A Pioneer Survivor Tucked Away in a World of Country Estates
and Aristocratic Pursuits
With a caregiver gently brushing her fine white hair, Gracie Jackson chattered with her visitor at the Olivette Nursing Home in Elgin. It was 1978 and she was a resident there after the family farmhouse on a now-closed section of Donlea Road had been become uninhabitable. Little had changed in the house since it was built by Gracie’s grandfather, George ”Father” Jackson, around 20 years after his arrival from Onondaga County, New York in 1842.
Gracie’s father, George M. Jackson, Jr., was five-months-old at the time the family settled on land grant acreage at Spring Lake in Barrington Township. Their first home was a log cabin. George Jr. grew up, and remained on the farm all his life. He married Louise Perry of Dundee and they had four children, the youngest being Grace, born in 1889. Her mother died two years later, and an older sister raised her.
Gracie went intermittently to the Jackson School on the corner of Bateman Road and Route 62 and read well. This was true of the entire family. Every room in the house was crammed with over a hundred years’ worth of newspapers, the “Prairie Farmer,” and similar publications.
Neither Gracie nor her older brother Harvey had ever married. They spent their lives caring for the farm and their animals. Harvey died in hospital in 1960, after Gracie had nursed him through what she described as “fits.”
Gracie never went to church or had any social activities. She had a radio, listening to Moody Bible programs. About once a year she went into Barrington in the family car, where her father and brother Harvey went to have their beards trimmed. In 1978 she was asked about her early life.
“What did you do for fun when you were a young girl?” Her down-to-earth answer was: “Why, I had to hold anywhere.” On re-questioning, she repeated: “My job was to take hold anywhere. Make yourself useful.”
And so she did. After Harvey died, she carried on alone, spending her entire life in the same home. Her property was sold to the Cook County Forest Preserve District, with her lifetime right to remain there. The Riding Club of Barrington Hills and the Fox River Valley Hunt became her neighbors as the countryside acquired a cachet undreamed of by her forbears.
Out tending her flowers, she chatted with passers-by on Donlea Road. Two rooms in the house had electricity, and gas was brought in at some point. There was no running water. After the road was closed, her family feared for her safety, and she moved into the relative comforts of Olivette.
On February 26, 1981, by order of the Forest Preserve, the house was demolished. Gracie Jackson lived on at Olivette, her radio and Moody Bible still her constant companions, and died there in 1993. She was a remarkable survivor of Barrington’s bygone pioneer era.
- - - - - -
Barbara L. Benson grew up in Kent, England, and later moved to New York. She settled in Barrington and has walked with our history ever since she first arrived here in 1980.