forest Academy roommates is unknown.

Wells C. Lake was only about 13 years old when this newspaper was published. He was the son of David J. Lake, one of the founders of the community, at that time serving a term as Lake Forest’s third mayor. Although the precocious professionalism of the Lake Forest Gem seemed to prefigure an illustrious career for young Mr. Lake, this unfortunately did not come to pass: he died in 1876, just two years after graduating from Yale. According to the Chicago Tribune, “In the death of Wells C. Lake, Lake Forest has lost one of her best, kindest and truest young men.”

Lake’s co-editor, William J. Fabian, was a student at Lake Forest Academy when the Gem was first published, a member of the 1866-1867 senior class. He later lived in Evanston, becoming a charter member of the Country Club of Evanston, and served as assistant treasurer of the Burlington Railroad.

Below: The David J. Lake home, Forest Lawn, c. 1890 - where the Lake Forest Gem was printed in 1867.