JOHN K. RYAN

The (Tinley Park) SouthtownStar via Associated Press

COUNTRY CLUB HILLS, Ill. (AP) -- Saddle up and head for the hills -- that's Country Club Hills. No, that is not a quote from a John Wayne movie.

It's what's in store for the city if plans come together for the proposed Stelter Living History Farm. The plans now also include an equestrian center on the three-acre farmstead located on the north side of 183rd Street between Cicero Avenue and Pulaski Road, just a couple of blocks from city hall.

The farm, owned for generations by the Stelter family, and where Emily Stelter, 89, still lives, was bought by the city to "serve the public purpose of preserving and nurturing this area of historical significance."

The city bought the farm in 2007 for $365,000.

The city has three of five payments left on the purchase that came out of the city's general fund, city manager Henrietta Turner said.

Plans for the center are still in the early stage but include offering riding and grooming lessons, group and one-on-one riding therapy sessions, hippotherapy sessions, vaulting courses, day camps and other programs, according to Mayor Dwight Welch.

The city will pursue grants to help pay for the equestrian center's operations. Costs also will be part of the farm's budget once the center is up and running, Country Club Hills spokeswoman Marge Seltzner said.

The idea for a historical site with horses comes in part, Welch said, from the city's history as an agrarian area and from requests from a few horse lovers in the community, some of whom want to donate horses.

Welch said they suggested making it a place where "young people could learn the history of Country Club Hills and how to ride and care for horses."

One such donator is Bob Gibson, who works for the city and lives next door to the farm.

Gibson said he plans to donate Graffiti, an appaloosa that his late wife, Darlene, owned for years.

"I know my wife would approve of this for Graffiti," he said. "He's got a purpose in life now."

Others set to donate horses are George and Jackie Doss, from the city's historic commission, and Country Club Hills police officer Bonnie Beach.

Children will learn a bit about farming as well as the city's history once the complex opens to the public.

Turner said she expects the city will be hooking up with local school districts on projects connected with the historical farm.

"I could see field trips to the site," she said.

Welch talked about the project as a unique venture that would reap several benefits.

"The Stelter family has owned it for more than 150 years," Welch said. "When they decided to put it up for sale several years ago I thought, 'There's a lot of history there. Used to be cattle there. I didn't want to lose that farm.' "

So the city decided to move forward and buy the property.

The mayor said part of the plans call for the Stelter house to be turned into a historical museum focusing on Country Club Hills and its farming past.

"That won't happen until Emily no longer lives there," Welch said.

When reached, Stelter said she has no plans on going anywhere very soon. "As long as I can still work on my garden and my flowers I'll be happy," she said.

The barns are now in pretty rough shape with some rotting wood and a tarp strewn across the roof of one.

Some of the money generated from the city's red light camera revenue will be used to renovate the two barns on the property, Welch said. The barns will be used as stables for the horses.

First up, though, is hiring a consultant to set up the property as a horse farm.

Turner said a $1,500 grant received in early March from the Illinois Equine Promotion Board will go toward hiring the consultant.

The board will offer oversight on the selection of consultants for the city to get in touch with, Turner said.

"I grew up in Texas, but I only know about cattle. I don't know horses," she said.

Turner did expect the city to start seeking consultants after the start of the fiscal year on May 1.

Turner expects costs for visitors to the site, which she estimates opening in two to three years, will be constructed similarly to park district programs, with different price levels for residents and non residents.

When asked if she was surprised when Welch proposed the equestrian facility at the site along busy 183rd Street, Turner said the mayor's ideas never surprise her.

"Our mayor doesn't just think outside the box -- he lives outside the box," she said.

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Information from: Southtown Star, http://www.southtownstar.com

Copyright 2010 The Associated Press.

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