Lorado Taft Field Campus Lorado Taft and several of his colleagues founded the Eagle’s Nest Art Colony in 1898 on a Rock River bluff north of Oregon, Illinois. The members of the group were all Chicago artists and staff members at the University of Chicago art department or the Art Institute of Chicago. The colony flourished as a source of knowledge, natural splendor, and frequent visitations until 1942 when Ralph Clarkson, the last living member of the colony, passed away. Acquired by Northern Illinois University of 1951, the university president advocated the establishment of a field study camp. The site was renovated by University Industrial Arts classes and was converted into the Lorado Taft Field Campus.
By the spring of 1954, three of the buildings from the former art colony, including the Lorado Taft home, were ready for use in the new educational mission. Paul Harrison was appointed the first director of the field campus later that year, and the first class of students came for three weeks of training. The Teacher’s College Board approved a Master’s degree in Outdoor Education in 1963. Seventy-five additional acres of land were purchased in 1965, expanding the campus to 141 acres. A dormitory was built in 1971, and the other buildings were continually upgraded. The Northern Illinois University College of Education ended its relationship with the Lorado Taft Field Campus in 2000, and the campus now operates under the auspices of the Office of the Provost at the university.
The campus now serves year-round as the university’s outdoor education and conference center. Each year more than 6,000 area schoolchildren and their teachers come to the campus and find a resource for the study of ecosystems and the influence that people have on them. The Outdoor Education Program teaches an appreciation, awareness, and understanding of the natural world. The program leaders feel that learning should occur not only in the classroom but also in the outside world. They offer a combination of multidisciplinary classes and an interface with the ecological world.