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Lake Forest Country Places: Mayflower Place



Lake Forest Country Places:
Mayflower Place, 405 North Mayflower Road 

The mansion now known as Mayflower Place was completed in the years just prior the U.S. entry into World War I, a 1913 wedding gift from Marshall Field & Co. president and builder of the State Street store John Graves Shedd to his daughter Laura, Mrs. Charles Schweppe.  The mansion’s architect was Shedd’s Paris Ecole-trained designer for his 1896 Drexel Blvd. French chateau, Frederick Wainwright Perkins.  The landscape architect for the iconic courtyard and terraces was Pray, Hubbard & Co., Boston.

The mansion’s world-class interior underwent an extensive restoration in 1987 by the most recent owner occupant, the late Donna Denton, and her stewardship has been essential to the preservation of this great house.

House Details: 1915 to 1917-completed Tudor Revival style brick and Bedford limestone manor house of 21,000 sq ft. on 5.3 lakefront (high bluff) acres. There are 24 rooms with 11 bedrooms and 10.4 baths, a great hall, living room (42’ x 23’), dining room (28’ x 23’) and a library (35’ x 20”).  The architect is Frederick Wainwright Perkins, with the courtyard and terraces by landscape architects Pray Hubbard & Co., Boston.  The interior displays the wood-carving and stone-cutting craftsmanship  for which the Albertine era (1840-1860; Prince Albert introduced German crafts education as in Bavaria and Prussia since the early 1800s) in England was noted, combined with the organization, composition and proportions of the successor Beaux-Arts period, 1890s to 1920s. 

History of the Property and Site

Prior to 1913.  Located south of Mayflower Park, by 1869 Ferry Hall, was the hi of thegh bluff top situation of the 1870 completed New Lake Forest Hotel, a grand tall frame resort that thrived for a year until the October 8-10, 1871 Chicago Fire ended the leisure of its patrons.  By the fall of 1876 it housed the re-established Collegiate Department of Lake Forest University, but by December 1877 the former hotel and academic building  had burned.  This space between two ravines became the location of brick and Stick Style house Blair Lodge, 1880-83, with its estate and loop drive all designed by Chicago’s first Paris-trained architect, William Le Baron Jenny, for Mr. and Mrs. Walter Cranston Larned.  He was an author and his spouse a daughter of New York publisher Charles Scribner and granddaughter of John Insley Blair, a New Jersey railroad baron.  In the early 1890s the estate was rented by Cyrus McCormick II and his spouse Harriet Hammond McCormick while planning for their 1896 estate Walden, further down the shore.  By 1905 the south portion of the property was subdivided off, with the south leg of the drive, for the Ernest A. Hamill estate (Spenser & Powers, architects, with the Olmsted Bros., landscape). 

The Schweppe Estate. In 1913 the remainder of the Jenney designed property was given as a wedding gift to Mr. and Mrs. Charles (Laura Shedd) Schweppe by her father, Marshall Field & Company’s president, John G. Shedd.  Mrs. Schweppe’s sister was Mrs. Kersey Coates Reed, whose 1931 house by David Adler is at 1315 North Lake Road.  The Schweppe residence, designed by Paris-trained architect Frederick Wainwright Perkins (also the architect of Mr. Shedd’s 1896 Drexel Blvd., Chicago, mansion), was completed by 1915 and 1917.  This third building on the site soon hosted many notables, including Swedish royalty and the Duke and Duchesse of Windsor.  After the Schweppes died in 1941 and 1937, respectively, it was maintained by the extended family as a private pool amenity.  According to Margaret Stuart Hart (December 4, 2011 speaking at a reception at the house for the Preservation Foundation), the Schweppes’ son, John, lived on in the house after 1941, for a time, as well. The 1931 Lake Forest Library, on East Deerpath and by architect Edwin Hill Clark, was a gift of the two sisters, Mrs. Schweppe and Mrs. Kersey Coates Reed in memory of the latter’s late spouse, who had passed away early in 1929. 

Mayflower Place. In 1987 the former Schweppe property was bought by the late Donna Denton and her then spouse.  A decade later the property was subdivided again, with Ms. Denton—now single—retaining the mansion she had restored in 1987, employing seventy craftspeople for 9 months, the plaster ceiling restorations reputedly costing seven figures in 1980s dollars.  For the next two decades after her restoration, Ms. Denton generously entertained local civic groups for events here.   Ms. Denton died in 2010 or 2011, and the house she restored and named Mayflower Place is now for sale

The Plan and the Architectural, Interior, and Landscape Styles

The Plan.  Architect Perkins, trained at MIT in Boston and at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts in Paris, first addressed the siting of the house and then its plan or, in French, parti.  This site and plan show the impact of this focus on placement and organization.  The house follows a “T” shape, or modified “L” shape, with on the main floor the entry into the long side and then into the reception room, with the library to the west, to the end of that side of the plan, with the great hall with its stairway (north) and walk-in fireplace (south) and east the view across the terrace to the lake.  To the south from near the window to the terrace on the east is the living room and beyond it the sun room or porch—parallel to the top of the bluff and all looking out over the lake.  to the north of the east end of the hall is the dining room, also extending east and with its dining porch at the extreme east end.  Everything is at right angles. 

