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Lake Forest Country Places: Fairlawn, Part 1
Lake Forest Country Places VII:
The Farwell/Mcgann Estate at 965 East Deerpath
Charles and Mary Farwell's Home, 1870 to 1920
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.
The Charles B. Farwell/Grace McGann estate -- at the east end of Deerpath and on the south side of the road -- is among the most important houses in Lake Forest, combining as it does high architectural achievement and a heritage of owners of the property distinguished in commerce, politics, art, music, literature, collecting, patronage, and even the craft of fine bookbinding. The site was first built on in 1870 by Charles B. Farwell, Chicago's first political boss and later a U.S. Senator, and his wife, Mary Evelyn Smith Farwell. Through his three gifted daughters -- Anna, Rose, and Grace -- and their husbands "Fairlawn" became an important artists' community, especially each summer around the turn of the century. The original Italianate "Fairlawn" burned in 1920, after Charles and Mary's death, and was rebuilt in 1920-23 by their youngest daughter, Grace -- this time to plans by leading New York Country-Place architects Delano & Aldrich. Uniquely and dramatically in Lake Forest "Fairlawn" combines architectural importance and achievement with historical interest for the civic/political, commercial, and cultural/artistic contributions of those who have lived there. In two columns this story will be told, in this issue the chronicle of "Fairlawn" during Charles and Mary's lifetimes (to about 1910) and in the next issue from the World-War-I period to the building of the new house by Charles and Mary's youngest daughter, Grace, in the early 1920s and up to the present.
Charles B. Farwell's political and commercial rise began in the early 1850s. He was a native of New York state, of New England origins, and raised on an Illinois farm. He married Mary Evelyn Smith, a New England school-teacher in Chicago who as a young scholar had studied the classics with the daughters of Mark Hopkins, president of Williams College and a founder of the uniquely American liberal-arts-college idea. With his brother, dry-goods merchant John V. Farwell, Charles established a business/government relations partnership that presumably would raise congressional-committee eye-brows today, but which in post-Civil-War America helped develop at an unprecedented pace in world history (and claim for Chicago interests) the great American west. In 1852 Charles became City Clerk and is credited with creating the first Chicago political machine. In the 1870s he went to Washington to represent Chicago in Congress and in 1880 he was elected one of Illinois' two Senators. In the late 1860s both brothers set about building estates in Lake Forest on either side of Deerpath at the lake: John on the north side and Charles on the south side. Away from business, too, their interests were complementary: John's contributions were in religion and social service while Charles's inclinations and strengths were in art-collecting, education, and patronage.
Commercially the Farwell brothers' great coup was in 1875, during the Grant administration/Reconstruction era and while Charles was in Congress, trading a completed Vermont-marble capitol building in Austin, Texas for 3,000,000 acres (nine counties) in the Texas panhandle -- the legendary XIT Ranch.
Developed over eighty-five years as a ranch with British investors and where later oil was found (!), the XIT Ranch drove a fortune that, through Charles and his family, impacted culture in Chicago, Lake Forest, and the country as a whole. Charles, Jr. died before adulthood, but through their three daughters the Charles Farwells sparked a flowering of culture and contributed significantly to laying the foundation for the pre-World-War-I Chicago "Renaissance." For the oldest daughter, Anna, former educator Mary, with Charles, launched the coeducational "collegiate department" of Lake Forest University in 1876. They built the main hall there, now Young Hall, in 1878, and in 1890 the Henry-Ives-Cobb-designed Gymnasium, now Hotchkiss Hall. Second daughter Rose graduated from Lake Forest College in 1890 and Grace attended briefly. Anna (Lake Forest College Class of 1880) became an author, publishing ten books from 1889 to 1941, including two novels and an important biography of John Paul Jones (1913) -- largely written summers at "Fairlawn" as were her other books -- which uncovered a forgery scandal. Jones letters had been fabricated by a previous and much-quoted biographer, Buell. Anna's research drew national and Congressional attention, along with a favorable comment from the eminent historian, Henry Adams.
In 1884 Anna had married musically- and dramatically-inclined Oxford graduate Reginald DeKoven, the son of expatriate New Englanders living in a Florentine villa. Charles Farwell backed time abroad for Reginald to learn to write light operas, founding American musical theater around 1890 with DeKoven's highly successful Gilbert-and-Sullivan-like "Robin Hood" and his hit song, "Oh, Promise Me." DeKoven also agitated for an orchestra in Chicago in the period just before the Chicago Symphony's founding in 1891 and later himself founded the Washington Philharmonic.
The old "Fairlawn" of 1870, which would be destroyed by fire in 1920, was a great wooden Italianate mansion, much in the style of the 1860 Holt house, on Sheridan at College Rd. (discussed in the first column in this series), though larger. The Holt house, though, is brick covered by clapboard; and the second 1920-23 "Fairlawn" would be poured concrete covered by brick for fireproofing. A high roof-top cupola on the 1870 mansion must have yielded a magnificent view of the lake, over the tree tops. Jutting east was a one-story conservatory which later was converted into a picture gallery. The site, on the crest of a gentle slope toward the one-hundred-foot-high bluff at Lake Park, itself gave a spectacular view of the lake -- at the tallest point along the Illinois shore. The picturesque grounds were laid out by Frederick Law Olmsted, probably when he was in town around then planning both Jackson Park on Chicago's south side and also the west suburban community of Riverside where the street system much resembles Lake Forest's, as planned in 1856-57 by Almirin Hotchkiss. The site, the house, and the park-like grounds are shown in a photo reproduced in a large, clear illustration in Michael Ebner's 1988 book, Creating the North Shore, on p. 32. There was a pond, too, on the northwest corner of the estate. At that time the grounds filled the entire block bounded by Lake Road, Spring Land, Mayflower and Deerpath. This park-like estate was the setting in June of 1893 when the famous Augustin Daly theatrical company did a performance of Shakespeare's "As You Like It" as a benefit for the Chicago's World's Columbian Exposition.
May 6, 1995