Mayslake Peabody Estate is a dynamic historic resource that promotes inspiring experiences that enrich the lives of our visitors and community.
Francis Stuyvesant Peabody was a national figure in the coal industry and in Democratic politics. In 1883, he founded a company that would become one of the nation’s largest coal producers, at a time when coal furnished 90% of the nation’s energy. His sprawling Mayslake Estate was the culmination of a tremendously successful career. In 1919, Peabody hired renowned Chicago architect Benjamin Marshall to design his Tudor Revival-style country mansion. The mansion was built on the site of Peabody’s 848-acre “Mayslake Farm”—named after his first wife and daughter. He began purchasing the property around 1911 and eventually built numerous outbuildings, elaborate stables and an outdoor arena where prominent Chicagoans participated in horse shows and drag hunts. Today, Mayslake Hall, with its opulent appearance, rural setting and formality, stands as a rare reminder of the magnificent country houses that once graced the landscape of DuPage County.
F. S. Peabody was born in Chicago on July 24, 1859, to an affluent and prominent family. They lived in a house on the corner of Rush and Erie street, a wealthy neighborhood populated with Chicago’s oldest and most prominent families. After graduating from Yale in 1881, Peabody returned to Chicago and entered the coal industry. In 1887, Peabody married May Henderson, a native of Utica, New York. May was the stepdaughter of John H. McAvoy, a Chicago Board of Trade operator and the founder of the McAvoy Brewing Company. The couple had two children: Stuyvesant “Jack” (1888) and May (1891). In 1907, Peabody’s first wife died in Nice, France, while travelling with friends. Two years later, Peabody married Mary Sullivan, a widow described by the newspapers as “wealthy and charming.” The ceremony took place at St. Patrick’s cathedral in New York City.
F. S. Peabody intended Mayslake to serve as his retirement home. The mansion was completed in 1921 and the couple moved in shortly after, although the house was still in the process of being furnished. Tragically, on August 27, 1922, F. S. Peabody died from a heart attack during a drag hunt (a fox hunt without a real fox) on the estate. His favorite horse, Dunbar, was standing over him when he was found. The funeral was held at Mayslake Farms. F. S. Peabody and his wife had occupied the grand home for a little over a year, and his widow and children did not want to keep the property after he died. In 1924, his son Jack sold the entire property to the Franciscan Province of the Sacred Heart.
F. S. Peabody entered the retail coal business in 1883 with $100, a wagon and two mules, partnering with Edwin F. Daniels to create Peabody, Daniels and Company. Only two years later, Peabody bought out his partner and became the sole proprietor of Peabody Coal Company. The Peabody Coal Company quickly grew to become one of the nation’s largest coal producers.
One of his most important business affiliations was with Samuel Insull of Chicago Edison Company, which was later known as ComEd. The two men reached an agreement in 1903, whereby Peabody agreed to supply Chicago Edison with all the coal it needed at cost-plus basic while Insull provided Peabody with an influx of capital to buy additional mines. Peabody Coal eventually operated mines in Indiana, Ohio, Oklahoma, Kentucky, West Virginia, and Wyoming in addition to more than 29 mines in Illinois. In 1919, Peabody became Chairman of the Board of Peabody Coal and his son Jack became President. Production at Peabody Coal reached a peak in 1945, with 17 million tons. F. S. Peabody’s grandson retired in 1954 ending the family’s ties with the enterprise. Now known as Peabody Energy, the company filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy on April 13, 2016.
Interests and Philanthropy
A member of the Chicago elite and an avid sportsman, F. S. Peabody enjoyed memberships in the Chicago Club, the Chicago Athletic Club, the Chicago Yacht Club, Edgewater Golf Club, and the Saddle and Cycle Club. He was the founder of the Chicago District Golf Association and served as president of the Hinsdale Golf Club. All of these clubs afforded Chicago’s businessmen the chance to make important contacts at social functions. While the purpose of some was purely social, other clubs served as vital institutions for focusing leadership and personal wealth on such important issues as the fight for honest and efficient government, the founding and support of cultural institutions, and the beautification of the city.
Peabody was also interested in literature and had many associations with literary men and organizations, such as the Caxton Club. His private library of over 200 books included a valuable collection of original Robert Louis Stevenson manuscripts, which included letters, unpublished poems and an original manuscript for “The Amateur Emigrant, with some first impressions of America” (1879-1880). The collection is now in the possession of Yale University.
In 1904, F. S. Peabody was elected a Fellow of the Chicago Academy of Sciences after donating a collection of 1,124 coal plant fossils from Missouri and Pennsylvania. For more than 20 years he was also involved with the Salvation Army as a fundraiser and he served as the Chairman of the Army’s advisory board from 1919 until his death in 1922.
F. S Peabody was active in the Democratic Party at both the state and national level. He ran as the Democratic candidate for Cook County Sheriff in 1894, losing in a close election. In 1908, he headed the movement to nominate Adlai E. Stevenson for governor of Illinois. In 1916, President Wilson enlisted Peabody to oversee fundraising for the Democratic campaign in the western states. Peabody’s contributions were instrumental in Wilson winning the election that year. During World War I, President Wilson named Peabody chairman of the Council of National Defenses’ Coal Production Committee, and he was also appointed assistant to the chairman of the Bureau of Mines. In 1919, Peabody consented to be nominated as a Democratic candidate for U.S. Senator, but soon withdrew to devote his time to dealing with the “coal crisis” as a private citizen. Peabody’s high profile during the war and its aftermath put him in direct conflict with labor unions across the country and especially with the coal miners who worked for him directly.
