As a former work-in-progress for over thirty years which combined multiple architectural influences and which is frequently described as “eclectic”, Woodland Palace is much more than eclectic; it’s downright eccentric — and happily so. While the National Register Nomination Form for the house notes the dominant Queen Anne and Romanesque influences, the lancet arches of the tower are a nod to the Gothic Revival and the squared onion dome suggests additional, more exotic, inspiration. Begun in 1889 and located in Francis Park just outside Kewanee, Illinois, the house is the creation of Frederick Francis, a rather complex man native to the area.
Multi-talented, Fred was adept at construction, mechanical engineering, writing, woodworking, mathematics, public speaking and masonry. He was also a poet, vegetarian, artist, atheist and “physical culturalist” which sounds a lot like a Victorian euphemism for nudist. He retired (at age 32!) from the Elgin Watch factory thanks to lucrative patents he held for tools he designed specific to the making of watches.
While working for the famed watch company he met his future wife, Jenny Crowfoot, who was also employed there. Jenny died of tuberculosis in 1921; her struggle with the disease prompted Fred to re-evaluate his atheism. He continued to work on the house until his death in 1926; the house and grounds were willed to the City of Kewanee. The house is often open to the public, though not year-round.
The eccentricity of the of the design reminds me a bit of the “Garden of Eden” in Kansas, while some of the innovative amenities remind me of Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello in Virginia. Below are photos from Wikimedia Commons depicting the exterior. Following them is an informative ten-minute video which gives us a good look at the amazing interior; I hope you will take the time to watch it as it will give you a much greater appreciation for this under-appreciated house. Enjoy!!
Here’s a fascinating ten-minute video posted on YouTube which elaborates on the house, Fred and Jenny:
Great post and video, A.O.! I have always thought that a home should reflect its owner’s personality, and not be constructed and decorated blandly “for resale.” This one fits that concept perfectly. And I would have liked to know Fred, and have given his wife a trophy for putting up with his eccentricities. It’s great that the city has kept this home up for the last century. Too often “odd” homes can just deteriorate and be demolished.
Jenny certainly deserved some kind of recognition for what must have been a challenging domestic situation! The value and importance of expressive homes cannot be overstated; houses like this make me giddy!
Your post makes me want to jump in the car and drive down there to see the house!