Moran: Development keeps churning farm towns into suburbs

Lake County residents with long memories can tell you about the days when Waukegan ended at Lewis Avenue, long before the arrival of Belvidere Mall, much less the Home Depot that now sits next to it.

There are also People of a Certain Age in Gurnee who can tell you about the cornfields west of Hunt Club Road, which was a two-lane road back then. Go to Vernon Hills, and there are those who remember when Hawthorn Mellody Farms gave way to Hawthorn Mall.

Living proof that just-add-water development isn’t limited to the suburbs can be found an hour or so beyond the county line, where the once wide-open spaces between DeKalb and Sycamore contain much more than the Dairy Queen and Farm and Fleet that you remember.

True, the Farm and Fleet is still there, way out east on Route 23, and the Dairy Queen still sits across from Hopkins Park. But the march of time did not come to a halt when some of us gathered our diplomas and fled the scene in the late 1980s, long before Bath & Body Works was a thing.

This past holiday weekend took me to an extended family reunion at a home technically in Sycamore, though it sits in an area that was closer to Aurora 25 years ago. The six miles from there to DeKalb and the campus of Northern Illinois University have also been filled in a way that made me think I had come out of a wormhole onto Town Line Road in Vernon Hills.

Yes, this retail strip had a Bath & Body Works. And also a Giordano’s, a Portillo’s Hot Dogs and a Noodles & Company. There was also, of course, at least one Starbuck’s, not to mention a Panera Bread.

The drive down what is called DeKalb Avenue in Sycamore before becoming Sycamore Road as you approach DeKalb — no lie — also featured a U.S. Celllar, a Sprint Store and a Verizon Wireless. Also represented were Buffalo Wild Wings, Panda Express and Ruby Tuesday.

Just like Gurnee, this strip included not only a Menards but also a Lowe’s. Oddly, the nearest Home Depot is in South Elgin. Give them about five minutes.

In other words, the DeKalb-Sycamore tandem was once a farm town that became a college town and is now, in more ways than one, a suburb.

And not just a suburb, but apparently one with clout: Unlike Mundelein, Round Lake Beach and Zion, they still have an Applebee’s. Raise your hand if you’re old enough to remember that one.

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