The Northern Almanac Ep. 13 - 'The Lorado Taft Field Campus'

May 5, 2020

Welcome to The Northern Almanac, a WNIJ living history project coinciding with NIU's 125th anniversary.


Northern’s Lorado Taft Field campus sits on the Rock River in Oregon, Illinois. The site began in 1898 as Eagle’s Nest Art Colony, established by noted American sculptor Lorado Taft and a group of artists. It flourished until 1942, when the last member died. In 1949, Northern President Leslie Holmes began lobbying the legislature to acquire the property. An avid outdoorsman, Holmes believed in outdoor education. Northern acquired 66 acres of the estate in 1951, including heavily wooded areas, open fields, ravines and the original art colony. Holmes considered this acquisition one of the most satisfying accomplishments of his tenure as Northern’s president.


 The Field Campus initially offered students exposure to outdoor teaching methods. Later, the College of Education developed a Master’s degree in Outdoor Teacher Education. The Taft campus has expanded from its original 66 acres to 141 acres. It features team courses, outdoor gathering areas, sports fields, and hiking trails through wooded and open areas over a variety of terrain. The 15 buildings include a science lab, dining hall, dormitories, classrooms, meeting and conference rooms, staff residences and offices, and a maintenance shop. Three of the buildings are more than 100 years old.


Several sculptures by Lorado Taft remain on the grounds. Taft’s 60-foot-tall sculpture of the “Eternal Indian” (popularly, if incorrectly, known as “The Blackhawk Statue”) overlooks the Rock River in adjacent Lowden State Park. Today, the Taft campus provides programs to more than 6,000 elementary and middle-school students each year, as well as dozens of outside groups seeking a pastoral setting for conferences, workshops and retreats.