History of Irons Oaks

People often mistakenly leave off the “s” in Irons, thinking, perhaps, that two plurals must be an error. In actuality, Irons Oaks is named after the Irons family, former residents of rural Flossmoor since 1921, and generous donors of land, finances and volunteer time to the Center. In 1971, the Homewood-Flossmoor Park District purchased land on the north side of Vollmer Road, with the family donating an additional two acres. In 1978, the Homewood-Flossmoor and Olympia Fields Park Districts jointly purchased the old Bennett Estate located on the south of Vollmer Road for a 33-acre site that came to be known as Irons Oaks Environmental Learning Center.

In 1916, A.M. Bates purchased 16 acres of land and built a summer estate complete with a tennis court, a cement pool and a 14-room mansion. Bates was the inventor of the paper “valve” bag, which replaced the “jute” bag for packing sugar, coffee, and other granular substances. His wealth brought social stature, and the family threw lavish parties and sponsored garden walks on site. In later years, Bates’ son enjoyed playing polo in the open meadow area, housing his horses in the stable.  In the 50’s, the Bennett family purchased the estate, rented out the Bates mansion, and lived in another large stucco house on an adjoining property. One of the draws for the park districts’ purchase of the property in 1978 was the Bates mansion, once hoped to be the new nature center building. Hopes were dashed in the early 1980’s, when the building was found to be structurally unsound and was torn down. The other stucco house was on a parcel of land not yet owned by the park districts. In the early 1990’s that land was finally purchased, but as fate would have it, that building was the victim of fire in 1993. The old office building, in use from 1984 to 2001, was once the caretaker’s living quarters.

The Administrative Building on Western Avenue was completed in 2001. It houses offices for Administration, Adventure Center, Environmental Education, Community Programs, Facility Rentals, Irons Oaks Foundation and includes a small kitchen and reception area. The 1300 square foot room on the north side of the building is used for programming needs and is also available for room rentals for individuals or groups to hold parties, meetings or retreats.

In June of 2005 the new two-story Discovery Center was completed and sits on the original foot print of the old stable;
adding yet more available space for program and rental needs. The major purpose for this center is to house environmental hands-on technology to offer students and families a unique experience in researching native flora, fauna and wildlife here at Irons Oaks. This facility also provides much-needed programming space for Environmental Education, Community and Adventure Center programs. When not being used for Irons Oaks programming, this building is also available for rentals.