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Lake Forest Country Places: Brown House


Brown House, 100 N. Sheridan Road

Lake Forest College’s President’s House since 1998, Donated by the Sons of Gardner and Elizabeth Smith Brown

Apparently built in 1916 for gasoline inventor and Standard Oil of Indiana executive William Burton by Van Wegenan Alling, its classic public rooms were renovated in the mid 1930s by architect Stanley D. Anderson ‘16.


Best documented in the Brown House’s architectural history is the 1936 redesign of the public rooms to their present character, by the architectural firm of 1916 College alumnus Stanley D. Anderson (1896-1960).  The exterior character apparently dates from a 1924 renovation that included the porches and the third floor, carried out by local architect/builder Van Wagenen Alling [of 410 Washington Road], according to Gardner Brown as reported in a 1980-81 interview.  By some surmising, attributions of design responsibility for the 1924 renovations and for the landscape are made, based on the identity of the architect/builder and on style and collaboration links resulting from this.  In a 1980-81 local architectural survey by C.W. Westfall this estate was selected among thirty to be described as a “Community Cornerstone” for its significance to the historic visual character of Lake Forest.  

Documented in public and architectural-firm records and in standard biographical references sources is a partial account of the history of the Brown House, given to the College in the mid-1990s.  Unfortunately municipal and township records no longer exist for the site, Lots 287 and 288 of the 1857 Lake Forest town plan.  But the Recorder of Deeds office in Waukegan, the county seat, shows transfers of the two lots and that they were first united in one property in the Spring of 1916 by William M. and Kean W. Burton, Mr. Burton being a vice president of Standard Oil of Indiana and a member of Onwentsia (Cyclopedia of American Biography (vol. C, 243).  Burton in 1910 developed a refining process for oil into gasoline that made the internal combustion engines in automobiles practical (http://www.invent.org/hall_of_fame/24.html ).  In May of 1923 county records show transfer of the property from the Burtons to Sarah W. and M.J. Scanlon.  The Illinois Humanities Council-funded Lake Forest Library “Community Cornerstones” project of 1980-81 recorded an account attributed then to owner at that time Gardner Brown of a 1924 major renovation of the house, including the porches and the third floor, and carried out by contractor Van Wagenen“Alling (father of Bertha Brown).”  This renovation established the exterior appearance of the house.  The county records indicate that in 1931 the owner became Helen Scanlon Sample, spouse of Chicago advertising executive John Glen Sample.  The surviving architectural job book and drawings of the local architect Stanley D. Anderson (Lake Forest, Class of 1916) document that in 1936 Anderson’s firm, then Anderson & Ticknor, renovated the public rooms, the spaces used for entertaining. 

In 1947 the estate was acquired by Gardner and Elizabeth Smith Brown.  The Browns lived in the house until their deaths in the early 1990s. The property was subdivided in 1948, with the north side of the estate, from the corner of Sheridan and Illinois Roads west, made into three lots, the west one incorporating the former garage and staff group.  A new garage, near the house, was designed by the Anderson architectural firm at that time.  The original elliptical drive, with gateposts at its two curb cuts, was segmented, with the south drive retained with the house.  The 1980-81 “Community Cornerstone” records indicate that the gate posts had come from the “Thompson barn formerly an auxiliary bldg. on the Harvey Thompson property at 660 North Sheridan Road.”   In the mid 1990s the property was given to the College by the sons of the Browns, William and Malcolm, with the remaining land on Lot 288 west of the house subdivided and sold to pay for renovations to the house.  The drive near Sheridan Road was relocated north some 18 ft. and named Gardner Lane.  The renovated house was first occupied by President David Spadafora in 1998. 