Peabody’s desire for a country retreat was a common one among the well-to-do business class of his era. With a rapid increase in the number of successful capitalists during the Gilded Age (1870-1900), the movement to build so-called “country houses” came into full bloom in America. Illinois industrialists took the country house movement to heart, and the North Shore and other outlying areas around Chicago filled with country estates after 1900.
The focal point of the house is the brick and limestone entryway featuring the Peabody coat of arms and a Latin quote: Murius Aereus Conscentia Sana, “A good conscience is the best defense.” Located on a man-made lake, the American Tudor Revival design featured a more eclectically designed interior. The house also contained some strikingly modern features, including a central vacuum system, a model plumbing system and seven electric refrigerators (of which one even had an ice water spigot).
Marshall & Fox
Peabody chose the noted Chicago architecture firm of Marshall & Fox as the architect for his country home. Benjamin H. Marshall served as the firm’s primary designer, but also as its “rainmaker,” soliciting clients from among Chicago’s elite.
Marshall received no formal architectural training, but apprenticed with the Chicago firm of Marble and Wilson from 1893 through 1895. In 1902, Marshall struck out on his own. During a time when Chicago was a rapidly growing commercial city, they were in the forefront of designing for its entrepreneurial elite. The firm was technologically forward-looking and set an unsurpassed standard for Chicago’s most elegant apartment buildings, theatres and opulent hotels. Their first major hotel commission was the stylish Blackstone Hotel (1908), which won the ‘American Institute of Architects’ medal of honor in 1910. Marshall & Fox later designed The Drake (1919) and Edgewater Beach Hotel and Apartments (1921).
The firm designed over 60 mansions and country houses in the Chicago area, and Mayslake Hall is one of their few known surviving country estates. Demonstrating sensitivity to historic detail in all their designs, and exuberance absent in most of Chicago’s better-known Chicago School or Prairie School buildings, Marshall & Fox’s work occupies an important place in Chicago architecture.
The Tudor Revival Style
Early twentieth century country houses came in a wide variety of architectural styles, though most were historical revivals. This reflected the prevailing trend toward historicism, as architects looked nostalgically to the past for inspiration. Among the most favored styles was Tudor Revival. Certainly, Tudor Revival houses, with their steeply-pitched gabled roofs; red-brick masonry walls with stone trim; stucco cladding; decorative half-timbering; groups of tall, narrow windows; and large, elaborate ornamental chimneys, were regularly featured in the architectural journals, as well as in Country Life and Arts and Decoration. Mayslake Hall is an outstanding example of the Tudor Revival style. Entrepreneurs such as coal baron F. S. Peabody considered the English manor house the epitome of gentility and status. In fact, Mayslake Hall is very similar in appearance to Compton Wynyates, a fifteenth-century manor house in Warwickshire, England.
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The Franciscan Province of the Sacred Heart, a Catholic religious community of men now headquartered in St. Louis, was founded in central Illinois in the mid-1850s and has mainly served the Midwest throughout its history. It is a territorial province of the worldwide Franciscan Order, which has a membership of over 25,000.
Acquisition of Mayslake
Following the death of F. S. Peabody on August 27, 1922, his 848-acre Mayslake Estate in DuPage County was offered for sale at a price of $1.25 million. At the urging of Peabody’s son Jack, a Catholic convert with close ties to Cardinal Mundelein, the property was sold to the Franciscans for a bargain price of $450,000 on March 28, 1924.
Following their acquisition of Mayslake, the Franciscans spent the next year converting the Tudor Revival mansion into a retreat house. The spacious living room was converted to a chapel, and its doors and eight windows were fitted with stained glass. In the 1950s, a two-story retreat wing was connected to the mansion, providing an additional 112 rooms and an impressive new chapel.
Mayslake has played an important role in the spiritual life of the Chicago metropolitan region, with over 250,000 people participating in retreats at the site between 1925 and 1991. Held each weekend of the year, retreats focused on the application of religion to daily problems. Activities included lectures, spiritual readings, a visit to the Portiuncula Chapel, and prayers. The Mayslake site was conducive to mental rest, and time was set aside for relaxation and walking about the expansive grounds. Retreatants came from all walks of life, and classes often featured special groups, such as labor organizations. After attending three retreats in the 1920s, Jack Peabody noted that, “In this modern life it is hard for us to get our minds in position to give the proper values to spiritual things unless we can devote some time to thinking and studying about them as I did at the St. Francis retreat.”
Sale of Property
The Franciscans began selling off the acreage of their Mayslake property in the 1930s. The sale of property continued over the years, including the 300 acres for development of the Trinity Lakes and Whitehall subdivisions during the 1970s. In 1990, the Franciscans announced the pending sale of its remaining 88 acres to Westmont real estate developer who planned to raze its buildings and build 130 luxury homes. A public campaign to save the site resulted in passage of a referendum that enabled the DuPage County Forest Preserve District to acquire the site for $17.5 million in 1992.
Today, visitors can experience the grandeur of Mayslake Hall and its architecture by joining a tour or attending one of many theatrical and musical performances, art classes, lectures, exhibits, and other educational and cultural programs that take place at the estate throughout the year.