Glenview was still part of the Illinois frontier when Dr. John A. Kennicott arrived with his family in 1836.
The pioneer physician created the Grove Nursery & Garden, the region's first commercial plant nursery on about 45 acres of land, purchased for $1.25 per acre. He went on to found the Illinois State Fair, help create a national system of agricultural colleges and propose the Chicago Botanic Gardens.
Though Kennicott died 151 years ago, he's getting new life at an exhibit at The Grove National Historic Landmark, 1421 Milwaukee Ave. in Glenview, opening Saturday and Sunday.
"I think he was an inspiration," said Steve Swanson, director of The Grove and Air Station Prairie. "He lived out here on the prairie. This was really the wilderness back then. He was able to do things we still benefit from today."
The Kennicott homestead is now a national historic landmark, run by the Glenview Park District on 135 of the 868 acres the family once owned. The home and original furnishings were restored, with about 1,000 school groups visiting per year.
This is the first exhibit at The Grove to focus on Kennicott, the patriarch of the family. His son, Robert, had been The Grove's focus for many years, Swanson said, having founded the Chicago Academy of Sciences, served as a Smithsonian scientist and been the first naturalist for the state of Illinois. He was also one of four principal people to purchase Alaska from Russia.
"Dr. Kennicott has really been kind of eclipsed by him," said Swanson. "But we decided we really wanted to look at Dr. Kennicott's life and all his achievements."
Kennicott, who was born in 1802 in New York, became one of the area's first physicians when he came to Glenview, then called West Northfield, in 1836. He started The Grove Nursery & Garden in 1842 and called for the first Illinois State Fair in 1853.
Kennicott also had national reach. He lobbied for a federal agricultural bureau, now the U.S. Department of Agriculture, and went to Washington to petition for the Land Grant College Act.
He helped draft a bill in the state legislature to create an "Illinois university."
"If you got to any of the A&M universities, those are agricultural and mechanical universities, they're a direct result of the Land Grant College Act and he was the principal person that moved that act forward and was passed by U.S. House of Representatives and Senate," Swanson said.
Kennicott also continued to make the rounds as a doctor, tiring out five horses a day as he made house calls across the region, said Grove archivist Elizabeth Kopp.
The exhibit features period medical equipment, catalogues and ledgers from the nursery, and family keepsakes, such as tickets to the first Illinois State Fair and the World's Columbian Exposition in 1893. There is work from local artisans depicting a bird, Alice's Thrush, named after Kennicott's daughter, and an iris hybrid created by Kennicott's son. The exhibit also features a new painting of Kennicott by artist John Deom.
The exhibit, which has been in the works for two years, is funded by the Illinois Public Museum Capital Grant Program, the Glenview Park District and a number of other donors. The free exhibit includes a scavenger hunt for children.