Susan Dart McCutcheon was the spouse of John T. McCutcheon, Jr., former editor of the Chicago Tribune’s editorial page and after he retired the Tribune Co. archivist in the 1980s. After raising her family in Lake Forest, Susan Dart, the name she wrote under, produced a natural foods and cooking syndicated column for the Chicago Tribune (1976-81), wrote a “Forest Ranger” column for the Lake Forester, and several books in the 1980s and 1990s. Along with advocating for healthy diets, she was active in saving from demolition the 1899 Lake Forest City Hall. She moved to North Carolina with her husband in the late 1980s while returning locally summers in the 1990s.
As she described in her partly autobiographical study of her brother, architect Edward Dart, Susan Dart was a native of New Orleans. She later graduated from Connecticut College. She met her husband, a young Navy officer and son of the eminent Chicago political cartoonist and author John T. McCutcheon, in New Orleans in the early 1940s. They married in 1943 and moved to Lake Forest in 1947, living in a cottage on the Aldis Compound on Illinois Road, near Green Bay Road, called Bird Cottage, which has since been demolished.
In the 1950s Susan Dart McCutcheon raised a family and moved into, on a west Lake Forest prairie setting, a new brick ranch style home (W. Laurel Ave., demolished) designed by her modernist architect brother, Edward Dart. Perhaps partly due to her southern origins, though she was social she never considered herself a socialite, according to her daughter Anne McCutcheon Lewis as reported in her Chicago Tribune obituary, December 16, 2007(author Trevor Jensen). She belonged to Onwentsia in Lake Forest and to Chicago’s Friday Club. In 1963 she received a master’s in English from Northwestern University, and she then taught at Ferry Hall (now merged into Lake Forest Academy) and Barat College.
Her local column, “Forest Ranger,” for the local Lake Forester in the early 1970s was succeeded by her syndicated “Natural Foods” column from 1976 to 1981. In these later columns she crusaded for healthy eating based on foods not contaminated by little-understood and potentially-harmful chemicals. Through her accessible writings about practical recipes she showed the way for individuals to take control of a major way that the environment affects their lives. Her carefully put together collection of these columns, with an index, suggests that she may have considered putting them together as a book.
By this time she had moved on, from 1980 to 1997, to write books of family, local, architectural and organizational history that remain essential sources. These are:
Evelyn Shaw McCutcheon and Ragdale. (Lake Forest-Lake Bluff Historical Society, 1980).
Market Square. (Lake Forest-Lake Bluff Historical Society, 1984).
Friday Club: The First Hundred Years, 1887-1987. (Chicago; the Club, 1987).
Supplement to Edward Arpee, Lake Forest, Illinois: History and Reminiscences, 1861-1961. (Lake Forest-Lake Bluff Historical Society, 1991).
Edward Dart, Architect. (Evanston: Evanston Publishing, 1993).
The Old Home Place. (Louisville, KY: Chicago Spectrum Press, 1997).
The first book, only 29 pp., Evelyn Shaw McCutcheon and Ragdale(1980), was also the first book published about Ragdale, a decade prior to Alice Hayes and Susan Moon, Ragdale: A History and Guide(Open Books and the Ragdale Foundation, 1990). This pamphlet preserved lore about her mother-in-law and her family and the family compound, Ragdale, by then housing the Ragdale Foundation(founded 1976 by Alice Hayes) in Shaw’s 1897 completed English Arts & Crafts summer home.
This book about the Shaw family and Ragdale led into the second book as Susan Dart delved further into the work of architect Howard Van Doren Shaw and his arguably most notable project, Market Square(1916), the model for all subsequent shopping centers. For her work on Shaw she mounted a campaign to document photographically as much of Shaw’s local (Lake Forest, Chicago) work as possible and she engaged volunteer and professional photographers including Barbara Wood-Prince, Bert Congdon, Jean McMasters Grost, and others (available in Special Collections).
