The Dole: A Cultural Destination for 100 Years

From a summer estate to a country club, a boys school, a church and now a community hub, this landmark in Crystal Lake continues to make its mark.

The Dole Mansion, in Crystal Lake, sits amongst tall oaks close to the waters of the lake that bears the city’s name. In the 157 years since artisans first created the mansion as a luxurious summer home, this property has been “home” to several endeavors, from a country club and boys school to a church and now its current life as a nonprofit art center and gathering place.

“We take pride in preserving the history and maintaining the green space that provides many unique experiences for our community to enjoy,” says Erin McElroy, chief relationships officer. “The Dole is an historic landmark and a valued treasure to the citizens of Crystal Lake and beyond.”

This year, The Dole celebrates two major milestones: the 20th anniversary of the Lakeside Legacy Foundation, which saved this historic property from the wrecking ball, and the 100th anniversary of Eliza “Lou” Ringling’s purchase of the mansion and its Lakeland farm.

Charles Sydney Dole was an early member of the Chicago Board of Trade. In 1865, he built a three-story mansion near the lake where he could spend summers with his wife, three children and mother-in-law. He lived in the mansion until the 1890s and sold it to his son-in-law, who later used the property for harvesting lake ice.

The house then fell into the hands of Ringling, the widow of a founding member of the Ringling Bros. circus. She established the first Crystal Lake Country Club and built the Tudor-style annex that still stands today.

“In 1922, Eliza ‘Lou’ Ringling purchased the mansion and the surrounding 1,000 acres,” McElroy says. “Along with a group of investors, Eliza designed and constructed a large addition to the mansion which included 44 bedrooms, a ballroom, sundeck, locker rooms and two golf courses.”

The stock market crash of 1929 hit the club hard, and it eventually fell into receivership, the farm was subdivided, and the club was closed in 1938. A few years later, the mansion was bought by the Franciscan Order and became St. Mary’s Minor School for Boys, which eventually closed in 1970 because of low enrollment. First Congregational Church bought the property, restored it and operated it as a community center until 2000, when its members put the property back up for sale.

The mansion was on the verge of being sold to a Chicago developer in 2002 when community leaders, Crystal Lake Jaycees and neighbors spearheaded a fundraising effort to buy and preserve the mansion. The group raised $1 million in 42 days for the Lakeside Legacy Foundation, a nonprofit formed to purchase the property and support its restoration. Three years later, the mansion was ready for its new life.

Dole’s mansion and its annex are now home to a cultural arts center that’s complete with two art galleries, a culinary kitchen, a cozy music venue and lounge, and 40 resident artist studios. Repairs and restoration to the mansion, its annex and the surrounding grounds are ongoing.

“The year 2002 was a significant point on the timeline for our present and future,” McElroy says. “It’s a huge thing to celebrate because 20 years later, the community is still gathering on this property. We have more than 40 creative artists and residents here who do their business in the arts, music, film and graphics every day. Significant people in our community ensured we would still be able to enjoy the property today.”

Further marking this year’s anniversaries and evolving into the future, The Dole has reimagined its former The Listening Room space into a speakeasy entertainment venue.

The drinks menu includes two signature craft drinks named after Ringling and her husband’s circus legacy. The Lou 22 is a riff on the French 75, which is made with gin, champagne, lemon juice and sugar. The Snake Charmer is The Dole’s take on an Old Fashioned, a classic whiskey cocktail.

The Dole also is planning a special 100th anniversary golf outing on Sept. 15, hosted at the current Crystal Lake Country Club located just down the street.

“We’re celebrating our shared roots and origin, while raising funds to ensure the preservation of the historic building and 12 remaining acres of green space for public use and enjoyment,” McElroy says. “People can have a great day on the course while helping us and our mission.”

The Dole’s programming continues to evolve, even as it remains grounded in cultural events and hospitality. The arts remain at this organization’s core, but it offers much more, including a summer festival, a growing farmers market and community gatherings.

“We house Creative Art Studios, and we host significant public festivals, such as Lakeside Fest, Farmers Market+ and our Ravinia-style concert series, called Music Under the Trees,” McElroy says. “The Dole is a place to interact with art, music and fun all while doing good. We’re also multifaceted and dimensional in our approach to traditional donor relationships, sponsorships and underwriting all while building support through events.”

As a registered nonprofit, The Dole hosts fundraising events throughout the year.

“People who come to Lou’s or Music Under the Trees for a great night of entertainment don’t even know we’re a charity,” McElroy says. “So, they have a good time and it’s our opportunity to share that they’re also doing good. Their day or evening out makes an impact, just as Lou did many years ago. We would not be able to fulfill this mission without the help of our generous donors, sponsors, support from our community and our wonderful volunteers.”

The mansion that once sat upon 1,000 sprawling acres is now a beautiful cultural destination in the heart of Crystal Lake. The mansion, while showing its age, still impresses. Self-guided tours are available for the public to view and experience the property up close – and it’s like a step back in time.

The Dole and its foundation continue to reinvest funds into the historic building and its grounds, all while supporting local musicians and artists, small businesses and the community. Interested volunteers and donors can learn more online at

“If our walls could talk, they’d tell stories of more than 100 years of gathering, and it’s our hope that the community will add to the ongoing story,” McElroy says. “I think 2022 is a great launching pad to build a bright future for The Dole. Whether you’re looking for an art show, a farmers market or a festival, if you’re just interested in yesteryear or you’re just looking for a place to sit under the trees with a beautiful backdrop, come join us.”