Our Mission

Located among pristine woodlands in the Ryerson historic home in Riverwoods, Il., Brushwood Center at Ryerson Woods promotes the importance of nature for nurturing personal and community wellbeing, cultivating creativity, and inspiring learning. In doing so, we honor the legacy of those who came before us on this land and champion a region where people will care about and for nature.

Our History:

A group of private property owners, concerned about protecting the natural beauty of the land, bands together to leave an environmentally significant, intact woodland to the public.

Brushwood Center at Ryerson Woods is nestled in 565 acres of magnificent woodlands in the heart of Lake County, Illinois. The preserve’s rich natural and cultural history is recognized by its dual designation as an Illinois Nature Preserve and as a Historic District by the National Register of Historic Places.

Brushwood Center was founded in 1984 to support the preservation of the woods and encourage people to connect to this natural area. Brushwood Center was established following the transfer of the land and home from Nora and Edward Ryerson along with several neighboring families’ properties to Lake County Forest Preserves.

Originally named Friends of Ryerson Woods, the organization began as an advisory committee of the Lake County Forest Preserves and evolved into an independent 501 c(3) organization now known as Brushwood Center at Ryerson Woods. Brushwood Center operates through a license agreement with Lake County Forest Preserves and receives no direct financial support from the Preserves. Our programs thrive thanks to the generosity of individual and corporate donors who support our high quality, educational programming throughout the year.

Thanks to our new strategic plan, Brushwood Center has renewed its commitment to the arts and nature with an invigorated focus on community partnerships, inclusion, and promotion of art and nature for personal and community wellbeing. We actively focus our programs on veterans and low-income communities in Lake and Cook Counties.

Key Events in Ryerson Woods History:

1600s thru 1800s: The Potawatomi use the area as hunting grounds.

1834: Daniel Wright builds a log cabin just west of the Des Plaines River, near present-day Ryerson Woods, and becomes the first year-round European settler in what would become Lake County.

1928: Edward and Nora Ryerson buy land and build a cabin on the banks of the Des Plaines River (still standing today, although closed to the public).

1939: The Ryersons purchase additional land and begin construction of the farm complex near the present-day Lake County Forest Preserve Welcome Center.

1942: The Ryerson family complete the building of their Greek Revival-style summer home. This now serves as the center of all Brushwood programs and operations.

1966: The Forest Preserve District of Cook County recommends designating Ryerson Woods as a forest preserve. The Ryerson family sells and donates land to the district that eventually totals 257 acres.

1972: After both Edward and Nora Ryerson pass away in 1971, the district commences management of 550 acres at Ryerson Woods; 270 acres are accepted into the Illinois Nature Preserves system.

1984: The first Smith Nature Symposium is held—and Friends of Ryerson Woods, the forerunner to the Brushwood Center at Ryerson Woods, is founded.

1995: 471 acres of Ryerson Woods are designated as a National Historic District; the land, cabins, farm building, and the Brushwood building are listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

2007: Friends of Ryerson Woods establishes licensing agreement with the forest preserve district for use and management of Brushwood.

2013: “Friends of Ryerson Woods” becomes “Brushwood Center at Ryerson Woods.”

2016: Brushwood Center at Ryerson Woods adopts its current mission statement.

Visit Us

Monday through Thursday








Support Us