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Fremont Township to preserve Sylvan Dam

Sylvan Lake dam is under HighlDrive one-lane road thruns near Midlothian Road unincorporated Fremont Township.| RICK KAMBIC~Sun-Times Media

Sylvan Lake dam is under Highland Drive, a one-lane road that runs near Midlothian Road in unincorporated Fremont Township.| RICK KAMBIC~Sun-Times Media

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Updated: January 24, 2013 4:46PM

Landmarks from early settlers can still be found in the hidden nooks of Lake County. One such icon is the Sylvan Lake Dam in unincorporated Fremont Township, just outside Mundelein.

Glaciers formed Diamond Lake hundreds of years ago, whereas Sylvan Lake was man-made when developers began putting summer cottages around the new waterfront.

Some of those homes have been remodeled, but the dam that holds the lake together is original and in need of replacement.

Created in 1929, the damn is underneath a one-lane, half-mile stretch of road known as Highland Drive and slowly funnels excess water into a creek under Midlothian Road.

After patching the structure in recent years, Fremont Township finally planned to overhaul the dam this year but construction has been delayed by the Illinois Department of Natural Resources.

Fremont Township Highway Commissioner Bill Grinnell said his application for an engineering permit is one of thousands from throughout the state that did not get reviewed before construction season ended.

“They are overwhelmed down there,” Grinnell said. “I believe they only have a handful of people on staff now.”

Grinnell plans to schedule the six-week, $450,000 project in fall 2013 after residents put their boats away. Replacing the dam involves lowering the lake’s water level.

The Sylvan Lake Improvement Association, a division of the local homeowners association, voted to give the dam to Fremont Township in 2011. The two entities were previously in partnership during repair projects.

Though the complete replacement is needed, Grinnell said the dam can survive one more year.

Along the dam’s half-mile lakeside, cracks allow seepage under the road and into the creek where water gets funneled.

“The big stumbling block is that it’s a dam and cannot fail,” Grinnell said. “With seepage, you risk the land on the other side becoming unstable. We’ve hit that point where we know minor repairs are no longer a practical solution.”

The concrete barrier funneling water into the creek also has several cracks that threaten to erase history. Two concrete blocks toward the bottom have engravings “AG Schwerman” and “1929” – the name of the subdivision’s original developer and the year he built it.

A road was even named after the man; it runs along unincorporated Fremont Township near the Hawthorn Country Club.

“The Sylvan Lake area is a community where the next generation stays,” Grinnell said. “One generation transformed the subdivision from summer homes into regular, full-time homes and now their kids are buying the homes. History never dies.”

The two engraved blocks will be mounted somewhere on the new dam, Grinnell said.

As for the accompanying renovation of Highland Drive, Grinnell said the residents do not want an expanded two-way road.

“They want what they’ve known their whole lives,” Grinnell said. “They don’t mind taking turns down a one-lane road.”

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