In 1902 an electric interurban railway was built from Chicago to the western suburbs. By 1909 a branch line came through West Chicago. The Geneva Branch of what would become the Chicago & Aurora Elgin Railroad extended from just northwest of Wheaton to Geneva. This new transportation mode created “streetcar suburbs,” facilitating population growth away from Chicago.
Edmund A. Cummings, a Chicago realtor, bought 210 acres of land east of West Chicago for just such a “streetcar suburb” in 1910. It had been the site of the David Ward and John Steffes farms. Part of the area was known as Ward’s lake and grove, and was a popular site for community picnics.
The spring fed lake covered almost five acres and was about seven feet deep. In the winter ice blocks were cut, and in the summer, the lake was the place to take a cooling swim. Because of its 250-300 feet elevation above Lake Michigan, Cummings christened the lake and its surrounding subdivision, “High Lake.” High Lake is bounded on the north by Geneva Road, on the west by Prince Crossing Road, on the south by High Lake Road and on the east by the Winfield Mounds Forest Preserve.
High Lake became an early commuter suburb, where residents could travel to Chicago’s loop in under an hour by train, enjoying country living with city conveniences.
What happened to the lake? Development in the Woodland subdivision south of High Lake and the drilling of a well there lowered the water table in the 1920s. Eventually the lake lost almost all of its water, and the shoreline became overgrown with vegetation. In 1956, residents cleared the brush, and pumped thousands of gallons of water in an unsuccessful attempt to fill the lake. Today the lake which is privately owned has a higher level of water.
As it did in years past, suburban living “among the wooded hills of the highlands near West Chicago” continues to attract homeowners to this sylvan area.