The bucolic village of Wayne offers a glimpse back in time as well as a great place to live.
(Left to right) Duhnam Woods Riding Club, Dunham Castle, Wayne DuPage Hunt.
Photos courtesy of Dunham Woods Riding Club, Village of Wayne, and Patricia Engstrom
If you didn’t know better, you might think you were in the middle of a small East Coast town — or for that matter, a hamlet from an older, gentler time — when you’re driving along the winding roads of far west suburban Wayne.
Rambling along the country road, you notice acres of open lands, horses grazing and rows of trees stretching far and wide. You see almost a continual line of low, wooden fences, another indication that you’re in horse country, seemingly far away from more fortified urban fences. Nearing the town center, you glimpse a stately white church almost out of 19th century novel on one side and a scattering of other vintage buildings on the other. You don’t, however, spot a fast food chain, big box store or gleaming office tower in the immediate vicinity.
Set in both DuPage and Kane counties west of Bloomingdale, northeast of St. Charles and south of Elgin, Wayne also straddles time and space, in the sense that it’s a quiet, semi-rural community that has grown in recent years to a population of nearly 3,000. A historic site like Dunham Castle isn’t far from some newer homes, while stretches of the Illinois Prairie Path and Fox River Trail include a regular ribbon of runners and bikers clad in the latest sports gear sharing space with horses and their riders.
Those who call Wayne home say that it’s a truly distinctive place. The fact that Wayne has more open land rather than built-up, heavily-developed areas is one bonus, notes longtime resident Harlan Shiroff. “It’s certainly pleasant to look at,” he declares.
Village president Eileen Phipps, a resident since 1978, agrees. “I believe the unique character of Wayne sets us apart. Our community remains one of large lots and no commercial development,” she points out, adding that the minimum lot size is one acre, with most properties spanning two to four acres.
The Equine Equation
Wayne is perhaps most known for its equestrian ties, both today and in the past. In the 19th and early 20th centuries, the community was a hub of horse breeding; ever since, Wayne has attracted horse owners and riders, in addition to those seeking more acreage and a bucolic setting in which to live.
“In many cases, people who live in Wayne have moved here to enjoy the horse country atmosphere and the open spaces,” says Tom Atkins, a longtime Wayne resident and active member and former president of the Dunham Woods Riding Club, a social and tennis club. Shiroff, estimates that about 20 percent of the town’s residents have a barn on their property.
Today, there are a variety of horse farms, stables and riding centers in Wayne, among the more prominent of which is the Lamplight Equestrian Center. The 55-acre facility puts on regional, national and international shows for riders, jumpers and hunters. In addition to its various competition rings, the center offers permanent stables that can house hundreds of horses.
Wayne is also unique in that it is home to one of only two fox hunt clubs in northern Illinois, the Wayne-DuPage Hunt. Members hunt over private land provided by residents and the DuPage County Forest Preserve. “While they no longer hunt a true fox, the hounds are trained to follow the scent, and early Sunday mornings in the fall will find riders in their scarlet coats riding to the hounds,” reports Phipps.
In addition to sporting classic hunt attire, Wayne-DuPage Hunt members take part in traditions like a “stirrup cup” of brandy or sherry imbibed after a hunt. Each year, the Hunt hosts a reenactment of traditional English fox hunts using the “drag hunt” method (foxes aren’t harmed during the hunt).
The Wayne-Hunt Pony Club, meantime, helps keep the legacy of English riding and horsemanship alive and well by focusing on programs and competition for youngsters. The club, one of only a dozen or so in the Midwest, is home to many different kinds of ponies and horses and attracts children and young adults up to the age of 25.
Castles and Clubs
The Dunham name is rather ubiquitous in Wayne, from the main route of Dunham Road to sites that bear his surname. A Percheron horse breeder and early town leader, Mark Dunham built an opulent home inspired by a French castle in 1883. Still known as Dunham Castle and a visual icon in town, the building was bought by a private owner a couple of years ago, who hopes to restore it to its original splendor and run it as a special events venue for weddings, corporate parties and other gatherings. Part of the restored home would be available for Wayne residents to use for civic and other purposes, including the annual fox hunt.
