Established in 1860, the Chicago District Campground is a quiet community located 20 miles north of the City of Chicago, nestled among groves of old growth trees. We invite you to visit and be part of this relaxed-filled pleasant refuge in the wilderness.
A hidden gem, within walking distance to the Des Plaines Metra Train, minutes from O'Hare International Airport, bordered by the Des Plaines 56-mile River Trail to the east, the Des Plaines River to the west, and forest preserves to the north and south.
In 2005, the grounds and its many structures were honored by The National Registry of Historic Places (NRHP) making this historic site a desired place to visit. Elevations, restoration, and preservation plans are under development to preserve and revitalize this unique regional asset for future generations.
Visiting the campground is like taking a step back in history to a more tranquil time, where it’s not uncommon to experience the warmth of a handshake and a hug. A welcoming place where God and nature embrace all.
The spirit of the Chautauqua lives on, celebrating intimate, face-to-face conversations, providing a sense that you are a part of an experience and a community.
Prominent persons who have visited and supported the site include:
Joseph Kennicott, related to Robert Kennicott of the Glenview Park District’s The Grove. Joseph was one of the first Trustees in 1860. In the early 1900's, D. L. Moody of the Moody Bible Institute of Chicago endorsed the site and held revival campsite meetings for decades. William Ashley “Billy” Sunday was an American athlete who, after being a popular outfielder in baseball’s Midwest National 1880s league, became the most celebrated and influential American evangelist in the early 20th Century. Mr. Sunday was often invited to be a guest speaker in the 1930s. With the growth of the campground, it has become a village of permanent structures, with Tabernacles for church services and cottages for residents.
The Christian camp meeting began as a phenomenon of the American frontier. Not only were there few authorized houses of worship, but there were also even fewer ordained ministers to fill their pulpits. The “camp meeting” also known as "The Chautauqua" was an innovative response to this situation. These camp meetings led to tent-filled campgrounds. Our campgrounds grew and became a village of permanent structures, with tabernacles for the services and cottages for residences.
In the 1830s, as the northeastern corner of Illinois began to be settled and to develop, and the city of Des Plaines emerged from the grasslands, religious activity was a part of this settlement. Before there were established congregations and churches to house them, circuit preachers roamed the countryside carrying the message. The circuit riders traveled from small settlement to settlement and hatched the idea of bringing larger numbers together in one location for extended services. The summer camp was born. Several Protestant denominations participated in the early meetings, and the Methodists continued the practice. With the mid-nineteenth century resurgence in religion, several Chicago ministers met to arrange for a camp meeting that would attract both city members and those from the country.
The Chicago District Camp Ground was the outcome of their plans, with the first temporary site founded in 1860 and then the current site purchased in 1865, and chartered in 1867. The early meetings were mostly tent cities or temporary arrangements that offered overnight accommodations for the week-long meeting. Gradually permanent structures, such as tabernacles for the services and cottages for residences, were constructed. The camp meeting location became a village that offered the benefits of camping out in a shaded grove and the opportunity to revive one’s faith, and have access to an eclectic mix of intellectual, recreation and entertainment programs with lectures and discussion programs covering topics, from world affairs, science, history, music, art, and culture.
The Des Plaines site is significant as one of the oldest permanent sites in the United States and it is one of the best-preserved examples of a radial plan of streets with concentric circles of cottages around the main tabernacle. The 1903 Waldorf Tabernacle is a significant structural achievement with its steel trusses arranged in a circle creating a clear span of 110 feet. Over one hundred cottages, dated from the late 19th to early 20th century, forming a collection of residential wooden structures designed specifically for the rural camp meeting.
Many of the campground's buildings were designed by Chicago architects Frederick Thielbar and John Fugard, whose work included the former Jewelers Building, a classic 1920s skyscraper at 35 E. Wacker Drive. The cottages are examples of what is sometimes called "Chicago framing," the first widely used wood-frame construction that included standard-cut wooden planks and machine-made nails. It's a way of life that's all but disappeared, historians say.
The Chicago District Camp Ground Association is the original owner of the land and has maintained the site since the Civil War era.