Tag Archives: flooding

Farnsworth House

In April of 2001, when the state of Illinois was considering the purchase of the Farnsworth House and the 62 acres of land it sits on along the Fox River, I wrote a letter and sent it to damn near everyone I knew at the time that had anything to do with conservation, along with sending it to the Letters sections of all the papers.

I knew that in 1996, when the Fox had a 100 year flood event, it inundated the Farnsworth House and it cost $250K to restore it. As the infamous WGN radio host Spike O’Dell said at the time of the 1996 floods… “What did you think was going to happen when you paved everything over, water’s gotta go somewhere.”

I had studied architecture and knew all about Mies and the historic significance of the house, why it was built the way it is and why it’s located where it is… and none of that mattered to me.

Apparently I made that quite clear in part of the letter I wrote back then.

Common sense dictates that you don’t build homes in floodplains.

I think the emphasis on why the State of Illinois should purchase the Farnsworth property needs to be reevaluated. The purchase of the house would include 62 acres of land that borders the Fox River. The land alone, with or without the inclusion of the house, should be purchased by the state.
The Farnsworth property is next to, and across the river from, Silver Springs State Park. Adding the 62 acres to Silver Springs would protect a beautiful stretch of the Fox River from development, and guarantee public access to a body of water that is quickly becoming surrounded by private property.
As for the house, if it is included in the purchase, it should be moved further back on the floodplain. I don’t think moving it will have any effect on its architectural integrity. In the long run, the move will save taxpayers hundreds of thousands of dollars in repair bills as the house will no longer get damaged by floods.

The picture at the top of this post is from April of 2013, never did bother looking into what it cost to repair it that time. I know there was another high water event just a few years earlier. Those pesky 100 year high water events decided to almost become a regular feature of the river.

I distinctly recall having a conversation about this back then and suggested moving the house to the edge of the cornfield up the hill to the north and east of where it now sits.

Flash forward 14 years to an article that was in the Tribune’s Beacon News on June 19, 2015:

Trust considers moving Mies van der Rohe home on the Fox River

One of the three options being considered is what I suggested 14 years ago.

Ultimately this has nothing to do with the Farnsworth House, the legacy of Mies van der Rohe or whether or not you like glass and steel buildings. I think the world could do just fine with a little less glass and steel.

For me it became a revelation as to why I get bored and disinterested with “issues” so quickly. I have no clue why my brain draws conclusions as quickly as it does, but for many years I’ve felt compelled to share these conclusions with others only to have them met with disinterest and ridicule.

Which is why I now consciously avoid saying much of anything regarding issues.

Yet here it is 14 years and at least two damaging flood events later, someone came up with the brilliant idea that maybe this building should be moved out of the way some how.

Well, there’s a novel idea.

Maybe by the time it gets out of committee and I happen to live to be 90, I’ll see it happen.

But I’m not banking on it.

In the mean time I think an opportunity is being missed.

I hear that on a nice, bright, sunny day the Farnsworth House turns into the world’s largest convection oven.

Imagine the cook offs that could be done.

Maybe this is what Mies intended for the Farnsworth House all along.

Too Hot to Wander, Too High to Fish

Within 60 seconds of leaving my house there are nothing but farm fields for as far as you could see. That’s one of the reasons I’m reluctant to move away from this area.

If the work gods were kind to me, they would find me more work in the west and southwest Chicago suburbs. Joliet and Plainfield are barely a half hour away. Naperville is another half hour to 45 minute drive, depending on which side of Naperville I have to go to. On a good traffic day, I can make it to Elmhurst in an hour. Relatively short commute times to me, a small price to pay to go home and be on perpetual vacation.

I’ve figured out a number of different routes where I would drive on nothing but back roads all over the state. Basically seeing nothing but farm fields and small towns for the whole ride. From what I can tell on the map, the majority of the roads would be nothing more than, well, a road. No shoulder, grass grows right up to the edge. No lines down the middle indicating a lane or a passing zone, just a road.

One route goes all the way down to Cairo. I have a few that will take me to different locations up and down the Mississippi River. Some day I’ll have to start venturing down these routes.

