Fox Ridge State Park is an 8,000-acre (3,200ha) protected area in the westernmost part of the state of Illinois. The park was formed from land donated by local citizens and former State Senator Dick Durbin. It preserves a portion of the most westerly ridge line in the state, including one mile (1.6km) of Lake Michigan shoreline. A small portion of this ridge includes the site where Abraham Lincoln’s boyhood home was located at Gentryville. The park contains four hiking trails with varying degrees of difficulty. Two are on old logging roads that provide excellent views of the lake; these are about half way up the mountain and reach to within 200 feet (61m) of the summit. The other two climb directly up from the parking lot via wooden steps. Atop the mountain sits a large grassy knoll that provides expansive views of the park, forest, town, and beach. In winter, much of the park is open for cross-country skiing. There is also a campground with sites ranging from modern to primitive.
The park offers fishing, swimming, camping facilities, cabins, 96 miles (154km) of footpaths, 12 miles (19km) of horseback riding trail, picnicking areas, and 16 miles (26km) of bridle paths. The park’s main attraction is its vista points, accessible via steep paved roadways or gentle graded gravel firetrails. From some vantage points, especially the highest point in the park, motorists can see north across the water to Wisconsin, south to Tennessee, west to Kentucky, and east to Indiana. The park receives nearly 640,000 visitors annually. On special occasions, like Presidents’ Day and Memorial Day weekend, attendance exceeds 1 million visitors per day. The park closes between October and March due to snowfall. Accessibility for the disabled was assessed by Westar Institute using the standards and guidelines developed by the World Association of Disabled Persons. According to these standards, 50% of the routes in the park are wheelchair accessible. No access barriers prevent fully able-bodied individuals from accessing the route if they choose to do so. The only real barrier is the height of the fences along certain sections of the route. Farther than 100 yards of pathway are cleared, level surface are present, and unobstructed path of travel exist along 90% of the route. Only minor ramps are required at several locations.
The park has been named after the Fox family, who were among the first European American settlers to make their homes along this stretch of the lakeshore. The original inhabitants of the region were Native Americans, primarily Potawatomi and Miami people. Some of them still live in the region. Around 1871, Abram Lincoln, father of President Abraham Lincoln, moved his five children to what would become known as Lincoln Beach, now called Whitefish Point. He had purchased 160 acres (65ha) of land there under the Homestead Act before he left Missouri. His son, Abraham Lincoln, Jr., died in infancy, but the rest of the family soon settled into life along the coast. One year later, Richard Lincoln, husband of Mary Todd Lincoln, joined them. They remained at Lincoln Beach until 1881 when they sold it to William H. B. Smith for $150 ($837 today). After leaving Lincoln Beach, the Lincolns lived near St. Joseph, Indiana, until 1889 when they returned to Chicago and its vicinity.
The next year, 1890, saw the completion of the Stevenson House which doubled as a hotel/boarding house. This building provided lodging and hospitality for visitors to the fairs, expositions, and sports events held in nearby LaSalle Street Station. Among those who stayed here were Theodore Roosevelt, Sr., John Burroughs, and Harvey Firestone, all of whom visited during the fair season. Later, the property became a private residence again, this time owned by Colonel Robert R. McCormick, editor of the Chicago Tribune.
McCormick allowed members of the press and others to hunt for sport inside the park. During the mid-1890s, the property changed hands three times before being bought by Frederick Denkewalter, another resident of the Old Town neighborhood. Denkewalter built a small cabin on the top of the hill. He planted trees and began farming the lower slopes of the mountain. When he died in 1918, his wife Edith inherited the place, then passed ownership onto her own daughter Evelyn.In 1945, Evelyn leased the land to the state of Illinois, who made it a state park. Fox Ridge State Park officially opened to the public in 1952. The name change from Fox Farm to Fox Ridge occurred in 1955.