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Sunday, May 22, 2022

James Wright built the mansion, perfect for Mesòn Sabika

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The plaque at the front door to the restaurant now known as Mesòn Sabika states that the building was erected by James Wright for Dr. Lilly. There’s much more to the story.

James Gregson Wright was born June 6, 1823, in Liverpool, England, the son of Joseph Wright and Sarah Parkinson. His parents brought him to the United States when he was a child and he attended school in New York City for several years.

When Wright decided to seek his fortune, he moved to DuPage County in September 1842. And in 1844 he purchased 91 acres of land from William Ogden who was the first Mayor of Chicago. In 1847, he built one of the first mansions in Naperville, now known as Mesòn Sabika.

The house was built with brick made in Warrenville and one of the first loads of lumber shipped over the Northwestern Railroad when the railroad extended only as far as Wheaton.

Wright married Almira Van Osdel, the daughter of Chicago’s first architect, John M. Van Osdel, in Chicago in 1845. From this union were born seven children: William Parkinson, Sarah E., Margaret Ella, Mary Ellen, Catherine Almira, James George and John Joseph.

In 1857 he founded the first bank in DuPage County with partner George Martin, the Producers Bank of Martin and Wright.

The Independent Order of Odd Fellows Chapter No. 81 was founded in Naperville in 1851 and he was a charter member. He was one of the earliest members of Euclid Lodge No. 65, A.F. & A.M. and served as Master in 1862.

He also was a member of St. John’s Episcopal Church and served as vestryman in 1850 and later as its senior warden from 1864 to 1883 and as church historian.

He was the co-founder with Lewis Ellsworth of the DuPage County Agricultural and Mechanical Society, an organization dedicated to the promotion of farming and industry in the county.

An ardent supporter of the Republican Party in its founding days, Wright was rewarded by Abraham Lincoln by being appointed as Postmaster of Naperville on April 8, 1861, a position he held until April 16, 1869. He served as the township supervisor in 1860 and 1875 and as a member of the county board of supervisors. He served six terms in the Illinois House of Representatives.

Illinois Governor Shelby Cullom appointed Wright to serve as one of the representatives from the State of Illinois at the funeral of President Garfield in September 1881.

In 1882 he was appointed as the U. S. Agent to the Sioux Indians at the Rosebud Agency in South Dakota and served there for four years. He was the first Indian Agent to establish schools for the Native American people.

At the end of his term as Indian Agent, he retired to Chicago and lived there until his death on January 7, 1905. He is buried in the Naperville Cemetery.

Thomas P. Phillips, president of the Dolese and Shepherd Stone Company, which operated one of the stone quarries in Naperville, was the second inhabitant of the home from 1886 until 1890.

Dr. Guy Lilly inhabited the home from 1890 until 1897.

The farm was occupied by tenants for five years and then sold to William Ransdell Goodwin in 1902. The Mansion was given the name “Oakhurst” at this time due to the many oak trees on the property. Goodwin was a stock breeder and the editor of the “Breeders Gazette.”

William David Callender purchased the property in 1919 and owned it until 1945. Callendar was a publisher of trade journals in Chicago.

George Polivka purchased the home in 1945 and renamed the estate “Will-O-Way.” The home had originally been painted a pale yellow and the Polivka’s painted it white. The Will-O-Way farm was the home for his Guernsey dairy herd.

James and Judd Polivka, sons of George, converted the home into a restaurant, the Manor at Will-O-Way, or Will-O-Way Manor in 1963.

In 1990, the mansion received a new tenant, a restaurant named Mesòn Sabika.

—Tim Ory, Historian Euclid Lodge No. 65, Ancient Free & Accepted Masons

More about Mesòn Sabika…

James Polivka still owns the beautiful setting now called Mesòn Sabika. Since 1990, the other constant at Mesòn Sabika has been Hossein Jamali, known for his wit, generous fundraising initiatives and community spirit.

“The Polivkas are the most kind, caring and generous peoples,” said Jamali, noting patrons often wonder about ownership. “They go way out of their way to assist us in every way possible. They have played a great deal in Mesòn Sabika’s success.”

Throughout the years, Mesòn Sabika has hosted events for dozens of nonprofit organizations locally and around the world inside the historic mansion, at the spacious pavilion built in 2005 and on its outdoor patios.

On Sept. 14, 2021, the amicable restaurateur hosted a benefit for the Red Cross that raised over $28,000 for tornado, hurricane and flood relief efforts.

Since 2001, Mesòn Sabika has been serving complimentary Thanksgiving dinners to individuals and families in need of a place to celebrate America’s special holiday, always looking to share the meal with dignity and compassion, no matter if the need is financial, emotional or friendly fellowship. That tradition continues, and all these years later Mesòn Sabika continues to serve turkey and all the trimmings, with some slight changes that began with to-go orders in advance for Thanksgiving Day n 2020.

On Nov. 25, 2021, Mesòn Sabika again will provide 3,000 traditional Thanksgiving “to-go” dinners for anyone in need, following procedures put into place in 2020.

Throughout the year and during the holiday season, the restaurant also known for “A Taste of Spain” offers a variety of spaces for parties, weddings, receptions, meetings and other special occasions.

For more information and history, visit www.mesonsabika.com.

—PN

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Tim Ory
Tim Ory
Tim Ory is a fifth-generation Naperville native, descended from Francois Sebastien Ory, who immigrated to America from Alsace Lorraine, France, in 1844. Signing off as "Tim Ory, Historian, Euclid Lodge No. 65 Ancient Free & Accepted Masons," Tim adds that he continues to research the History of the Masonic Lodge and Naperville every day. Contact him at tjory@sbcglobal.net.

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