Ye olde suburbs

Newly weds pause for a pose in Historic Long Grove, a section of downtown that's a favorite spot for wedding photos.

Story and photos by Michael Austin 

Despite building, rising prices, Long Grove, Kildeer maintain pastoral presence on Chicago’s fringe 

Hear ye, hear ye. This is the tale of a quaint little village lost in time, less than an hour’s drive, via modern combustion engine vehicles, from downtown Chicago.

With its covered bridge, its downtown settlement and throwback-sounding Robert Parker Coffin Road, the village of Long Grove is nothing short of a living museum. The key word there is “living,” because while the village hosts several festivals throughout the year, it is also a place where people actually live and shop and eat and work in beautifully restored Victorians and other historic clapboard buildings, some dating back to the mid-19th century.

A touch more than 6,700 people call Long Grove home, but on days when the town is hosting one of its famous festivals, that number surely must double. In the spring there is the famous Chocolate Fest (May 4-6, 2007), which seems a natural considering that the privately owned Long Grove Confectionary makes handmade chocolates nearby and sells them in its downtown retail store. In the summer there is the possibly even more famous Strawberry Fest (and who doesn’t love a chocolate-dipped strawberry?), celebrating its 25th year in 2007 (June 22-24).

A stiff breeze can cause a scandal at Long Grove's Irish Days festival, when kilts are the order of the day.

On Labor Day weekend the term “village green” takes on new meaning when the clans gather for the annual Irish Days festival, and in October, when the air is crisp, the Long Grove festival season wraps up with the much-anticipated Apple Fest (Oct. 5-7, 2007). And who doesn’t love a caramel apple dipped in chocolate?

Rural feeling 

Long Grove is a quiet – no, make that pastoral – place, stretching across 18 square miles in southern Lake County. Considering the subtle borders of rural Lake County hamlets, it’s safest just to say that Long Grove is west of Buffalo Grove, Wheeling and Palatine; east of Lake Zurich, and south of Mundelein and Vernon Hills. Or perhaps to put it in more familiar terms for some, Long Grove is approximately 10 miles due west of Highland Park.

“It’s a state of mind in Long Grove,” says Bobbie O’Reilly, owner of McKee Real Estate in Long Grove, and a 20-year resident of the village. “What I feel when I go home is a sense of quiet, and of solitude, and peacefulness.”

Keeping watch outside the Keeping Room, one of many quaint boutiques, shops and restaurants in Historic Long Grove.

Strict zoning laws guarantee that residents of Long Grove do not live on top of each other, which allows the town to retain the feel of the olde days, when land and thick groves of trees rolled away to the horizon. The two-acre-plus lots are dwindling, but the village is still flush with large lawns, mature trees and single-family homes.

The median sales price for Long Grove single-family homes in 2005 was $765,000, up 5.5 percent from the year before, when it was $725,000. In 2000 the median price was $525,000, which set the stage for a 45 percent jump over the following five years. There is no attached housing anywhere in Long Grove – just stately homes with plenty of green grass around them and minimal public lighting to create the kind of night sky most of us can get only at the planetarium.

New development

Not everything is old school in Long Grove. Palatine-based Fidelity Wes Builders is developing Ravenna of Long Grove, 109 custom single-family brick homes starting in the $800s, with home sites starting at $265,000 and rising to $410,000.

Empeco Custom Builders is offering 41 one-acre home sites with sewer systems – a newer trend in Long Grove, eroding the rural village’s longstanding septic tradition – on Old McHenry Road, about half a mile north of Route 22. Lot prices in the development, called Long Meadow Farms, started at $399,900 and have risen to $608,900.

The median price of a home in Long Grove last year was $765,000. Neighboring Kildeer has become a hotbed of new-home construction.

So, lot sizes are shrinking, and the utilities are becoming more suburban and less rural. As long as the level of quality remains, you won’t hear many complaints. The main concern here is preserving the village’s impressive downtown cluster of 19th century buildings in the area officially known as Historic Long Grove.

At first glance it appears to be a miniature theme park. You half-expect to see costumed re-enactors churning butter or hammering red-hot horseshoes into shape. And when the town’s many festivals are in full swing, you can surely count on seeing folks in museum-quality get-ups. But on the other 300-plus days of the year when the village is not throwing a public party, Historic Long Grove serves as a business-as-usual suburban downtown with more than 100 thriving merchants – independent restaurants and specialty shops – most of which are open seven days a week, year-round. Did someone say, “Sunday drive?”

“My office is in one of those old buildings,” says O’Reilly, speaking of the 1870s farmhouse that houses her real estate agency in Historic Long Grove. “The buildings are quaint. And they’re a challenge to actually operate a business in – we don’t have the big rooms and lots of separation that a modern office would have – but once you’ve overcome those challenges, there’s a charm and a sense of stability in those buildings. It’s just comfortable. You feel as if your roots are happy there.”

Buying a CD while a band plays on a stage in the Village Green, a picturesque gathering place with a central fountain.

