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Naperville
Tuesday, August 16, 2022

Story of Gilded Age at Mayslake Peabody Estate attracts Rotary interest

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Did you know? Back in 1905 during the height of  America’s Gilded Age, Paul Harris and three other business men  established the first Rotary Club in downtown Chicago. According to A Century of Service written by David C. Forward, the four friends followed up on an idea to begin a” fellowship and business booster club.”

Today, 107 years later, every week approximately 1.2 million men and women worldwide head around the corner to meetings at one of the 34,000 Rotary Clubs, all members of Rotary International.   And a gilded sculpture of Paul Harris, extending his hand in friendship, is located on the 16th Floor of the RI World Headquarters in Evanston, near a room re-created with furnishings from the first Rotary meeting location.

In Naperville alone, four Rotary Clubs meet at various times to accommodate approximately 300 members.

One of those clubs, the Rotary Club of Naperville/Downtown, meets at 4:44PM most Wednesdays, taking time off only during weeks with holidays. Chartered in February 2007, the club meets at Hugo’s Frog Bar and Fish House, located  in the Main Street Promenade along Van Buren Ave.

In addition to fellowship and a motto of “Service Above Self,” among the drawing  factors to Rotary meetings are its weekly programs,  educational presentations aimed to enlighten members.

Engaging programs make a difference at 4:44PM

Rotarian Pat Benton recently arranged for Janneke Fowers, Heritage Interpreter for the Mayslake Peabody Estate, to present a program about the estate’s rich history.  Constructed by industrialist Francis Stuyvesant Peabody during the American Gilded Age (1880 to 1920), the property  now is owned and operated by the Forest Preserve District of DuPage County.

Though located in nearby Oak Brook, none of the members in attendance had visited the estate in recent years.  When Fowers began her presentation about Peabody, a coal baron with a  desire for a country retreat, members quickly became engaged.

As an aside, Rotary Downtown President Kenn Miller connected the Peabody name with Naperville, noting the city’s partnership with Peabody Energy to help fund the  coal-fired electrical power station in southern Illinois.

Mindful of the fast-growing  number of successful capitalists during America’s Gilded Age, Fower described their movement to build so-called “country houses.”  Many well-to-do industrialists who lived in big cities also had large homes in the countryside throughout America. Peabody chose the noted Chicago architectural firm of Marshall & Fox to design his Tudor Revival mansion, where architect Benjamin H. Marshall, inventor of luxurious apartment living, led the two-year project completed in 1921, Fower said.

Originally, Peabody’s estate comprised about 900 acres.  Following his death in 1922, Mayslake was offered for sale at $1.25 million. In 1924, with support of  Peabody’s son,the property was sold to the Franciscans for a bargain price of $450,000.  The Franciscans converted the  39-room mansion into a retreat house. The spacious living room became a chapel. In the 1950s, a two-story retreat wing was connected to the mansion, adding 112 rooms and a new chapel.

Over the years, the Franciscans continued to sell off portions of the property for housing developments.

In 1990, after the Franciscans announced the pending sale of its remaining 88 acres to a real estate developer who planned to demolish the buildings to make way for luxury homes, a  massive campaign was waged  to save the site.  That campaign resulted in passage of a referendum that enabled the DuPage County Forest Preserve District to acquire the site for $17.5 million.

Since 1992, the Tudor-Revival style house has set on 90 acres and is now listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Currently, the buildings are undergoing restoration.  Restoration In Progress Tours welcome the public to an upfront view of the progress from one room to the next.

Fower’s 30-minute  presentation with Q&A included fun tidbits of information from the Gilded Age, citing the advent of the assembly line, prohibition, skyscrapers and other changes in the expanding times.

For instance, she asked, “How long did it take to build a Model T Ford on the assembly line?” The answer is 93 minutes.

Also during the prohibition, Fower noted that alcohol use in America was higher than it’s ever been.

And what made skyscrapers a high success? The invention of the electric elevator.

For more information about the Mayslake Peabody Estate, tours, meeting spaces and events, visit www.mayslakepeabody.com.

FYI: In recent years, the Rotary Club of Naperville/Sunrise has hosted a traditional  Robert Burns Supper in the hallowed halls at Mayslake to celebrate the  poet’s January 25, 1759, birthday with whiskey and  poetry readings.

For more information about the Rotary Club of Naperville/Downtown, visit www.rcndowntown.com or find it on Facebook. Guests always are welcome.

For a listing of all four Rotary Clubs of Naperville and their meeting locations, visit www.napervillerotaryclubs.com.

 

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PN Editor
An editor is someone who prepares content for publishing. It entered English, the American Language, via French. Its modern sense for newspapers has been around since about 1800.

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