On McDonald Farm’s 60 acres in south Naperville sits three distinctly different dwellings, each with its own purpose. And each with its own history.
In 1949, Lenore and Sterling McDonald purchased a 100-acre piece of property in south Naperville. After Sterling’s death in 1966, Lenore donated 40 acres to her church, but intended to hang on to the remaining 60 acres, even as her neighbors sold off their farms little by little to developers.
The neighborhoods surrounding the McDonald property even had roads constructed so that developers could continue them through her land once she sold it. But she never did. And in 1992, she donated those 60 acres to The Conservation Foundation, a nonprofit land and watershed protection organization, with the stipulation that their use of the property would focus on agriculture, conservation and education.
“It takes a lot of courage to do that,” said Brook McDonald, president and CEO of The Conservation Foundation (and no relation to Lenore or Sterling). “She was crazy to turn down millions of dollars. There are crazy people in the world that do wonderful things for society and their community.”
The Clow house
Lenore, born to Robert and Maude Clow, was born and raised in the family’s limestone house, built in the 1840s, which sat at the corner of 104th Street and Plainfield Naperville Road. When Rod Bushnell of Bushnell Builders wanted to develop the land, the city said the house was a part of Naperville history, and he would need to find a home for it.
Bushnell approached Brook McDonald about moving the home to McDonald Farm. It was at a time when The Conservation Foundation was growing, and Brook decided they could use more office space. The home fit within the context of the other structures on the property.
“It’s part of the family,” Brook McDonald said.
In 2007, through donations, a grant and expenses incurred from the builder, Bushnell dismantled the Clow home and rebuilt it on the McDonald Farm land. The stone was brought over bit by bit, with each section staying together so that the look remained uniform. They also brought over the home’s front stoop and the original headstone that hung over the door.
But, the rebuilt house also has some new elements. While the exterior façade looks almost identical to the home that Lenore grew up in, the interior floor plan, while the same square footage, has been rearranged to allow for classrooms, more function and better flow.
The home also features examples of sustainability with a permeable concrete walkway, bamboo flooring, an on-demand water heater and separate HVAC systems for the two levels. The home provides year-round indoor space, which the foundation had not had, for meetings, functions, fundraisers, and classrooms for school groups and camps.
The home was named the Robert C. Clow Education Center, after Lenore’s father who was a former school board president.
“It turned out great. It’s a cool place really,” Brook said. “I’m so glad we did it.”
The old carriage barn that sat on the property now serves as a two-bedroom apartment. The property is rented out to employees, people who work on the farm and college interns. The rent is reduced, and allows the foundation to have 24-hour surveillance on the property.
“It’s sort of a cool place to live,” Brook McDonald said.
The third home on the property was actually the only one that was originally built for someone to live there. When Lenore and Sterling bought the property, the home there had burnt to the ground. Using the foundation of the previous home, the McDonalds built a ranch where Lenore lived until 1996 when she moved to a retirement home.
The house now serves as the offices for The Conservation Foundation. The foundation put about $60,000 into it to bring it up to code, including adding fire alarms, upgrading plumbing and making the bathroom handicap accessible. Eight people work from the house, with bedrooms and a three-season room serving as offices. Closets and the basement serve as storage areas.
Despite being offices, much about the home still remains the same. The doors and door handles are the originals, and Lenore donated much of her furniture, which is still used in the home. The kitchen has the original stove, sink and dishwasher.
“The stars lined up,” Brook McDonald said. “I was looking for space, and I got a phone call from a family member …. It was a great move for us.”
And the McDonald family is equally pleased.
“I believe (Lenore) is looking down from heaven very approvingly,” said John Clow, Lenore’s nephew. “We are … pleased that (the) houses on the property have been saved and are being used for beneficial purposes.”