Fort Sheridan Construction
The site plan for Fort Sheridan grew out of its unique location high on the bluffs of Lake Michigan in an area cut deep by ravines. Fort Sheridan was located on the Highland Park glacial moraine formed by retreating glaciers which had left the area as a heavily forested and fertile environment. The area was originally drained by streams flowing eastward through deep ravines filled with abundant native flora and fauna.
The location was excellent for the construction of an army installation. There was an abundance of natural material for the construction of buildings and roadways. Sand could be taken from Lake Michigan in seemingly unlimited quantities, and clay suitable for manufacturing brick was readily available in quantity on site. A spur track was built from the adjacent railroad line to transport construction materials.
The architectural firm of Holabird & Roche was commissioned to design Fort Sheridan and Ossian C. Simonds was then contracted to serve as the landscape architect. The subsequent plan for Fort Sheridan resulted in 64 graceful masonry buildings made from an estimated six million cream colored bricks actually extracted from the reopened clay pits on the post’s bluffs. These structures were situated in a picturesque setting of native plant material and a landscape of gently curving roads reflecting the ravine cut topography and available composition of trees.
The Fort’s architecture was marked by arched entrances, arcaded openings, simple brickwork and elegant but Spartan, stone and terra cotta ornamentation. The center of the post was the 54 acre, irregularly shaped oval parade ground around which was positioned a 228 foot tower flanked by 1,000 feet of barracks on the south side, and the Bachelor Officers Quarters and single family homes varying in size on the east and north sides.
The single family homes facing the parade ground served as quarters for officers, the size of the home dependant upon an officer’s military rank. The Post Commanders’ residences were located on the bluffs overlooking Lake Michigan and were designed in the Queen Anne style each with a corner tower, a front facing gabled dormer and a front porch trimmed in Romanesque Revival terra cotta ornamentation. The picturesque style of these large and imposing Post Commander residences set them apart from the brick gabled front homes for families of Captains and Lieutenants that faced directly onto the Parade Grounds. The non-commissioned officers’ structures were more specifically Romanesque in style with gabled dormers and front porches.
The imposing tower was originally designed with a more pitched roof and provided a dramatic opening at the base large enough to accommodate a platoon of soldiers marching to the adjoining parade ground. Connected structurally to barracks buildings on the east and west sides, the tower structure formed the commanding centerpiece to the historically significant complex. The tower was reduced to its current 168 foot height in 1949 to address structural problems.
Other service buildings were designed as facilities for stables, a veterinary hospital, a mess hall, quartermasters, blacksmiths, kitchens, a pumping station and a stockade. All were constructed in the same cream colored brick architectural style, providing a sense of solidity, restraint and historic elegance throughout the grounds.