Among all of Glen Ellyn’s wonderful amenities, Lake Ellyn stands alone as the proverbial “heart” of our community. Straight out of a storybook, this 11-acre lake and adjoining park is the setting for many Village festivals and celebrations, and revered for its picturesque, four-season beauty.
The story of Lake Ellyn is a fascinating one that takes us back to Glen Ellyn circa 1880. In those days, Chicago neighborhoods such as Hyde Park, Lake View, and Rogers Park were independent villages separate from the city of Chicago, and therefore many of Chicago’s current suburbs were thought of by city-dwellers as mysterious destinations ideal for a long weekend or vacation. Glen Ellyn (then known as Prospect Park) was such a destination —valued for its naturally beautiful terrain, rolling hills and orchards of trees— a place of rest and relaxation from the grind of city life.
Village President in 1885, Thomas E. Hill was a professor and former two-term mayor of Aurora. A man of great refinement and sophistication, it was his vision to turn the swampy area to the east of Park Boulevard into a large, beautiful lake by building a dam in a stream that ran through the land. Hill and several local partners purchased much of the acreage northeast of downtown and proceeded to raise $2,500 from townspeople to cover construction costs.
In the summer of 1889, the dam was completed and the lake was full and ready for swimming. Called “Lake Glen Ellyn,” it was named after the glen, or valley, in which it rested, and the Welsh spelling of Ellen, the wife of Thomas Hill. The Wheaton Illinoisian newspaper described the area as “one of the most picturesque and charming locations in the whole west.” Lake Glen Ellyn became so popular that residents petitioned to change the name of the town from Prospect Park to Glen Ellyn in 1891.
With the discovery of mineral springs to the east of the lake and the construction of a 100-room hotel on the banks of Lake Glen Ellyn, the area continued to grow in popularity as a resort destination for Chicago’s elite families over the next number of years. (The Glen Ellyn Volunteer Fire Department was established in 1907...ironically, just one year after the Hotel Glen Ellyn was struck by lightning and burned to the ground.)
Today, Lake Ellyn continues to hold a special place in our community and in our hearts. It hosts the highly-anticipated Independence Day events, which include the Cardboard Boat Regatta and spectacular fireworks display. Glenbard West Hitter football is played on Saturday afternoons at historic Duchon field, with the lake and 100-year oak trees providing a striking autumn backdrop. In winter, ice skaters glide across the frozen lake...a scene straight out of a Currier and Ives postcard.
The 25-acre Lake Ellyn park features a new playground, two clay tennis courts, catch-and-release fishing, Veteran’s Memorial and a picnic area. An almost mile-long trail winds through the park and around the perimeter of the lake, allowing visitors to enjoy a picturesque view while jogging or biking. Fully-restored to its historic beauty through a $2.8 million dollar renovation, the Lake Ellyn Boathouse has received awards for design and sustainable construction and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. It is a unique setting for weddings and graduation parties and a welcome warming shelter for ice-skaters in the winter.