On November 3, 1914, Cook County residents went to the polls just as they will do this Tuesday, November 4, 2014. The 1914 ballot included a referendum that posed a pivotal question: Shall there be organized a forest preserve district…to be known as Forest Preserve District of Cook County…?
That referendum only appeared on the ballot after civic leaders and politicians in Chicago had been fighting to create a forest preserve system for almost 15 years. In 1905 and 1909, Illinois lawmakers passed legislation enabling localities to establish forest preserve districts, but both eventually floundered. Illinois’ governor refused to sign the Act of 1905 into law and the Illinois Supreme Court found the Act of 1909 unconstitutional.[i]
At a time when a Cook County forest preserve system was starting to seem like just another illusory plan, a civic organization called the Forest Preserve Association persevered to make it a reality. Established in 1909, the Association represented more than 100 organizations in the Chicago region.[ii]
At the end of 1911, after the Illinois Supreme Court found the Act of 1909 unconstitutional, the Forest Preserve Association lobbied the Judiciary Committee of Chicago’s City Council to draft a bill that would address the Court’s concerns. Frank I. Moulton, an attorney and the Association’s president, implored them: “It is extremely desirable to get a bill at the earliest possible date that cannot be successfully attacked in our supreme court and that will be held to be constitutional.”[iii]
The Judiciary Committee eventually produced a bill for the 1913 legislative session. When the forest preserve bill stalled in the House, Perkins and Moulton traveled to Springfield in early June and guided it through both chambers before the legislative session’s end. The governor signed the bill into law later that month.[iv]
According to the Act of 1913’s language, a successful referendum was necessary before a forest preserve district could be established within a locality, such as a county. So over the next year, the Forest Preserve Association organized to get a forest preserve proposition onto the Cook County ballot. In late September 1914, a Cook County Circuit Court judge finally approved a proposition for the November ballot.[v]
On November 3, 1914, Cook County’s electorate voted in favor of the proposition to create a forest preserve district. The vote led to the formal establishment of the Forest Preserve District of Cook County later that month, on November 30. The District’s new leaders, however, still had a lot to accomplish before they could purchase the first forest preserves in 1916.
Natalie Bump Vena is a JD/PhD candidate in Northwestern University’s School of Law and Department of Anthropology. She is writing her dissertation about the history of natural resources policy in the Forest Preserve District of Cook County. She grew up on Chicago’s South Side and visited the Palos forest preserves most weekends with her family.
- [i] Annual Report of Special Parks Commission (Chicago, 1905) and The People ex rel., Koch v. Rinaker, 252 Ill. 256 (1911).
- [ii] Annual Report of Special Parks Commission (Chicago, 1910).
- [iii] Frank I. Moulton. Suggestions to the Judiciary Committee of the City Council, November 30, 1912 (Forest Preserve District Association Papers, Chicago History Museum).
- [iv] Frank I. Moulton, “Forest Preserves,” February 13, 1931 (Forest Preserve District Association Papers, Chicago History Museum).
- [v] Order of the Circuit Court of Cook County, Illinois, September 22, 1914 (Forest Preserve District Association Papers, Chicago History Museum).