In 1887, Peabody married Mae Henderson, a native of Utica, New York. The couple had two children: Stuyvesant “Jack” and May. In 1907, Peabody’s first wife died in Nice, France, while on a trip to Europe. Two years later, Peabody married Mary Sullivan, the daughter of a well-known Denver family. A member of the Chicago elite and an avid sportsman, 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over 200 books included a valuable collection of original Robert Louis Stevenson manuscripts, which included letters, unpublished poems and an original manuscript for “The Amateur Emigrant, with some first impressions of America.” The collection is now in the possession of Yale University.
In 1904, Francis 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 and served as the Chairman of the Army’s advisory board from 1919 until his death in 1922. On August 27, 1922, he died from a heart attack during a drag hunt on the estate. His favorite horse, Dunbar, was standing over him when he was found on the south side of the lake. The funeral was held at Mayslake Farms.
When F.S. Peabody entered the coal business in 1884, coal had surpassed wood as the primary energy source in America. The Peabody Coal Company quickly grew to become the nation’s largest coal producer. One of his most important business affiliations was with Samuel Insull of Chicago Edison Company, which was later known as ComEd. Peabody Energy eventually operated mines in Indiana, Ohio, Oklahoma, Kentucky, West Virgina, and Wyoming. Now known as Peabody Energy, this company is still thriving today.
F. S Peabody was active in the Democratic Party at both the state and national level. 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.
Francis Peabody’s desire for a country retreat was a common one among the well-to-do business class of America’s Gilded Age (1880 to 1920). With a rapid increase in the number of successful capitalists during this time, 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 Tudor Revival Style
Early twentieth century country houses came in a wide variety of architectural styles, though the vast majority 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.
Marshall & Fox
Peabody chose the noted Chicago architecture firm of Marshall & Fox as the architect for his retreat. 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 raised the bar further with The Drake (1919) and Edgewater Beach Hotel (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.
Although Peabody always maintained various residences in Chicago, it was in the western suburbs that he chose to build his retirement home. Peabody purchased over 800 acres from several landowners in DuPage County, near Hinsdale. He selected the prominent Chicago architectural firm of Marshall & Fox to design a magnificent 39-room Tudor Revival mansion costing $750,000. It took two years to build and was completed in 1921.
Peabody’s 848-acre “Mayslake Farm”—named after his first wife and daughter—featured 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.
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 Francis 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 39-room 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 Thomas Shannon, who planned to raze its buildings and build 130 luxury homes. A massive 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.