Oregon Trail Days features Lorado Taft campus

NIU's Lorado Taft Campus

NIU’s Lorado Taft Campus

Northern Illinois University’s Lorado Taft Field Campus, best known by scores of suburban students as the site of their favorite middle school field trip, will be transformed into a Native American/Pioneer village later this month during the Oregon Trail Days Festival, planned Saturday, July 20, and Sunday, July 21.

Demonstrators will exhibit soap- and candle-making, blacksmithing, wood carving, spinning and lace- and broom-making near the old log cabin on Taft’s campus, and children will be invited to participate in a variety of pioneer games and activities.

Quilts will be on display in Taft’s historic Poley House, and Sunday morning breakfast will be offered in the Taft Dining Center.

Throughout the two-day event, Taft staff will provide tours of the historic campus.

Founded in 1898 by famed sculptor Lorado Taft, the campus was originally known as the Eagles Nest Artist Colony and played host to a who’s-who of Midwestern artists.

Lorado Taft's Blackhawk statue

Lorado Taft’s Blackhawk statue

Taft and the 10 other founding members of the colony gathered in bucolic Ogle County to escape the summer heat of Chicago. All were members of the Chicago Art Institute or the University of Chicago art department, and examples of their paintings and sculpture abound throughout the Oregon community.

Upon the death of the colony’s final founding member, NIU acquired the 144-acre property in 1941 and has operated it as an outdoor education center ever since.

Located just 30 minutes west of DeKalb-Sycamore, the picturesque Taft campus sits on a bluff overlooking the Rock River. Three of the original artist colony buildings remain in use, while newer structures have been added over the years to house dormitories, classrooms and a dining hall.

During the school year, more than 6,000 northern Illinois fourth- through eighth-graders visit Taft for three-day outdoor education sessions. On weekends, the campus plays host to a variety of adult events, from scrapbooking clubs to executive retreats.

Suburban high school sports teams often rent fields and dormitories during the summer months for training camps, while the Illinois Department of Natural Resources runs a popular week-long program in June that teaches women outdoor survival skills.

A few hundred feet from the edge of the Taft campus stands the area’s most famous landmark – a 60-foot tall Lorado Taft sculpture called the Eternal Indian. The enigmatic figure, arms crossed and staring serenely across the river, is more than 100 years old and in need of repair. Oregon Trail Days admission fees will fund the restoration project, which is scheduled to begin next spring.

The Lorado Taft Field Campus is one of four regional sites managed by NIU’s Division of Outreach, Engagement and Information Technologies.

Festival hours are 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday, July 20, and 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Sunday, July 21. Taft campus tours are 10:30 a.m., 1 p.m. and 3:30 p.m. Saturday, and at noon at 2 p.m.  Sunday. Breakfast on Sunday will be from 8 to 10:30 a.m. Sunday ($10 per person for a full meal, including Taft’s famous cinnamon rolls).

For more information, contact Melanie Costello at (815) 753-0205 or melcostello@niu.edu.

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