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Lake Forest Country Places: Quinlan Estate

Lake Forest Country Places XXI:

Charles H. Quinlan Estate, 404 East Deerpath

One of a series of articles by Arthur Miller, Archivist and Librarian for Special Collections at Lake Forest College, originally published in the Lake Forest Journal, 1994-1997; some have been replaced or updated.

Last year the Historical Society announced its proposed renovation and expansion plan for the former Masonic Lodge, now owned by the City and originally the carriage house for the Quinlan estate’s main house, 404 E. Deerpath. In August the City’s staff, which was using the carriage house as a temporary office building while City Hall was expanded and renovated, vacated the temporary space. The Quinlan place first was occupied in 1858, according to Arpee, and it was the country seat of a pioneer Chicago doctor and a key Lake Forest founder. As the first and oldest country place here and the estate closest to town, it has experienced considerable subdivision and in-fill, so that today it occurs to few passers-by that it once was an outstanding private park. Today the original estate grounds house both the Lake Forest Library by architect Edwin Hill Clark and the church on the corner of McKinley by architect Howard Van Doren Shaw, two important examples of these designers’ work and two very handsome buildings from the Country Place Era in this high profile location. Here “in-fill,” adding structures to already developed space, improved on the architectural quality of original estate buildings. It is appropriate that today an adaptive reuse and renovation of the Quinlan carriage house should ready it for a new phase as a state-of-the art museum of Lake Forest and Lake Bluff history, for the site of the old Quinlan estate already is a living museum of the history of estate culture and of architectural taste in the community.

Though today it is shielded from the traffic on Deerpath by two 1970s traditionally-styled residences directly on the street, above them and east of the Lake Forest Library the second, 1870, Quinlan house still sits: dignified and today understated. Originally this edifice had a third story, in the style of Francois Mansart and typical of the first, mid-Seventeenth Century phase of the Louis XIV style which was revived in the mid Nineteenth Century Second Empire period in France (1850-70). This became typical in this country of buildings of the post-Civil-War economic expansion years. Sitting high on its ridge above the ravine which Deerpath follows toward the lake, “The Evergreens” (as the third owner Captain Rumsey named it) for most of Lake Forest’s history has been an assertive statement of Chicago’s economic success and power in the years immediately following the completion of the Transcontinental Railroad from Chicago to San Francisco in 1869.

The house was built and rebuilt by a pioneer Chicago physician, Charles H. Quinlan: the first in Chicago to use ether as an anesthetic and the builder/owner of the Avenue House, an 1870 hotel in Evanston. According to John J. Halsey in his 1912 History of Lake County, Quinlan had come to Chicago in 1846 from Buffalo and practiced dentistry and medicine (with an MD from Rush) in the rapidly-growing metropolis to the south. Edward Arpee details in his centennial history the key initiating roles Quinlan played in launching Lake Forest, beginning with February 13, 1857, when he appeared on the charter Board for Lind [later Lake Forest] University. And prior to January 1, 1859, Quinlan’s original dwelling (which would burn in 1869) “is said to have been” the first home occupied in the new Presbyterian-conceived community, Arpee reports. He was the first and only doctor in town through the Civil War. He was one of two founding elders of the Presbyterian Church, in 1859, and even sold to the Church the land on which the present 1887 edifice still rests. In May of that year he was on a committee to clear and landscape the Academy grounds facing the Church, now the North Campus of Lake Forest College. By 1861 he was one of twenty-four eligible (i.e., caucasian, male) Lake Forest residents voting to approve the City’s charter and before long he was elected the City’s first treasurer at the first council meeting.

Arpee describes, as well, the layout of the estate in its heyday. First, on the northeast corner of what is now Deerpath and McKinley Road Quinlan soon purchased also the town’s first business house, the two-level Wright general store, with the room which had served as the first town meeting place upstairs (that structure now is incorporated in the 1867 Barnum house at 797 North Sheridan Road, according to the Preservation Foundation Guide, #2). East and north of this Quinlan owned several acres, centered around the house at 404 E. Deerpath. West of the house and its terrace, on the site where the Library now sits, was a parterre garden “ornamented by many choice flowering plants and numerous shrubs as well as ‘Scotch roses.’” On the broad, sloping, sun-facing lawn in front of the house there were grape vines of many varieties, a circular drive, and a typically-picturesque marble urn. In the rear of the house and to the east there was a large orchard with bountiful peach, pear, and apple trees. To the west and across a central walk bordered by currant bushes was a kitchen garden.