Other information about the house comes from both Brown family tradition in the mid 1990s and also from conjectured attributions based on contextual analysis.  The house may have been constructed prior to 1916, as early as 1896 or 1906, the former date the same as the first season of the Onwentsia Club.  The 1924 house renovation and the landscape also may be by Van Wagenan Alling, possibly working with architect Hugh M.G. Garden who lived also on Washington Road near the Allings, and by landscape designer Jens Jensen.  Garden and Jensen were active in Lake Forest from the early 1900s on and known to work together, and the front porch is very similar to one designed by Garden for 550 East Deerpath, in 1906 (now replaced).  Jensen’s work with Garden is documented for the colonial-revival house at 550 E. Deerpath, for the Tudor Payson place on Green Bay (1910), for the house at 95 S. Waukegan Road (1904), and for the English cottage Hasler place on Vine (1910). 




Lots 287 and 288 of the 1857 Lake Forest town plan, laid out by landscape gardener Almerin  Hotchkiss  of  St. Louis, were purchased in April and May by William M. and Kean W. Burton from, respectively, Madeline M. Stone Groen (Mrs. Niels Groen, formerly Mrs. Carl D. Stone) and from a widow, Jane Grannis.  This brought together for the first time the two lots, which would be an estate for most of the 20th C.  A house may have existed on the site prior to that, perhaps built on lot 287 in 1906 or earlier (1896, the first season of the Onwentsia Club), according to Solange (Mrs. William G.) Brown, a daughter-in-law of Gardner and Elizabeth Brown, subsequent residents of the house. 


The 1980-81 “Community Cornerstones” Lake Forest Library project interview with Mr. Brown indicated that the builder was Van Wagenen Alling (b. Madison, Indiana, Dec. 26, 1876).  Alling had graduated from Purdue in 1897, and was in charge of construction projects then for the Oliver Sollitt company and with Welles Bros. & Co.  For a Rock Island project “he earned the name of ‘the kid contractor’” (“Advance for Young Architect: Van Wagenen Alling, Who Has Received Government Appointment in Cuba, is Twenty-Five Years Old,” Chicago Tribune Feb. 4, 1901, 9).  In 1900 he constructed the Forestry Building at that year’s Paris Exposition.  Having begun his studies at Hanover College, he transferred to Purdue in 1894 and, after completing his B.S. in civil engineering (1897), he moved to Chicago in 1896 (Who’s Who in Chicago [1931], 29).  In 1901 he was “appointed supervising architect for the government at Santiago, Cuba” (Tribune article). Alling developed many residences in the 300 and 400 block of North Washington Road, Lake Forest, in the early 20th C., his own home being an 1860s home (later burned).  The home at 383 N. Washington, similar in style to Brown House, was a summer rental, one of its tenants being Adlai Stevenson, future Illinois Governor and also 1950s Presidential candidate, Democratic nominee (1952, 1956).  This house later was owned by the Edward Arpees through the 1980s.)  Alling built many buildings in downtown Chicago and “residences in Lake Forest” (Who’s Who…). He married Bertha Baker, Chicago, in 1903, and the couple had one daughter, Bertha Alling (Brown) who succeeded him in some of his real estate business.  He was a member of Onwentsia.   

William Meriam Burton (b. Cleveland 1865-1954), educated at Western Reserve trained as a chemist at Johns Hopkins (Ph.D. 1889), married Kean Woodruff at Louisville, KY in 1911, according to Who’s Who in Chicago (1926). From 1915 to 1918 he was a vice president of Standard Oil of Indiana, becoming president in 1918—a position he still held in 1926.  He was a member of Onwentsia.  



According to data gathered in 1980-81 for the Lake Forest Library’s “Community Cornerstones” project, in 1924 the house was “rebuilt, [the] porches renewed and a third story added (according to Gardner Brown)” who then was the owner.  Also, the “contractor was Mr. Van  [Wagenen] Alling (father of Bertha Brown).”  Photographs taken by Ann N. Getz and accompanying the written documentation show that the house’s exterior in 1980-81 was the same as in 1998, except of the late 1990s glazing of the porches.  The style is American Renaissance, a term used early in the 20th C. here, or classic—though for Westfall “the general effect of this house is that of a summer residence based vaguely on Mediterranean prototypes.”

