Over 100 Years of Community and Change
Fort Sheridan's history is closely tied to that of the city of Chicago, starting shortly after the Great Chicago Fire, which took place on October 8, 1871. The mayor of Chicago declared Martial Law to quell the civil unrest that followed the fire. Lieutenant General Philip Sheridan was put in charge, and under his leadership, U.S. Army troops restored order and built temporary housing. In the years that followed, Chicago grew as a center of trade and manufacturing, but workers' unrest led to violent confrontations between business and labor. The many labor strikes, including a national railroad strike in 1877, resulted in 30 deaths and increasing unease. By the time of the Haymarket Riot in 1886, a group of Chicago business leaders had decided to act in order to protect their business interests.
Members of the Commercial Club, which represented Chicago businessmen, petitioned the Secretary of War to establish an artillery school and military installation north of Chicago to help maintain order. The Commercial Club purchased and donated 600 acres of land near Highwood, and the military post was established in November 1887. The fort was named Fort Sheridan on February 27, 1888, by Philip Sheridan, who was then the Commanding General of the Army in Washington, D.C. The fort's first commander was Major William Lyster.
Military and community
Throughout the decades to follow, Fort Sheridan was an important hub of military activity and local pride. Designed by the prestigious architectural firm of Holabird & Roche, whose later works were part of the influential “Chicago School," the buildings are historically significant. The curved lines and arches of the Richardsonian Romanesque architecture were enhanced by the landscape design of Ossian C. Simonds, who used the prairie style of landscape design to frame the military areas. The natural setting of bluffs, ravines, and open land were used to best advantage for military training and ceremonial display.
From the Spanish-American War in 1898 to Desert Storm in the early 1990s, Fort Sheridan served as an important military training installation. Infantry, or “foot soldiers,” were stationed at Fort Sheridan, as were the celebrated cavalry troops, trained to fight on horseback. Instruction in artillery weapons, such as rifles and cannons, and anti-aircraft weapons prepared troops for battle. In the 1950's, because of the Cold War between the United States and the Soviet Union, Fort Sheridan became the maintenance and administrative center for 23 Chicago-area Nike Missile sites, including one at the fort.
The fort was a Midwestern showcase of military and political life, and added a touch of glamour and prestige to the surrounding area. From 1925 to 1939, the post hosted horse shows and polo matches for the enjoyment of local citizens, while the dashing officers graced many social events along the North Shore.
A lasting impression
Ninety-four buildings, including the original 64 by Holabird & Roche, gained National Landmark status in 1984. Four years later – and more than one hundred years after its founding – the Department of Defense's Base Realignment and Closure Commission recommended that Fort Sheridan be closed.
On May 28, 1993, Fort Sheridan ceased operations as an active military post. While the Army retained some of the land for Reserves purposes, 274 acres of the property were deeded to the Lake County Forest Preserves District for use as open space, recreation, education, and preservation. Many of the historic buildings, including the barracks and officers' quarters, were sold to developers and have been renovated as private residences.
The cemetery at the northern end of the fort stands as a silent witness of the past; though it is still active, some of its gravestones date back to 1890. While the military pace has slowed, civilian life at Fort Sheridan has quickened. Today, the residents of Fort Sheridan bring the historic buildings to life, and new trails and exhibits invite the community to experience the important role that Fort Sheridan has played in our nation's history.