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Our Collections

The History Center of Lake Forest-Lake Bluff invites visitors to explore our local history through our one-of-a-kind collection of over 15,000 artifacts. Only about one percent of these artifacts are on display at any time - the rest are housed in archival storage.

We collect materials which document the settlement, development and growth of the City of Lake Forest and the Village of Lake Bluff, including records and archives, photographs, periodicals, maps, plats and blueprints, scrapbooks, and business ephemera. These artifacts are catalogued and preserved following the latest museum standards. We do not collect furniture. 

Some questions we ask when we review a potential donation to the collection:

  • Is it relevant? Does it tell or provide context for a significant Lake Forest/Lake Bluff story?
  • Is it unique? Do we already have a duplicate or similiar item in our collection?
  • Can we provide a proper storage environment?
  • Is it in good condition for potential display or research use?
  • Would it be a better fit at another historical institution?

Use our collections for historical research.

Donate an artifact to the History Center collections.


Records and Archives

We have an extensive archival collection of over 3,000 items, useful for genealogy and family history and in documenting the history of local government and clubs. Some highlights include:

  • Business directories and phone books, 1903-present
  • Cemetery listings (Lake Forest, St. Mary, St. Patrick)
  • Census, marriage, death and naturalization indexes
  • Church records (First Presbyterian, St. Mary, Holy Spirit)
  • Social registers (Onwentsia Club, Chicago Club, Who’s Who in Chicago)
  • City of Lake Forest and Shields Township records
  • Institutional and organizational papers, including Lake Forest Legacy Project archive (Deerpath Garden Club, Frazier, Raftery, Orr & Fairbank Architects, Encore Club, International Club, Lake Forest Hospital, Lake Forest Woman’s Club, League of Woman Voters, Newcomer’s Club, Ridge Farm Preventorium, Rotary Club, YWCA)


Our collection features over 10,000 photographs that provide a window into the Lake Forest and Lake Bluff of the past, including:

  • Estate exteriors and interiors
  • Clubs and organizations
  • Market Square and business district
  • Railroads and transportation
  • Past residents and prominent citizens
  • Community events and milestones
  • Class photos and school buildings

Many of our images are digitized. Visitors to the museum can search our computerized database by topic or browse our collection.


You’ll find in our archives dozens of local newspapers, journals, magazines and newsletters in print format, including:

  • Lake Forester, 1900-1985 – bound volumes*
  • Lake Forest-Lake Bluff News-Advertiser, 1973-1984 – bound volumes
  • Country Life in America, 1901-1942 – bound volumes
  • Lake Forest Journal
  • Forest & Bluff, Sheridan Road magazines
  • Newsletters from the City of Lake Forest, local organizations, churches and schools

*Note: The Lake Forest Library has the Lake Forester on microfilm, which is preferable for extensive research use.

Maps, Plats and Blueprints

Check out how your home or neighborhood has changed over time with our collection of over 1,500 maps, plats and blueprints, including:

  • Lake Forest area maps, 1860s-present day
  • Sanborn Fire Insurance maps, 1900-1930s
  • Griffith, Grant & Lackie Plat Collection
  • City of Lake Forest plats

Three-Dimensional Objects

Our artifact collection forms the basis of our museum exhibitions but can also be used for research purposes. We have items ranging from fashions to milk bottles to family bibles to dolls to fire helmets to golf balls and everything in between. Our staff is happy to assist you in handling and examining these objects.