If you’ve tried to reach Art Miller in the last year and haven’t been treated to his typical quick reply, it’s because he’s been busy tidying things up. After 40 years with Lake Forest College—the last two decades as the archivist and librarian for Special Collections at the college’s Donnelley and Lee Library—Art has been translating his years of archival management into a language his yet-to-be-named replacement will easily understand.
“This last year has been really hectic,” explains Art over a champagne lunch at the Deer Path Inn, just hours before his official retirement party is being held at the college. In addition to closing out his office files, he has been diligently working to complete a book he’s working on with a local garden club. “Retiring will give me more control over the research I want to conduct,” he says, as he will be keeping an office close to campus and regularly consulting the collections he’s worked tirelessly to build. “And it will let me easily escape to Arizona in January when my asthma tends to act up.”
If there is anything you have ever wanted to know about our community, Art is the man with the scoop. He’s served as the president of the Lake Forest-Lake Bluff Historical Society, the Lake Forest Preservation Foundation, the Lake Forest Foundation of Historic Preservation, and the Ragdale Foundation. He has co-authored a multitude of books that focus on the architecture and history of Lake Forest and Lake Bluff. As a regular contributor to the pages of Forest & Bluff, Art has always offered us tremendous insight to where we’ve come from as a community.
“I love everything about our cities—the design, the history, the landscaping, the people,” Art says, who has curated the college’s collections to the brim of the on- and off-campus storage units. Nearly everything in the archives has some connection to a collection currently under way. “There isn’t much that comes in randomly,” he says.
One of Lake Forest College’s most notable collections—and dare we say one of Art’s favorites—involves our community’s history with the railroad. “There are a lot of train people all up and down the North Shore, executives and such. The railroads were the 19th century Internet. If they weren’t on the railroad, there were companies working with the railroad—Sears and Marshall Fields. The distribution the railroads provided hadn’t existed before. Elliott Donnelley, who lived in Lake Forest, had a great interest in trains, had a collection in his basement. It eventually got so big that it ended up in what was once Lake Forest’s City Hall,” Art says with a laugh.
We couldn’t let Art leave our lunch table without having him weigh in on our local enchantment with Europeans—especially “The Royals.” It was Art who once told us that the Prince of Wales and his wife Wallis Simpson were guests of the Louis Swifts at the Schweppe Estate, and that Wallis Simpson had lived for a brief time on our very own Oakwood Avenue in Lake Forest. More recently, in the early 1990s, Princess Irene of Spain received an honorary degree from Lake Forest College.
“Europe, the people and culture, have been attractions locally since 1861, when the brother of a Mrs. Rossiter became Ambassador to Bismarck’s Germany under Abraham Lincoln,” explains Art. “Another sister, or relative, married a high official in the Czar’s court. And it went on from there. Chicagoans had money and the old country nobles had nobility and prestige. This was a great trade at its best and dynamite at its worst. But the fascination continues.”
—Ann Marie Scheidler // Illustration by Kirsten Ulve