Exterior Styles. The house is an essay in English Tudor Revival, pre-Renaissance or Domestic Gothic Revival.  According to Frank Alva Parsons in Interior Decoration: Its Principles and Practice (1915), all the national styles, that we now know as period styles, also connoted something about the people behind them.  Thus, French styles reflected in their symmetry and classic character that country’s modern centralized state, religion, and heritage of monarchy or central, top-down leadership. By contrast, English asymmetrical and informal styles reflected that nation’s decentralized governance, religion, and heritage of upward social and economic mobility.  Tudor period building, under Henry VIII and Elizabeth I, had itself been a revival of medieval styles of the nobility by newly-enriched merchants and newly-elevated gentry moving into former monasteries and religious properties. Thus, in this 19th c. and early 20th c. revival it was a fitting style for newly-enriched and elevated leaders—like the family of John G. Shedd, the self-made merchandising mastermind who had risen from a clerkship, like Field himself, to the top of Marshall Field & Co.  The irregularity of the massing is most notable on the northwest entry, with over its front door an oriel window, like a bow window but round.  It is in stone to highlight it as a viewpoint at the most important part of the house, the entry.  In addition to the Tudor overall style, there were signs of classicism in the additions or wings: the dining porch and the sun room.  Here Italian Renaissance rounded windows reflect a later style and suggest an English house that grew over time.  There are also some classical sculptures to be found, one on the south side of the house.  The use of limestone on the exterior for fine carving and accent was featured in a March 1927 advertisement in Country Life (U.S.), p. 103, noting the Schweppe place as an “outstandingly beautiful” example of how this material can be employed to this effect (with thanks to Nicola Egoroff Nelson and the Facebook “I Remember Lake Forest When…” public group page, December 5, 2011).

Interior Styles.  On the interior the medieval style is at the heart of the house, the great hall and its stairway on the north side.  The library, at the west end of the main axis east west, is medieval revival, too, though libraries generally were Enlightenment amenities—late 17th and 18th cs.  The rooms off of the main hall west, south, and north—the reception room, living and sun rooms, and dining room and porch, respectively—are classic in style, by contrast to the hall: these suggest development over time, as in an English manor house that is augmented by different generations in the Stuart and Georgian periods.  The south wall of the great hall is dominated by a walk-in medieval fireplace of Indiana limestone.  to the east are the windows overlooking the lake, and on the west the wall of carved wood screening, from an organ and suggesting a minstrel gallery. The ceiling, characterized by Tudor/Stuart strap work patterns, is stunning, as are the period plasterwork ceilings in the other public rooms.  The living room, the next most imposing space, also has carved wood, but in the later manner of master carver and decorator Grinling Gibbons (1648-1721), a style also employed in the Arthur Heun and Elsie DeWolf interior for Mellody Farm for J. Ogden Armour, completed in 1910 just west (then) of Lake Forest. The form of the living room ceiling recalls the high classic formality of ceiling designs in the 17th c. Hall of Mirrors, Versailles; but more immediately it references Stanford White’s 1901-02 renowned Rosecliff ballroom ceiling, Newport, for Tessie and Herman Oelriches (Jane Mulvagh and Mark A. Weber, Newport Houses, Rizzoli, 1989, pp. 202, 206-7).

Landscape Styles. Since the house was subdivided in the 1990s, the main landscape elements surviving on that parcel are, on the one hand, the English Landscape style lawn east of the house and terrace and a bit west of the house and, on the other hand, the courtyard and terraces in the Arts & Crafts formalist manner by Pray, Hubbard & White, Boston.  These are significant because they reflect the change in style after the 1892 publication of Reginald Blomfield’s The Formal Garden in England.  Blomfield argued against the informal, up-to-the-front-door natural style of the past two centuries and looked back to the formal, classic design of the Tudor and Stuart periods, with its great house courtyards and terraces.  Lake Forest’s Howard Van Doren Shaw had a copy, still at Ragdale until the 1990s for example, and David Adler was a master of this new vocabulary, also derived from classic study in U.S. architecture schools (MIT, especially) and Paris (the Ecole des Beaux-Arts) by architects and landscape architects a century ago. These terraces push the house into the outdoors and the views—of the lake and of the gardens.  The long terrace overlooking Lake Michigan suggests grand summer entertaining.  The courtyard is iconic locally, the archetypical arrival spot at a local country house or manor.  The courtyard has a fountain in the center and is walled, like the house, and with notable Indiana limestone features.

More information  

Available from the website of the realtor, Houda Chedid of Coldwell Banker, are a photo tour of the house and also a 2009 video tour with this writer (LXTV). For the history of the estate, including images of the hotel (1870-77) and Blair Lodge (1880-1913), see Arthur H. Miller and Shirley M. Paddock, Lake Forest: Estates, People and Culture (Arcadia, 2000; in print), pp. 177-20, and also Kim Coventry, Daniel Meyer, and Arthur H. Miller, Classic Country Estate of Lake Forest… (W. W. Norton, 2003), pp. 218-20.  The hotel, as the home of the Collegiate Department of Lake Forest University, 1876-77, is shown and discussed in Franz Schulze, Rosemary Cowler, and Arthur H. Miller, 30 Miles North: A History of Lake Forest College, Its Town, and Its City of Chicago (2000), pp. 23 (illus.) and 26, with endnotes on p. 201.  The Pray Hubbard & White firm’s Schweppe commission is referenced in Karen Sebastian, “James Sturgis Pray,” Pioneers of American Landscape Design, ed. Charles A. Birnbaum and Robin Karson (McGraw-Hill, 2000), p. 303. 


Arthur H. Miller, December 6, 2011