1,645 acres | 7.2 miles of trail
Open Daily Sunrise to Sunset (Some sites are subject to Seasonal Closures or closures due to special circumstances).
Administrative Offices Entrance
18410 US Highway 14, Woodstock
Ph (815) 338.6223
Located in the northwestern quadrant of the county, Brookdale offers a serene getaway from daily life. Visitors can enjoy a 1 mile mowed grass trail loop that transverses one side of the 11 acre pond, past a wildlife observation deck overlooking the water and up through a former pine plantation, tree plantings. A picnic shelter and restroom are available on the east side of the pond/Paulson Road entrance, as well as a 1/4 mile paved trail that leads to a handicap accessible fishing pier and small dam where the pond spills into the north branch of the Kishwaukee River. The Paulsen Road Entrance also offers a horse trailer parking lot for up to 10 trailers and is the closer access point to the 6.15-mile multi-use trail.
Things to Do
Hiking: There are 7.2 miles of trails at Brookdale for visitors to enjoy. The Administrative Office entrance offers closest access to the 1 mile trail along the pond and up through the pine trees. From the Paulson entrance, the trail picks up trail near horse trailer lot and crosses Paulson Rd.
Horseback Riding: The Paulsen Road Entrance offers a horse trailer parking and access to the 6.15 mile multi-use trail.
Fishing is allowed in the 11 acre lake with a valid license. Fishermen must obey all State of Illinois fishing regulations and any other posted site-specific regulations. In addition there are twin ponds that are roughly a .75 mile walk accessed from the Paulson Rd. parking lot, located from trail northeast of Paulson Road.
Picnicking: A reservable picnic shelter with grill is available for up to 80 guests or can be used for free for casual day use individuals and groups less than 15.
Snow Show/Cross Country Ski: Due to the steep incline/decline the 1 mile looped trail is considered an advanced trail and is not groomed.
The buildings you see here at the Brookdale Conservation Area have been home to the McHenry County Conservation District’s administrative offices since November of 2000. They contain a link, however, to colorful stories of the county’s early settlement days. The community of Brookdale was settled along the banks of the Kishwaukee River in the late 1830s by John Quinlan, who was born in County Cork, Ireland. By 1840, Wesley Diggins built a dam across the Kishwaukee River and constructed a sawmill. The surrounding area was settled primarily by folks of Irish heritage along the Kishwaukee River and a stage coach route. This little village included a successful sawmill, store, taverns and a small collection of homes. One of the settlement’s earliest buildings was the combination town hall, tavern and stage coach stop. During the 1840s it is historically recorded that “the Brookdale Area had nine saloons and not many more houses, and commonly referred to as ‘Hell’s Half Acre’ because the whiskey and temperaments of Irish settlers and area lumberjacks caused frequent explosions.”
On February 9, 1848, the Village of Brookdale was formally established, with the expectation that the Illinois and Wisconsin Railroad Company would extend its tracks from Cary through Brookdale and on to Janesville, Wisconsin. However, due to a disagreement said to have taken place between a surveyor for the railroad and a local innkeeper the railroad route made a bend around Brookdale and into Harvard. (One account states the argument was with the innkeeper of the S.S. Parker hotel in Chemung over the price of cigars.) Although the new railroad line was not completed until 1859, Brookdale was already on the decline, and was formally abandoned on February 15, 1856, just eight years after it was founded.
Fast forward almost 80 years to a time when little was left of this once-thriving village but the weather-beaten town hall. In 1935 Elmer and Helen Pellegrin purchased a farm that included this structure and chose to build their home around the stage stop waiting room, capturing the atmosphere of long ago. They kept the original beams and studs, brick wall, arched doorway and black oak boards sawn at the mill almost a century before. They added cavernous fireplaces with stones from the fields and foundations of Brookdale’s former taverns, town hall and homes. Many of these features are still visible in the building that stands before you despite later remodeling projects. The smaller building was originally the home constructed by the Pellegrins’ son George and his wife Dorothy, using similar materials and style (known as the birches, while the main building was called the willows and the lake building known as the pines.)
In 1954, the Beckwith family purchased the property and designed and constructed a concrete dam to retain the north branch of the Kishwaukee River, creating the small lake you see today. In 1968 the property changed hands again, when purchased by Aaron and Sylvia Scheinfeld. The Scheinfelds were deeply committed to helping the disadvantaged, and this property provided the perfect location to establish a conference center “dedicated to a program for the creative solutions of social problems”. Named The Woodstock Center, it opened in 1969 and for more than 15 years successfully hosted thousands of participants in hundreds of conferences. In April of 1987, the Scheinfeld Foundation gifted the center to the Northern Illinois University Foundation, which operated the center until the McHenry County Conservation District purchased the property in 1998. The historic structures were then remodeled for administrative use, while retaining much of the character of the Pellegrins’ original creative design. In 2000, the Conservation District moved its Administrative Offices to the Woodstock site and restored the name "Brookdale" to reflect its storied history.