Marilyn Stark had one thought when her family first arrived at a house on a lake in the middle of farmland.
She wanted to get back in the car. She was 14 at the time and had grown up in bustling Chicago.
“I thought my whole world had come to an end,” she said. “There was nothing.”
It was 1950, before Lake in the Hills officially became a village, before paved streets and subdivisions. It was a time when the area was seen as a summer get-away, a place to swim, boat and hunt.
What the area had and still has is Woods Creek Lake. And fish, lots of fish.
“We just fished and ate fish,” Stark remembered.
It didn’t take long for her to fall in love with what she describes as “God’s country.”
So much so that she never left. She raised her family along the lake and still lives there, looking out daily at that same lake.
“It’s just beautiful … I don’t think I could move,” she said. “They’re going to have to carry me out.”
As its name implies, Lake in the Hills grew from its lakes and the refuge they offered from busy lives and crowded cities. At the direction of federal Judge Walter La Buy, who’d bought 473 acres of land around the waters, a dam was built across Woods Creek in the early 1920s.
He built five stucco homes on Indian Trail for his family and friends, said Arden Spooner, treasurer of the Lake in the Hills Historical Society. Only one of those homes still stands today, while others have been altered and enlarged.
“What he wanted to do was have kind of a resource where people could come out and fish and hunt,” Spooner said.
He also dreamed of a golf course in the area, but the market crashed, and the dream died.
Eventually, he sold his land to friends, who were affiliated with what became known as the Lake in the Hills Development Corp., Spooner said. The company planned to build affordable vacation homes for military coming back from the war, she said.
In 1950, those living in the vacation homes organized a sort of property owners association to ensure that the lake was taken care of, and soon people were living there year-round. Two years later, the village was incorporated as Lake in the Hills.
Much has changed since then, with the addition of Randall Road and numerous subdivisions, but to those living around the lake and others who visit it, the beauty remains.
“We really don’t have a town center,” Spooner said. “We have the lake. That’s kind of the center. It’s a very special lake.”
Along with Woods Creek Lake, with its Indian Trail Beach and Butch Hagele Beach, the village has Goose Lake, Willow Lake and Lake Scott.
While Woods Creek Lake offers swimming, fishing, non-motorized boating and other activities to the public, the other lakes mainly are used by those living around them. Goose Lake provides some fishing, while Willow Lake and Lake Scott are wildlife ponds.
Over the years, the village’s parks and recreation department has hosted events and activities at Woods Creek Lake, drawing both nonresidents and residents.
Every Wednesday night in June and July, up to 120 people come for guarded swims beyond the lake’s buoy line, said Trudy Wakeman, director of parks and recreation and a triathlon competitor.
“If anything, it brings exposure to the lake... to the opportunities they have to bring families back and enjoy the lake,” she said.
People can rent kayaks, paddle boats and soon try stand-up paddle-boating, “which intrigues me because I want to do that,” Wakeman said.
Past events at the lake have included Venetian Night and shows by Hawaiian dancers during the summer, she said.
“We try to provide activities you don’t necessarily have to pay for just to enjoy the beach,” she said.
It’s a beach Stark remembers sitting on with friends as their children swam and played. She’d pack lunches and her children into a row boat when they were younger, sitting them on the floor of the boat and fishing all day.
“It was just a great life,” she said. “I just had a wonderful experience here. … I was one lucky person to have all that.”