Alling lived on Washington Road in the 1920s, as did architect Hugh M.G. Garden, in the 1890s and early 1900s associated with the Chicago School architects, and at least since the very early 1900s the designer of several local houses.  Landscape style and planting links Alling’s and nearby properties on Washington to Prairie Style landscape design master Jens Jensen, who frequently collaborated with Garden; Garden, indeed, designed Jensen’s house at the Clearing, Ellison Bay, WI.  The house at 483 North Washington, formerly the Edward and Katherine Arpee residence (mid 20th C.), both has a south side retaining wall in the manner of Jensen and also resembles in style the Brown House: Federal or Regency style stucco with classically spaced symmetrical muttoned windows, a parapet (Brown House  with balustrade, Arpee place solid) with no roof showing,  and decorative friezes on exterior walls (Brown House south wall, facing the porch, and Arpee place on the south wall of the garage, facing into the garden).  Also, the front porch (Westfall [Oct. 21, 1981]: “…a deeply projecting porch with pairs of columns at each end of an entablature which rises into a segmental arch in the center.”) resembles one originally on the Garden-designed house at 550 East Deerpath, now replaced. 

The third floor study, situated just off center reflecting Beaux-Arts classic striving for balance rather than pure symmetry, is a relatively small Mansard-roofed pavilion offering access to a rooftop terrace.  The interior style reflects fashions found in projects of the time by architect David Adler: the pickled pine paneling and the Art Deco bathroom.  This Art Deco character is repeated probably in 1924 or perhaps in 1936 in the basement-level recreation room.  This Art Deco vocabulary is found locally already in the 1923 Mrs. McGann house, at 965 East Deerpath, by New York architects Delano & Aldrich.  But these are very striking features of the house, with its many layers of style and development.  If there was a separate interior consultant, the identity is not known. 

Finally, the landscaped meadow and woods at the street reflects a vocabulary of elements characteristic of Jens Jensen locally.  The original entry drive, perhaps twenty feet further south, left more of the ravine and also of the wooded framing of the meadow, so that the arriving visitor only saw the house several yards further west.  The woods-framed meadow, with lower flowering trees mediating between the lawn and woods from the vantage point of the house, recalls the sun-openings of Jensen, but also of other English-landscape-influenced designers.   Jensen was responsible for several nearby landscapes, most immediately those for the Henry Rumseys at 900 E. Illinois, in part for Mrs. Cyrus McCormick and Anita McC. Blair with the entry near Ringwood across Sheridan, and for Edward Ryerson in the block surrounded by Ringwood and Sheridan, a block south.  From the level of the drive at the entry, steps which come down from the house continue across the drive onto the lawn.  The effect was/is one of the most striking prospects along Sheridan Road in the northern suburbs of Chicago.  



According to notes taken from listings at the county Recorder of Deeds office in Waukegan, the property was transferred to Helen M. Scanlon Sample, spouse of John Glen Sample, in 1931.  John G. Sample (b. Lutesville, MO., 1891) was an advertising executive (Who’s Who in Chicago, 1936), the president of Blackett, Sample, Hummert, Inc., Chicago.  Sample is listed as a member of Onwentsia. 



The records of the local architectural firm of Stanley D. Anderson ‘16 reveal that in 1936 the firm, then known as Anderson & Ticknor, undertook the renovation of the public rooms—the central hall and the very large library, or living room, to the south and the dining room to the north.  The detailed plaster cornice moldings and fireplaces reflect the classic taste of the period, not unlike similar remodelings of early 20th C. summer houses, often by Shaw, or by David Adler.  Also, in the mid 1930s the Anderson firm did a similar remodeling of the 1904 Garden-designed house at 95 South Waukegan Road, for the Wesley Dixon Srs. 

The hall is papered in a Chinese export scenic landscape wallpaper, the background for a photo of Gardner Brown in photographer Mary Lloyd Estrin’s To the Manor Born (1979), a collection of views capturing the Lake foresters and their settings of a quarter century ago.   This paper apparently dates from the 1936 remodeling. 

