Tucked into a corner of the northwest suburbs is a little place with a big name: Barrington. Surrounded by the horsey Barrington Hills, the palatial South Barrington and the resort-like Lake Barrington Shores is the burg where residents from all of the above go when they say they are "going into town."
Incorporated in 1865, much of this affluent village of about 10,000 people was platted in the 19th or early 20th Century. Post-war, it expanded to include ranch houses, then added a few subdivisions of two-story Colonials. But, save for some unincorporated acres on its south side, it has been landlocked for years and remains pedestrian-friendly. All sidewalks lead to Barrington's nexus, so locals can walk or bike downtown.
"What confuses people is Barrington High School has 3,000 kids, so they think the town is bigger and includes the whole area," explains third-generation resident Susan Schatsick. In addition to Barrington, the school draws from Barrington Hills, Carpentersville, Deer Park, Hoffman Estates, North Barrington, South Barrington and Tower Lakes.
The finite number of houses in Barrington has jacked up their median value to $410,000. Older houses are being replaced by larger, more expensive ones (45 teardowns in the last five years). And, the name itself suggests regency, a la Lord Barrington. But, residents including Schatsick laugh when they hear the hoity-toity way Barrington is portrayed by outsiders.
"My friends and I were reading the 'Barrington' (entry) on Urbandictionary.com — what a hoot!" says Schatsick. "We are not all rich housewives who get their hair done every week and all the kids do not drive BMWs!"
Like many suburbs fed by the commuter rail lines, Barrington evolved from a farm town to a gentrified bedroom community. Gone is the Miller Park spinning barrel that tossed small children like socks in a dryer. In is the Architectural Digest-caliber tree house at Citizens Park. Gone are the dusty drawers at Grebe Hardware. In is the Park Avenue Wine Bar. Gone is the gritty Ten Pin (bowling alley) bar. In are the white tablecloths at Francesca's Famiglia.
"Even at the height of the recession, we have 30 new businesses in town," says cop-turned-village manager Jeff Lawler. "We work hard to support them with a facade redevelopment program and continued downtown revitalization." To prevent a parking shortage, the village added spaces on village-owned properties.
But many icons remain, including the Canteen ("best ham off the bone") Restaurant and the Catlow Theater, where 1927 Tudor Revival architecture upstages its movies. Langendorf Park still anchors the village, though its pools have been supplemented with a community center and skate park.
The one thing that continues to define Barrington to most residents, though, is its school system, which consistently makes the top 20 list of Chicago-area high schools on the ACT ranking. Kids take advantage of opportunities to excel in academics, arts and sports. Barrington High has hatched more than its share of top performers, from designer Cynthia Rowley to Chicago Bear Gary Fencik.
"It's very competitive," says Lori Shoults of the top-notch school district. She and her husband, Kevin, turned an 1875 farmhouse in the village's historic district into a new, 5,700-square-foot house that serves their family of five. "My high-schooler is able to take a lot of AP classes. The downside of the competition, though, is it's hard to make the high school sports teams."
While other districts have closed their coffers due to the recession, School District 220 has made upgrades. The high school boasts a new stadium and athletic fields. An early learning center is in the works. The Sturtz House serves students with significant disabilities.
Private schools in Barrington include St. Anne (preschool-8th) and Creative Learning Montessori (K-6).
Second to the schools, say Schatsick and Shoults, is the safety net of raising kids in a town so small. "You know the neighbors, the kids' teachers, the banker, the people who own the coffee shop," says Shoults. "The kids walk to school and to the pool. On Friday nights, everyone goes to the high school football game, even if you don't have kids there. On holidays like Halloween and the Fourth of July, everyone turns out."
While the Barrington area has a colorful mobsters crime history, the typical police blotter of Barrington proper includes a stolen GPS and a DUI.
So compact is the village, every neighborhood is "desirable" in most buyers' eyes. Buyers can find the occasional fixer-upper/teardown candidate, reports Realtor Paul Wells of Re/Max of Barrington, like the aging farmhouse that recently sold for $140,000. A notch up the price ladder are 1950s ranches that sell for $250,000 and 1960s Colonials for $350,000. At the highest price points are restored grande dames, like the Victorian that went for $520,000, and new houses on teardown lots, which go for $600,000 to $1 million.
"Buyers want to be near one, the schools; two, the train; and three, the Mayberry-like things like the pool and the Catlow," reports Wells.
Teardowns are subject to scrutiny here, thanks to an appearance review committee and a size/mass ordinance. That can mean lengthy delays for buyers like Shoults, though she counts herself among those who appreciate the rules. Additional restrictions apply to the 350 properties in the village's Historic Preservation District.
For retirees, The Garlands of Barrington offers duplexes that start at $995,000 in an Ivy League-like campus.
Barrington straddles Lake and Cook Counties. In general, the latter has lower property tax bills.
Although many Barringtonians commute to Chicago or other employment hubs on the rail line, the village employs many of its own residents. Major employers include the school district, GE Healthcare Financial Services, Goodrich Corp., PepsiCo and the car-dealer queue on U.S. Highway 14.
To keep its downtown healthy, the village hosts a busy calendar of festivals, parades and events. The 27th annual Barrington Art Festival is May 29 downtown. Summer evenings, residents head downtown for the weekly Cruise Night and farmers' market.
The Fourth of July Brat Tent doubles as an unofficial multiyear homecoming reunion for Barrington High School graduates. "People who come back to town to visit tend to come that weekend so they can see their high school friends," says Lawler.
Joggers and cyclists enjoy the miles of trails that lace Barrington's parks and offer an amazing view of hundreds of herons at the rookery in the middle of Baker's Lake.
Although the surrounding area has changed from "old money to new money," observes Schatsick, the village remains a family-focused collection of neighborhoods that mix young and old, working-class and well-off.
"Someday, I'd like to retire to a warmer place," says Schatsick. "Then, I hope another family can raise their kids here like I have. If I have two buyers for my house, I'll sell it to the one with kids."