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Lake Forest Country Places: Fairlawn, Part 2

Lake Forest Country Places VIII:

The Farwell/Mcgann Estate at 965 East Deerpath

Part II:
Two Farwell Daughters, Rose and Grace, and a New House, 1920-23

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.

This is the second of two columns on the subject of the "Fairlawn" estate at 965 East Deerpath. In the last issue, the family of Senator Charles B. Farwell and his wife Mary Smith Farwell were considered, from the 1850s to before World War I -- their origins, the source of their fortune, and the first of their three daughters, Anna, and her husband, the composer Reginald DeKoven. Described was the commodious 1870 house and the park-like grounds laid out at that time by Frederick Law Olmsted. Both Charles and Mary, though, had passed away by 1912 and Anna had built a new home on Park Avenue in New York, no doubt with funds generated by the oil on the XIT Ranch in the Texas Panhandle. The ranch had been Charles's great coup of the 1870s, in partnership with his more commercial brother, John V. Farwell, who lived across Deerpath to the north and west, at the end of Mayflower. Now second daughter, Rose, and her husband, Hobart Chatfield-Taylor, presided at "Fairlawn."

Beautiful Rose's life-sized, Whistleresque portrait is in the library of Lake Forest College's "Glen Rowan." Besides being an ornamental social leader, Rose was caught up in the Arts & Crafts spirit of the turn of the century and had her own fine book bindery in Chicago's Fine Arts Building, after having studied the craft for a year in Paris. She and her husband frequented the artistically influential Little Room (also in the Fine Arts Building on Michigan Avenue), a gathering each week after the Friday afternoon Symphony concerts where authors (Hamlin Garland, Henry Blake Fuller, Mary Aldis), artists (Lorado Taft, Ralph Clarkson, John T. McCutcheon), and social figures mingled and cross-pollinated in a uniquely Chicago manner. Rose had married social arbiter Hobart Chatfield-Taylor. Chatfield-Taylor edited the Chicago-based magazine, America, in the late 1880s and early 1890s; Anna and her husband, Reginald DeKoven, joined him as contributors. He brought golf to Lake Forest and founded the Onwentsia Club in 1895. Most significantly, he wrote several books -- novels, biographies, travel books, a memoir, etc. -- including one novel with musician DeKoven which included in the action ragtime and cake walking.

In the influenza epidemic of 1918 Rose died suddenly at the Chatfield Taylors' Santa Barbara, California home. Chatfield-Taylor decided to make his home on the west coast, and gave much of his important library on French and Italian literature to Lake Forest College, in 1918. These had been working libraries he'd used in preparing his major, influential biographies of Moliere and Goldoni (roughly equivalent to Moliere in Italy), with the collaboration of the College's Professor van Steenderan, a few years earlier. This donation saved these significant books from the fire that engulfed the fifty-year-old wood-frame "Fairlawn" in January of 1920. Lost along with the house, surely, was much art and a great library, along with irreplaceable literary and historical archives.

Living then at "Fairlawn" was Grace, the youngest daughter of Charles and Mary Farwell and both a landscape painter and also the founding president of Chicago's Arts Club (1916-1918). Relatively traditional and representational in her taste, she led the expressions of concern that revolved around the 1913 Armory Show's visit to Chicago, with its avant garde abstractions. Examples of her landscape work are in the Art Institute collection.

Her crowning achievement, though, was rebuilding "Fairlawn" after its 1920 destruction and choosing Delano & Aldrich, the east's leading Country-Place architects at the time, for the task. She and her second husband (she remarried after the loss of her first husband, Farwell Winston), businessman Robert McGann, first built the garage on Spring Lane in 1920 and lived there while the forty-five-room house was completed in 1922-23 -- according to the Preservation Foundation's Guide, item 18. With a Jeffersonian flair, the house combines the Palladian, classically-inspired Italian villa tradition with the Colonial Revival style, popular since the 1893 World's Fair (in Lake Forest Cobb's 1895 "Pembroke Lodge" on Pembroke Lane, Charles Frost's late-1890s "Westover" and "Eastover" on the north side of Westminster at Elm Tree, Egan & Prindeville's 1904 Barat College, and Howard Van Doren Shaw's 1916 North Lake Road Colvin place). A vestigial Palladian dome, just visible in the Guide photos, skylights Grace McGann's painting studio. The original Frederick-Law-Olmsted-designed grounds in the English-garden picturesque style were redone in the Italian villa mode -- a multi-leveled dramatic rectangular garden court leading south from the house to the garage with long grape-arbors defining the east and west. In the front, stately high brick walls, and with softening from tall shrubs, enclose the lawn and impressive forecourt. The result, in scale and in felicity, was commensurate in achievement with other oil-driven commissions of the age including Delano & Aldrich's work at the Rockefellers' Pocantico Hills, Westchester County, New York compound or, here in Lake Forest, Edith Rockefeller McCormick's earlier Charles-Platt-designed "Villa Turicum" (now demolished).

In 1990 "Fairlawn" was the subject of an extensive and sympathetic restoration and renovation. Also, a new garage was added for the house, which had been separated from the 1920 garage by a subdivision of the property in 1953. In that year the Farwells' first daughter, Anna, died at the age ninety-three. What remained to the house was 3.5 acres of what originally was the entire block bounded by Deerpath, Lake Road, Spring Lane, and Mayflower: the front, plus half of the formal garden to the south. The present owners, a successful businessman and his painter wife, have brought "Fairlawn" up to contemporary living standards while retaining and enhancing its Country-Place-Era character and reasserting its artistic heritage. Work of the current resident of the skylit studio was the subject of a one-artist show in a River North gallery during May. In its own way, and even though the estate grounds have been abbreviated, "Fairlawn" stands with Howard Shaw's own "Ragdale" on North Green Bay Road but perhaps with no other peers in Lake Forest in combining very high degrees of historical, architectural, and cultural significance which are continued into the present.

Lake Foresters are fortunate that this spectacular estate has been preserved and that, even though now at the center of a subdivided property, it is surrounded by low buildings that do not compete or change the balance and character of this very historic block. The present owners view their stewardship of this legacy as a trust, a repsonsibility, to convey this important property into the future intact. But to no less degree the community, too, shares a responsibility to preserve "Fairlawn" and places like it -- Lake Forest's Country-Place-Era inheritance which so defines and colors this unique city -- from a frontier-inspired laissez faire disposition toward development and encroachment, insensitive to the cumulative loss it brings.

Arthur Miller

May 6, 1995