Anderson’s architectural career is described in Classic Country Estates of Lake Forest, Architecture and Landscape Design, 1856-1940 b y Kim Coventry, Daniel Meyer, and Arthur H. Miller (W.W. Norton, 2011).  In addition to his graduating from Lake Forest College in 1916 and attending the Ecole in 1919, he was an associate in the office of AIA Gold Medal Winner (1926) Howard Van Doren Shaw (1869-1926), chief draftsman on the firm’s 1924 Hinckley house and other projects.  The Anderson firm, launched by 1925, was able to suvive the disastrous early 1930s by being part of the larger Anderson Company, with its surveying work for foreclosures then keeping the draftsmen employed, according to Paul Bergmann, son of Anderson’s last partner and successor in his firm, William Bergmann.  Also, his strong local ties (his grandfather was a community founder of the late 1850s) gave him priority for federal school projects (Gorton addition, Lake Forest High School, 1935) aimed at employing local professionals.  So he was the strongest local designer by 1936, when the economy started to improve, with his 1935 Georgian country house styled High School showcasing the work of his firm, as well as some other residential work (houses for W. Paul McBride and Arthur Dixon).  It was right after this that the renovation of the1916 Burton house for the Samples was turned over to Anderson’s firm.   



The estate is purchased by Gardner and Elizabeth Smith Brown , she the daughter of Harold Cornelius Smith and granddaughter of Byron Laflin Smith, founder of Chicago’s Northern Trust Company and of Illinois Tool Works, which was run by his son Harold.  For more about the Brown family see Gardner Brown, Reminiscences (1990), illustrated, call number Spec. Coll. CT 120 .B65 R 35. 



The northern, Illinois Road, side of lots 287 and 288 are subdivided off as separate properties, with the northern terminus of the elliptical drive with its gateposts now a separate residence.  The Anderson firm designs a new two-car garage for the Browns.  The Samples may have been the original owners of the former garage group, on Illinois Road.  The Browns occupied the house in 1948.


mid 1990s 

With the passing of trustee Gardner and subsequently of Elizabeth Smith Brown, the Browns’ two sons, with Malcolm represented locally by then College trustee William G., determined to preserve the house by donating it to Lake Forest College for a President’s House (to replace the 1961-completed Perkins & Will modernist residence on Rosemary and Sheridan, now Rosemary House—location of the Dean of Students and Career offices).  To pay for essential structural and adaptive reuse renovations and remodeling to the house, the Brown sons subdivided for residences the west end of the property, with access from the drive off of Sheridan Road, now to become Gardner Lane.  To meet requirements of the neighbor to the south, the drive/lane was relocated north, filling in much of the picturesque ravine and leveling the south side forest fringe of the classic (perhaps Jensen-designed) meadow.   The subdivision was approved, with modifications to drainage and to the entry drive/lane, as developed by project engineer Don Fielding, of Charles W. Greengard Associates, Inc., Lincolnshire (a 30-ft. conservation easement on the south border, with an 18-ft. setback to the entrance road, according to the Lake Forester, March 21, 1996). 

The gate posts as well were relocated north to flank the new lane, but the urns—which with the gate posts were supposed to have come from the “Thompson barn” formerly an auxiliary building for the property at 660 North Sheridan—were retained by the Brown family, and finials to match those on the Gardner Brown-reconstructed 1900 Frost & Granger gateposts to Middle Campus, replaced the originals.   



President David Spadafora (1993-2001) and his family moved into the renovated president’s residence, named Brown House. 


ca. 2000

The Lake Forest Foundation for Historic Preservation grants an award for renovation of Brown House. 



Stephen D. Schutt became president of the College July 1, and soon after he, his spouse Loretta (Lori) Grennon, and their family moved in.  


Text on this page by:
Arthur H. Miller
Archivist and Librarian for Special Collections (1996 - 2013)
Donnelley and Lee Library/LIT
Lake Forest College
555 North Sheridan Road
Lake Forest, IL 60045-2399

December 13, 2004; revised April 29, 2007; October 2, 2011; page update November 1, 2013