The Natural Land Institute (NLI), one of the oldest land trusts in the United States and groundbreaking conservation organization initiating the concept of nature preserves to the world, has hired Studio GWA to complete a long-term restoration plan for its headquarters. The Headquarters is a home and contributing building to the Haight Village National Register Historic District at 320 South Third Street, Rockford, Illinois. The house was built in 1903 in a prairie influenced Classic Revival style.

The home was acquired by NLI in 1978 to serve as its office. George B. Fell, NLI Founder and first executive director, and his wife Barbara made the initial renovations to the building. They replaced wiring, tore out partitions, added insulation, bricked the driveway and removed paint from the beautiful woodwork.

The home has significant history to the Rockford community as it is closely tied to the history of two generations of the family of Circuit Judge William Brown. Judge Brown, his wife, their two sons and a daughter, lived in adjacent homes at 312, 320 and 326 South Third which were all maintained for many years as one unit. The youngest son, Frank Brown, President of Nelson Knitting Works, lived at 320 South Third Street.

A marble fireplace and built in bookshelves in the “living room” are distinctive features of this historic home, now the Headquarters of Natural Land Institute.

In 1947 the home was bequeathed to Rockford College for use as the president’s home. Proms were held on the third-floor ballroom and the basement served as a rec room for students. When Rockford College (now University) moved to East State Street, the building was used as the Rockford College Reading Clinic from about 1968-1978 and accommodated about 200 students.

The restoration plan will ensure the building is properly maintained and fully restored as a place for NLI to engage with the Rockford community. It will also serve as a place to recognize and welcome supporters and volunteers. Alan Branhagen, Executive Director, says “After 45 years, we want to ensure that the building honors the work of NLI’s founder, George B. Fell, and carries the organization into the future as a leader in conservation and restoration in Rockford and northern Illinois. The mindset of stewardship applies not only to our work in the natural environment, but also to our historic resource of this house within a neighborhood setting.”

If you are interested in donating to the restoration of this historic Rockford home, please contact the Natural Land Institute at 815/964-6666,, or mail donations to 320 S. Third St., Rockford, IL 61104. Donations may also be made at All donations are tax deductible.

Studio GWA is known for its expertise in historic preservation and adaptive re-use. Learn more about their services and history at Studio GWA.

About the Natural Land Institute

The Natural Land Institute, an accredited land trust, is a 501(c)3, not-for-profit conservation organization based in Rockford, Illinois and has protected 18,000 acres of natural land in I llinois since 1958. Their current service area covers twelve counties in northern Illinois. NLI’s mission is to create an enduring legacy of natural land in northern Illinois for people, plants and animals.

Español »