Lake Zurich

Personal roots aside, Long Grove’s roots do not run very deep. While the area was first settled in the 1830s by farmers and craftsmen from Alsace-Lorraine who called their settlement Muttersholz, Long Grove became an official, incorporated village a scant 50
years ago, in 1956.

A neighboring town with much deeper roots, Lake Zurich, was founded in 1896. With 20,000 people and far less area than Long Grove, Lake Zurich has its own charms and a much more diversified housing stock. And yes, there actually is a lake called Lake Zurich, and that is what first drew people to the area – lakeside summer cottages.

Times have changed. The median sales price of single-family homes in Lake Zurich last year was $345,000, up a little more than 6 percent from the year before when the price was steady at $325,000. In 2000, the median sales price was $226,000, 53 percent higher than in 1995.

Attached housing prices have skyrocketed in Lake Zurich over the past five years, going from a median sales price of $132,500 in 2000 to $252,000 in 2005 – a staggering 90 percent increase.

Out for a jaunt in a mode of transportation specially suited to Historic Long Grove.

One current luxury townhome project in Lake Zurich, dubbed Meadow Wood, features six models ranging from 1,608 to 1,719 square feet, priced between $369,990 and $393,990. All units have two bedrooms, and 2.5 baths.

Development is on Rand Road (Route 12), just north of Miller Road, a few miles northwest of the intersection of Route 22 and Route 59. There are naturalized ponds and walking paths throughout the community, and the units feature GE stainless steel kitchen appliances along with quartz countertops and 42-inch maple Merillat cabinets.

Another noteworthy project, and one that is part of the village’s ambitious downtown redevelopment plan, is the 39-unit Somerset townhomes, just north of Main Street. Refurbished downtowns call to mind town festivals, and when it comes to festivals, Lake Zurich is no Long Grove – few towns are – but you might start perfecting your recipe now for entry in the 9th Barn Burnin’ Chili Cook-Off in Lake Zurich’s Paulus Park next September. Or better yet, you might volunteer to be a judge.

Out for a stroll with mom in Long Grove.


Speaking of burnin’ chili, this tale of Long Grove and its environs would not be complete without a mention of Kildeer, another relatively young village, incorporated in 1958. Kildeer is nothing short of a hotbed of development at the moment. The village’s 3,600 residents live peacefully in 1,200 custom homes on 2,600 acres rife with heavy woods and tranquil ponds.

Recently, the village approved the annexation of preliminary special use plans for 297 acres of Kemper property, including the golf course (but excluding the corporate offices). The plan calls for the development of four separate housing developments, comprising a total of 208 units (22 single family homes, 49 townhomes, and 138 duplexes) by United Land Development of Schaumburg. In addition to the Kemper project, construction is underway on Evergreen Pointe, The Enclave, Prairie Creek, and other developments, including Meadowood Estates (no relation to Meadow Wood in Lake Zurich) by Arthur J. Green Construction.

Meadowood Estates features 41 custom homes on a 50-acre parcel, with more than one-quarter of the total area preserved as open space. A one-mile walking and biking path meanders around three ponds in the community’s common areas, and at least a dozen of the homes are being built by four construction companies other than Arthur J. Green to contribute to the subdivision’s diversity. Home prices start at $1.4 million, and two of the eight that are completed were occupied by early September.

“It’s serene,” says Stephen Rice, vice president of Arthur J. Green Construction. “There’s no highway noise to encumber the area, it’s not in a flight pattern; it’s just serene and quiet.”

Gathering around the fountain in the Village Green.

No fences, good neighbors?

That is part of the reason people move to Long Grove and Kildeer – for the serenity and the quiet. And the nature, as untouched as you can find commuting distance from a major city.

“There are no fences allowed in Kildeer,” Rice says. “None. They want that open, spacious look and feel. If you have a dog, of course you can have an electronic fence. But you can’t build a solid fence anywhere in Kildeer.”

Another development, Evergreen Pointe of Kildeer, lies at South Krueger and Eleanor roads on the northeast side of town near its border with Long Grove. The 14-acre project features seven custom homes ranging from 4,800 to 6,800 square feet. Prices start at $1.3 million and top out at more than $2 million, according to Mark Farrahar, president of Reese Classic Residences, the subdivision’s developer.

Kildeer’s stock has risen in recent years since the village devoted itself to developing a retail presence on Rand Road on the south side of town, Farrahar says.

“Kildeer was kind of in between everything and there was no place to go in town for any kind of shopping or entertainment,” Farrahar says. “That has changed, and while Long Grove has traditionally been the premier address, now Kildeer is right up there.”

Things are changing – the country is becoming a little less country with every sewer line that is buried and every shrinking lot that is partitioned off and approved – but one thing that is carefully preserved, and there for everyone to enjoy, is that charming old world downtown in Historic Long Grove, its antique covered bridge just up the road a few blocks.

It’s all about balance. It will make sense to you next summer when you are trying to beat the heat at Strawberry Fest. You’ll duck into one of those cute little boutiques in one of those 150-year-old buildings in Historic Long Grove, and you’ll be thankful that the place has been retro-fitted with air conditioning. How else to keep all of that handmade chocolate from melting?

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