Disappointed in the physical presentation of her first book, she took control of the production of Market Square (1984). She engaged book producer Frank Williams and also eminent book designer R. Hunter Middleton, both of Chicago, to create an appropriately respectful form for her study of Shaw’s significant 1916 first and model shopping center. She accompanied review of the project’s history and architecture with a biographical sketch of the architect. Once this was published she donated her Shaw and architecture material, along with the production and design records with Williams and Middleton, respectively, here in Special Collections, 1984. Also included were other local materials and photographs, including 1907-08 Onwentsia horse show stereo views identified by her late mother-in-law, Evelyn Shaw McCutcheon. Deposited the year after the Donnelley Library opened its first Special Collections reading room and new closed stacks in 1983, this became a major building block of the College library’s Special Collections of local materials (architect Shaw having also designed seven campus buildings).
Dart’s next project was writing the centennial history of her Friday Club, Chicago, an early women’s club that met monthly. This was updating a 1937 semi-centennial book. She followed this project with another updating, this time the informally prepared and documented 1960s town history by Edward Arpee, also the author of a 1944 History of Lake Forest Academy and a 1953 biography of Admiral William Moffett, From Frigates to Flattops…. Arpee’s history had relied on the recollections of various old settlers, mostly from his spouse Katherine Trowbridge’s Durand family and their friends. For her 1991 Supplement to Arpee’s 1960s town history, Dart corralled more recollections to amend and add to the information in the original book. The Supplement was both printed separately and as a continuation for a 1991 reprinting of the whole work.
Her 1993 biographical and architectural study of her brother Edward Dart also included material about her own New Orleans origins. But it is a very useful contribution to the study of modern architecture, through the preparation and career of one notable Chicago-based exemplar who died in 1975. Many of Dart’s buildings are significant, including his St. Procopius Abbey in Lisle, IL, and his Water Tower Place, Chicago, the largest concrete building built to that time, when Dart was a partner in the Lloebl Schlossman firm. Dart also designed the 1968 Lake Forest College Sports Center, remarkable for its fitting over 70,000 sq. ft. of programmed space into a self-effacing, low-profile structure that was compatible with its residential neighborhood context on Sheridan Road. (The Dart structure was substantially expanded to the north in 2010.) The book includes a catalog listing with small photos of all of Edward Dart’s known works.
Her last book was about her new home in western North Carolina. By the late 1980s she and her spouse were spending their winters near the Smokey Mountains in a beautiful rustic setting. She assembled all she’d learned and come to love there in her 1997 book, the Old Home Place.
During the period of Dart’s pursuit of material on Shaw and Market Square, she also stepped in to fight against demolition of the 1899-completed City Hall itself part of the architectural context that shaped the nearby Market Square design by Shaw.
Dart also devoted attention to finding good archival homes for Shaw and McCutcheon family papers and memorabilia, working with her mother-in-law, Evelyn Shaw McCutcheon, to deposit McCutcheon and Shaw papers at the Chicago Historical Society, now Chicago History Museum; at the Newberry Library; at the Lake Forest (town) Library; and the Art Institute of Chicago (AIC). Many books from Shaw’s and McCutcheon’s libraries gravitated here also, as they proved redundant or otherwise inappropriate elsewhere. Shaw architectural scrapbooks created by the family and deposited at the AIC were filmed by the College library in the 1980s (through the U. of Chicago library’s photo reproduction studio), when they could not be accessed there due to condition issues; Paul Myers of Marktown, East Chicago, IN, later printed from these a multi-volume set of Shaw’s notebooks. A medallion of Shaw by Sylvia Shaw Judson, the architect’s sculptor daughter, given by Susan Dart to Paul Myers, was cast in plaster for this library by Myers</a>. When Dart and her husband finally left their Lake Forest home, they also donated other collections, perhaps most notably John T. McCutcheon’s pirate and Caribbean books, relating to his long-time interest in the topic and his island, Salt Key, Bahamas (see the senior McCutcheon’s 1950 memoir,Drawn From Memory).