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: