Farnsworth Mansion

701 Geneva Road     (View on map)


Image credit: 1871 Atlas and History of Kane County
Built by John Farnsworth in 1860, this house remained in the Farnsworth family until 1879 when the family moved to Chicago. At that time, Charles Minard, the son of early settler, Ira Minard, bought the mansion. An 1885 fire destroyed the interior of the home, leaving just the stone walls standing. Herbert Nicholson, manager of the St. Charles Condensing Company bought the home in 1891 and restored it.

John Farnsworth, a lawyer from Michigan, came to St. Charles in 1845. During the volatile period leading up to the Civil War, Farnsworth became an ardent abolitionist. One example of his dedication to the cause occurred when abolitionist, Ichabod Codding, came to the Kane County Courthouse to give a series of lectures. Farnsworth and another man patrolled the area outside of the courtroom "with slingshots in their sleeves made of chunks of lead encased in old stockings, ready to give the rioters a warm reception should they attempt to carry out their threats and interrupt Mr. Codding's speeches."

Farnsworth also became involved in politics. Though a Democrat in his early years, Farnsworth left the party and in 1856 was first elected to Congress as a Republican. He was a well-respected official, reportedly having many of his speeches published in many newspapers. Farnsworth served as a congressman for 14 years, only abstaining from his political duties during the Civil War when he led the 8th Illinois Cavalry Regiment. In November of 1862, Colonel Farnsworth was promoted to Brigadier-General. He resigned from the service in 1863. Following his resignation, Farnsworth served as a congressman until 1872 when Stephen Hurlbut won the Congressional seat. In 1879 he moved to Chicago. Farnsworth returned to Washington D.C. where he died in 1897.

Soon after the turn of the century the mansion began its new life as a school building. In 1907, the Sisters of St. Dominic purchased the residence and the surrounding property for a private girls' school. The Dominican Sisters remodeled the home to provide classrooms and rooms for boarders. When Mount St. Mary Academy opened on August 15, 1907, it boasted convenient access to both the railways and electric cars, making it easier for students to reach the campus. The expansive Gothic style addition, constructed in 1926, gave the growing and successful school more room to house its classes, which were offered to girls from Kindergarten through twelfth grades. By the 1940s, Mount St. Mary became solely a high school. Day and resident students gained an education in a wide array of subject material including: home economics, typing, math, science, foreign language, and physical education. By the 1970s, the school began to face financial problems, and in June 1972, Mount St. Mary Academy bid adieu to its final graduating class of 110 girls.



1966
It was not long before the old building was once again housing a parochial school. In September 1972, the Lutheran High School Association of Greater Chicago purchased the property. A co-ed high school opened in 1974 and welcomed approximately 300 students. The old Farnsworth mansion housed a thrift shop, the profits of which went to support the school. Like Mount St. Mary Academy, Valley Lutheran High School, or as it was later known, Fox Valley Lutheran Academy, incurred financial problems. The school closed in 1991. Fox Valley Lutheran Academy was reestablished in Elgin, Illinois and operated there from 1992-2010.

Following the closure of Fox Valley Lutheran Academy, developers sought to buy the property. Noble House Development originally wanted to convert the old school building into condominiums. Local residents protested this proposal. Despite strong local opposition, the developer razed both the mansion and the school building to make room for a housing development. The stones and woodwork from the mansion were dismantled and stored on the Moline Corporation property. Financial difficulties plagued the developer and the houses and land were auctioned off in 1997. The property was later fully developed as the View Pointe Subdivision.

In October 1999, the City of St. Charles gained ownership of the mansion’s limestone blocks. A group of local citizens established the Farnsworth Mansion Foundation, intending to rebuild the Farnsworth Mansion on the former site of Farnsworth's Civil War training ground, Camp Kane. The resources needed to complete this project have not been available.


Image credit: Library of Congress


For additional photographs see:

    Celebrating History p 63
    St. Charles Illinois p 61
    Mount St. Mary High School: Local History    Find at Library (Local History Vertical File)
    Fox Valley Lutheran Academy: Local History   Find at Library (Local History Vertical File)
    Valley Lutheran High School: Local History    Find at Library (Vertical File)

Sources

  • "Academy Will Open." St. Charles Chronicle 23 Aug. 1907.
  • "Another Viewpointe?" St. Charles Republican 5 June 1997: 3.
  • Baker, Wayne. "Trio of Volunteers Revives Valley Lutheran." Chicago Tribune 18 June 1990: 2:1
  • Cavanagh, Michael. "Deficit, Attendance Woes Challenge Valley Lutheran." St. Charles Chronicle 13 May 1988.
  • Costello, Mary Ann. "Debate Rages Over Farnsworth Stones." Kane County Chronicle 10 March 1993: A:1.
  • Costello, Mary Ann. "Farnsworth Mansion Leveled." Kane County Chronicle 3 March 1993: A:1.
  • Costello, Mary Ann. "Fox Valley Alum Fight Wrecking Ball." Kane County Chronicle 29 July 1992: A:1.
  • Costello, Mary Ann. "John Farnsworth: Congressman, Civil War General, Abolitionist." Kane County Chronicle 23 March 1993: Hist. Ed:3.
  • Digitizing History in St. Charles - Digitized collection of the library's local history books, maps, newspapers and photographs.
  • Durant, Pliny. Commemorative, Biographical, and Historical Record of Kane County, Illinois. Chicago: Beers, Leggett, and Co., 1888.
  • "Lutherans Buy Mt. St. Mary's" St. Charles Chronicle 20 Sept. 1972.
  • Pearson, Ruth Ann. Reflections of St. Charles. Elgin: Brethern Press, 1976.
  • Pearson, Ruth S. "Last Days at the Mount." St. Charles Chronicle 7 June 1972.
  • Peterson, Jami. "Developer May Rebuild Former Mansion Using Old Limestone." St. Charles Republican 5 June 1997: 3.
  • Pierce, Victoria. "Graduates Come Back for All-Mount Reunion." Kane County Chronicle 18 May 1990, A:1.
  • Slocum, Tom. "Lutherans to Reopen Former Catholic Girls High School." Chicago Tribune 1 Oct. 1972.
  • "Valley Lutheran High School Makes History." Fox Fax News June/July 1988.

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