As I headed down this one, a deer was running across the field well ahead of me. It cut across the road and then made a high graceful leap as it continued running along a tree line. When I got to its crossing point the reason for the leap was evident. It had to get over a 4 foot high fence. How something weighing over 150 pounds can look so graceful on such a high jump is fascinating. My wife calls me a klutz when all I’m doing is walking through the house.

The plan was to go out and do some exploring on new forest preserve land near where I live. It’s completely undeveloped and has no real access points. I was able to find a small spot on the side of the road to pull over. I was warned by the head of the forest preserve district that finding a spot to park would be difficult. The only stretch of road that borders the new preserve is narrow and winding.

Luckily the road doesn’t get much traffic. I wasn’t parked that far off the road.

Based on a loosely drawn map I was given, I had a vague idea where the property lines were. One of the main reasons for this exploration are the ponds that are out in the middle of the property some where. They could be ponds that were once used for agricultural use only or they could hold fish. Only one way to find out.

Only finding out will have to wait. By the time I got there around noon, the temperature was already approaching 90 degrees. I scoured the edges of the road looking for ways into the property. I eventually found a well worn deer path that disappeared into a wall of green.

Down in this little valley, protected by the walls of trees, there was practically no wind. The heat was already repressive. This exploration would have to wait till after the next cold front. Based on the map I had there was about a half mile of woods to wander through. Just because I had found a path means nothing. I’ve been down these paths before. I wasn’t up for crawling through the woods.

With the weekend rains finally over, I did a little scouting along the Fox River and a couple of its creeks. I already knew that the Fox was a mess. I had checked it out the day before and the new whitewater course in Yorkville was overflowing its banks.

I crossed the river on the far west end of Silver Springs State Park. On the north shore sits the Farnsworth House designed by architect Mies Van Der Rohe. The same genius that brought us office buildings. Why anyone would want to live in a house that resembles a one story office building is beyond me, but what do I know.

The building is up off the ground a couple of feet and the water was lapping under its floor. Only the water wasn’t coming from the river, it was coming from Rob Roy Creek, which runs right next to the house.

The house has flooded in the past and I hear it cost $250,000 to restore just about every time. When it was being purchased around 8 years ago to be turned into a museum of sorts, I had written a letter that stated part of the condition of the sale should be that they move the thing off the floodplain and up into the cornfield at the top of the bluff. No great loss from an architectural standpoint and cheaper in the long run.

They didn’t listen. I’m hoping some day a good flood wipes the thing out. That will teach you to build on a floodplain.

When I got to Big Rock Creek, I knew it would be high, but not like this. The adjoining fields had turned into a lake. The 4 foot high banks of the creek were gone. I went through my photo archives to find a shot of the creek at normal levels. The best I could come up with is a winter shot, but that’s pretty much the way the creek looks at normal levels.

Notice the tree in the foreground.

This is what it looked like today. Same tree in the foreground.

Not far down stream is the mouth of the creek. You can see it as you cross over on a bridge. In the water was a bass boat with a couple of guys standing and fishing. The creek was rushing out into the river like a torrent. The river itself was a boiling mess of mud colored water. At some point these guys had to notice these things and yet, they still thought this was a good idea. I’m sure if they got themselves killed we’re supposed to show some kind of sympathy for the poor anglers.

Not me, I have no sympathy for deaths resulting from sheer stupidity.

What is it about water, particularly running water in creeks and rivers, that’s such a mystery to people. What is it about floodplains that make them such a difficult concept to comprehend.

In the mid nineties Naperville got 8 to 10 inches of rain in less than a 24 hour period. Of course, there was flooding. If you lived in a floodplain, you basically lost everything. The next day the phone calls flooded WGN, a Chicago radio station. The DJ was being polite as people would go on and on about nothing being done, about what can be done to prevent this from happening again. I don’t recall anyone suggesting, well, why don’t you move to a place where it doesn’t flood.

At one point the DJ had pretty much had it. He hung up on a caller and said, “What do you expect when you pave everything over, waters’ got to go somewhere.”

Sounds simple to me.