Back in the day, Mark Dunham also owned a large horse farm near the castle where he bred Percheron horses. The family’s original home on the farm eventually became an inn, which was in turn transformed into a social club called the Dunham Woods Riding Club in the mid-1930s.
Today, the Dunham Woods Riding Club is the only spot for dining within the town of Wayne, open to members of the club. “Our private club involves tennis, paddle tennis, swimming and a lot of social events and parties for the whole family,” Atkins explains, adding that most members come from Wayne and from the surrounding Fox Valley area. Recently, the club added a new pony and tennis pavilion that’s also used for special events and parties.
Over the River AND Through the Woods
While many residents moved to Wayne for the acreage, there are expansive areas of public land within the village’s borders, too. Because of its location in both Kane and DuPage counties, Wayne is home to several parcels owned and operated by those respective forest preserves.
Encompassing more than 3,000 acres, Pratt’s Wayne Woods Forest Preserve is run by DuPage County and abuts another large area of land managed by the Illinois Department of Natural Resources (DNR). An area of the preserve known as the James “Pate” Philip State Park includes a visitors center and is the site of the Illinois DNR’s regional headquarters. More recently, the 400-acre Dunham Marsh Preserve was added to the preserve.
Those who appreciate the original topography and landscape of the open lands in the far west suburbs can also walk through the Barbara Dunham Dole Prairie in Wayne, which includes a prairie garden.
Riders and hunters who are active in the equestrian community in Wayne often use such public land as part of their routes. “I’m a member of the Hunt and when we’re going down a road to get to trails in the woods or fields, people are almost always glad to see us and will wave and say hello,” says Shiroff, who underscores the positive relationship between Hunt riders, the preserve and other homeowners in town who work together to ensure good stewardship and conservation.
Even just passing through Wayne can be like taking a ride in the country, adds Phipps. “Drive down Army Trail Road at any time of year. It is especially beautiful in the fall with the colors and after a snow with the branches covered in snow white,” she points out.
Given the fact that Wayne is in the Fox Valley area of the suburbs (and has the hilly terrain to show for it), some residents and visitors also enjoy time on the Fox River in the warmer months. “A lot of people are on pontoon boats on the river in the summer,” notes Shiroff.
Flag Day, Wayne Day
Wayne’s small time charm that harkens back to another time is evident in some of the town’s main events. In June, the town’s Flag Day festivities reflect a sense of Americana in many ways. “The parade starts at village hall, then goes to the church, which is all of two blocks,” explains Shiroff, adding with a laugh that there are usually more parade participants than spectators.
In addition to live Dixieland jazz performances and a big picnic, a highlight of the Flag Day event is the bestowing of the annual Citizen of the Year award.
In October, the community hosts Wayne Day in a large field near the Dunham Woods Riding Club. “The Village Board is in charge of the grill and they have different events. There is always music, kite flying and a hay pile filled with treats for the children. Hay rides and a pumpkin patch are often included. And at dusk, we have a bonfire with marshmallow roasting,” says Phipps.
In addition to Dunham Castle, another structure that’s synonymous with Wayne’s character is the Little Home Church by the Wayside, affiliated with the United Church of Christ. The church is, as its name suggests, located along the wayside on Army Trail Road in the town’s center.
Little Home Church by the Wayside is an integral part of the community, from its role in leading the Blessing of the Hounds before autumn fox hunts to hosting socials for Flag Day. For its congregation, the organization offers regular Friday night movies, book clubs, Bible studies and children’s playdates, among other programs. “We also have a wonderful music director and strong music program,” relates Atkins, a longtime church member.
As a new year begins, tradition continues in the town of Wayne. Indeed, maintaining history is important here, a point underscored by Phipps. “The beauty of Wayne is that it really does not change. Our residents are very proud of our historic heritage and take steps to protect it,” she says, citing locations on the National Register of Historic Places, such as Dunham Castle and Dunham Woods Riding Club.
The Wayne County Historic Preservation Society is an active force in town, and is currently renovating The Depot — a former train stop that was recently relocated back to its original location— into a museum and community center.Edit Module