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Lake Zurich, Illinois An Alpine Oasis in Chicagoland

A short trip from downtown Chicago, Lake Zurich has evolved from a popular resort for affluent Chicagoans into a community with above average wealth that attracts young families with its low crime rate, superior school system and strong community vibe.

In 2006, the travel book publisher Frommers named Lake Zurich as one of the top 100 places to raise a family in the United States. According to Frommers, Lake Zurich was chosen because of its “unique heritage, appearance, community resources and overall family feel.”

Lake Zurich is located 37 miles from the Windy City and is easily accessible to Interstates 90, 290 and 355.

Early History

The area of Lake Zurich was first settled by European descendants in the 1830’s. Two of its early pioneers were George Ela, after whom the Ela township is named and Seth Paine, who established a number of commercial venues in the town. New England farmers flocked to the area followed by many German immigrants. The lake now known as Lake Zurich was named was named Cedar Lake during this time.

The village of Lake Zurich was incorporated on September 19, 1896. The area essentially remained a farming community although the coming railroad and highway system brought an influx of new visitors. The building of U.S. Route 12 in 1922 (U.S. Route 12) followed by Illinois Route 22 five years later established Lake Zurich as a convenient summer resort.

In the summer of 1942, the Lake Zurich Lion’s Club along with volunteer and service organizations held its first annual Alpine Fest to celebrate the victories of World War II. The carnival was held in a newly-established park in downtown Lake Zurich and featured a small parade and a few carnival games and rides. Over the years as more and more people became active in the Lions Club the carnival grew. (Last year’s celebration attracted over 10,000 spectators).

Housing development began in the 1950s with the population expanding throughout the latter part of the 20th century. In the 1960s’ the village started encouraging Alpine-style architecture. The theme caught on, resulting in several buildings with a Swiss look.

Choppy Waters

In 1988, a historic landmark legal case took place settling a dispute on Lake Zurich clarifying property owners’ rights on private lakes. The brouhaha began when Sandy Point marina owners Bill and Diana Beacham refused to pay boat licensing fees to the Lake Zurich Property Owners Association. The marina owned 30 acres of the lake while the POA controlled the remaining 206. A string of buoys separated the two; to cross the line was to risk arrest, imprisonment or impoundment of your boat.

When the case went before the Illinois Supreme Court (Beacham v. Lake Zurich Property Owners Association) each side recited a litany of alleged wrongdoings committed by the other. The Beachams recalled an incident when Diana accidentally sailed into association waters and was arrested and charged with criminal trespass while the POA recalled an incident when Bill Beacham impounded one of their boats when it floated through the string of buoys. The Supreme Court settled the dispute ruling that an owner of one parcel of lakebed could not stop another owner from enjoying, within reason, the entire surface of a lake.

In 2006, the village began a ‘downtown redevelopment’ plan which would go on to become one of the most contentious battles in Village history. After two years and two failed attempts to develop the downtown area with two separate developers, the town began talks with a third developer Equity Service Group in 2008.

Equity Service Group came under scrutiny from community members for their ideas to redesign and recapitalize the downtown area. The backlash culminated with the 2009 election of an opposition party, who vowed fiscal restraint and environmental protection for future redevelopment attempts. The following year the village began renting out previously-vacant downtown buildings to local businesses while the redevelopment plans are on hold for analysis.

Lake Zurich Today

The resort craze wore off years ago. Today the 250-acre spring-fed lake remains the heart of the village but mainly for the enjoyment of local residents for fishing, boating, kayaking and swimming.

A weekly farmers’ market that features such treats as bacon-covered mini donuts and grass-fed meats draws an expanding crowd as well as the Village’s annual Alpine Fest that now features carnival games, rides, food, live music, a parade and takes place at Lions Park in the downtown area.

Lake Zurich has also seen a spike in construction. In 2011, the village approved the construction of more houses than in it did in the previous three years combined. Zurich Meadows Senior Apartments, a 95-unit complex targeting low-income seniors also recently opened.

The village is governed by a six member Board of Trustees. The village schools are also excellent and consistently continue to rank above the Illinois state average. Lake Zurich Unit District 95’s test scores were 33 percent higher than the state average at the primary level and 11.5 percent above the state average for high schools.

The village residents were all abuzz recently as Lake Zurich is referenced as the name of the hometown of actress Sandra Bullock’s character in the 2013 film “Gravity.”

Christy Smith-Sloman is a staff writer at The Chicagoland Cooperator.

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