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Farming a New Frontier
Peck Farm Park tells a story that most suburbs choose to forget.
By Frank Edgerton Martin

When Eli and Jerusha Peck settled their farm in what is now Geneva, Illinois, in 1844, they encountered a native landscape of blooming prairie, wetland pockets, clumps of linden, and white and bur oaks in the distance. Passing through five years earlier, public land surveyors James Thompson and William Wilburn had described the largely open site as “rolling rich prairie fit for cultivation.” For the next 160 years, four generations of the Peck family transformed this wilderness, once on the western frontier, into a prosperous farm centered on an elegant red brick Italianate house and shaded lawns.

Photo by Hank Erdmann

Today, the Pecks’ pioneering farm lies on the edge of a new frontier: the southwestern edge of Chicago’s booming suburban development in Kane County. Winner of an ASLA-Illinois Honor Award, Peck Farm Park is one of the most unusual multiuse parks to emerge on America’s automotive fringe. Peck Farm is a rare remnant of prairie surrounded by a sea of growth, and a vessel of memory for the farming past.

Planned over the past 10 years by the Kestrel Design Group in tandem with the Geneva Park District, the 378-acre park offers such diverse experiences as a butterfly pavilion and a sports fields shared with an adjacent middle school. A partial gift from the Peck family, the park pays homage to Illinois’s native and agricultural landscape now disappearing under the homogeneous blanket of Chicago’s developer-driven sprawl. The surrounding landscape is changing so fast that most maps don’t include recently added roads leading to the park. Yet in the park itself, the glaring heat of collector roads and parking lots turns into the fragrant and insect-filled humidity of verdant land.

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