701 Geneva Road (View on map)
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.
Image credit: St. Charles Heritage Center
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.
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