When the Greek Revival frame house with its two-story columned portico and its west-facing greenhouse or conservatory burned down in 1869, the house was rebuilt in brick and the carriage house, apparently, was added — sharing as well the Mansard-style roof. Both houses are pictured as #23 of the Preservation Foundation Guide… (1991; rev. ed. 1994). The brick carriage house resembled closely, too, the cement, Mansard-roofed carriage house built at almost the same time by John V. Farwell at the other, lake end of Deerpath, now 920 E. (also in the Guide, #19). Both of these were built a short distance from the main houses. At the Quinlan place the sturdy, easily-cleaned carriage house was built near the kitchen garden.

Soon after the rebuilt house was completed, the Quinlans downsized into what had been the public school from 1862 to 1867, located at the north-west corner of Washington and Walnut Roads (since 1906 it has been at 334 East Westminster, Guide #22). Perhaps the move funded the 1870 Evanston hotel venture. The second owner of the estate property was Simeon Williams who in 1887 sold it to Captain Israel Parsons Rumsey, a militant tee-totaler as well as Civil War veteran who rose to wealth and power on the Board of Trade. In this century the house was owned by John E. Baker, who would have sold the land west of the house to the Library around 1930; the late 1920s church site probably was sold earlier.

The Library and the Church illustrate institutional versions of the two main types of Country-Place-Era building: French Beaux-Arts-inspired Colonial Revival and English Arts & Crafts. Edwin H. Clark’s formal, symmetrical neo-classical Library building is an excellent example of the Beaux-Arts type. Here balance and order, grounded in a profound respect for classic western cultural tradition, echo Jeffersonian and Enlightenment notions of man’s achievements recorded and available in books. The little garden shed on the northwest corner of the Library property, too, accentuates the villa character the architect embodied in the overall Library “estate.” To the west of the Library, Howard Van Doren Shaw’s Methodist Church springs from an alternative Gothic and medieval trust in faith rather than reason, here communicated through the English or Anglo-Saxon pre-Renaissance traditions which infused Shaw’s work, including the nearby Market Square.

These two accomplished architects, well-schooled in two contrasting architectural traditions which civilly coexisted in the Country Place Era, created lasting works of art on these parcels of the Quinlan estate. Their quality more than justifies this early-Twentieth-Century in-fill which gobbled up much of the original Quinlan estate grounds, handsome as they had been. Indeed, the work they placed on the site was of a higher quality (design, materials, and craftsmanship) than the original estate buildings, reflecting the increasing sophistication of the community. This high artistic standard for new buildings on important estates is a precedent worth recalling today as so many Lake Forest estates’ integrity is challenged by proposals for new replacement and additional structures, added “bulk.”

In addition to the architects’ mastery of historical style, Alfred Hamill who was president of the Library Board which built the 1931 edifice and the Reed family (who at about the same time built the David Adler designed house on the bluff’s edge at Woodland Road) who funded the new building both were possessed of exceptional taste — for the which the town has been enriched immensely. Their taste, too, is visibly present: leadership at the center of town. Jefferson himself would have taken pleasure in the sight of this building, as he did both in the antiquities he saw such as the Maison Carree in Nimes, France and also in the structures he himself brought to fruition — his home, Monticello, and the University of Virginia, for example.

The second Quinlan house itself was handsome with its tall Mansart roof. But a 1960 fire removed this stately third floor; the simple cornice seen today was added by the Stanley Anderson architectural firm. In 1975 the current owner acquired the property, saved the house, and further subdivided the core site, creating the lots for the two houses in front of the still very stately 1870 mansion.

But the word picture Arpee provided above, from a description he attributes to Mrs. Quinlan (it doesn’t appear to be listed in his bibliography), helps us recall Lake Forest’s first-occupied estate, the lofty Greek temple or the later Louis XIV chateau and the adjacent grounds which dominated the streetscape which was west of the train depot and the business district, heading toward the lake. The Quinlans’ Greek temple would have overlooked Abraham Lincoln when he visited the Rossiter house then located on the south side of Deerpath (today located just east of Gorton Center on Illinois Road), one day in April 1860 after a Waukegan campaign speech — a year before the shots fired at Fort Sumter.

Now the Quinlan estate’s original grounds include also the stunningly neo-classical Edwin Clark-designed library building just west of the mansion, the Howard Van Doren Shaw-designed church on the corner, and the City-owned carriage house for which the museum is planned by the Historical Society. These add up to an historical, cultural and architectural park of increasingly uncommon interest and value to this community. They also recall an era when architectural taste and accomplishment were developing and improving, creating small but exquisite buildings like Shaw’s Methodist Church and Clark’s Library.

(An earlier version of this article was edited for use in the Lake Forest/Lake Bluff Historical Society’s newsletter last spring. I wish to express my sincere appreciation to Historical Society president Georgia West whose interest in and whose research on the Quinlan place and the families who have lived there provided the impetus along with valuable background material for my essay.)

Arthur Miller

August 12, 1996; rev. February 21, 2012