The Dole Mansion, in Crystal Lake, sits amongst tall oaks close to the waters of the city’s namesake lake. In 157 years, this property has been “home” to several endeavors, from a country club and boys school to a church and now its current life as a nonprofit art center and gathering place.
This year, The Dole celebrates two major milestones: the 20th anniversary of the Lakeside Legacy Foundation, which saved this historic property from the wrecking ball, and the 100th anniversary of Eliza “Lou” Ringling’s purchase of the mansion and its Lakeland Farm.
“We take pride in preserving the history and maintaining the green space that provides many unique experiences for our community to enjoy,” says Erin McElroy, chief relationships officer. “The Dole is an historic landmark and a valued treasure.”
Charles Sydney Dole was an early member of the Chicago Board of Trade. In 1865, he built a three-story mansion near the lake where he could spend summers with his family. He later sold it to his son-in-law, who used the property for harvesting lake ice.
The house then fell into the hands of Ringling, the widow of a founding member of the Ringling Bros. circus. She established the first Crystal Lake Country Club and built the mansion’s Tudor-style annex that still stands today.
The stock market crash of 1929 hit the club hard; it closed in 1938. The mansion was bought by the Franciscan Order and became St. Mary’s Minor School for Boys, which closed in 1970. First Congregational Church bought the property, restored it and operated it as a community center until 2000, when its members put the property back up for sale.
The mansion was on the verge of being sold to a Chicago developer in 2002 when community leaders, Crystal Lake Jaycees and neighbors spearheaded a fundraising effort to buy and preserve the mansion. The group raised $1 million in 42 days for the Lakeside Legacy Foundation, a nonprofit formed to purchase the property and support its restoration.
Dole’s mansion and its annex are now home to a cultural arts center that’s complete with two art galleries, a culinary kitchen, a cozy music venue and lounge, and 40 resident artist studios. Repairs and restoration to the mansion, its annex and its surrounding grounds are ongoing.
Further marking this year’s anniversaries, The Dole has reimagined its former The Listening Room space into a speakeasy entertainment venue.
The drinks menu includes two signature craft drinks named after Ringling and her husband’s circus legacy. The Lou 22 is a riff on the French 75, which is made with gin, champagne, lemon juice and sugar. The Snake Charmer is The Dole’s take on an Old Fashioned.
The Dole also is planning a special 100th anniversary golf outing on Sept. 15, hosted at the current Crystal Lake Country Club just down the street.
The Dole’s programming continues to evolve, even as it remains grounded in cultural events and hospitality. The arts remain at this organization’s core, with a monthly 4th Fridays event recurring throughout the year, but this destination offers much more. The Ravinia-style Music Under the Trees concert series continues with German music on Sept. 22. Meanwhile, the Farmers Market+ runs every Sunday through October, from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Plans currently call for the market to head indoors come November.
The Dole hosts fundraisers throughout the year.
“People who come to Lou’s or Music Under the Trees for a great night of entertainment don’t even know we’re a charity,” McElroy says. “So, they have a good time and it’s our opportunity to share that they’re also doing good.”
The mansion is now a beautiful cultural destination in the heart of Crystal Lake, and while showing its age, it still impresses. Self-guided tours allow the public to experience the property up close – and it’s like a step back in time.
The Dole and its foundation continue to reinvest funds into the historic building and its grounds, all while supporting local musicians and artists, small businesses and the community. Interested volunteers and donors can learn more online at thedole.org.
“I think 2022 is a great launching pad to build a bright future for The Dole,” McElroy says. “Whether you’re looking for an art show, a farmers market or a festival, if you’re just interested in yesteryear or you’re just looking for a place to sit under the trees with a beautiful backdrop, come join us.”
The Dole is located at 401 Country Club Road, Crystal Lake, (815) 455-8000.