The Hegeler Carus Mansion in La Salle, Illinois had escaped our attention until a few weeks ago, and looked promising enough to warrant a visit. The 16,000-square-foot, seven-level home was built between 1874 and 1876 by Edward Hegeler, who had chosen the La Salle area as the home for his zinc smelting business almost two decades before. Through the hard work of Hegeler and his partner, Frederick Matthiessen, M & H Zinc Company became the largest zinc manufacturer in the U.S. by 1880, and held that distinction for 30 years.
Edward and his wife Camilla raised eight children in this 57-room mansion which remained in the family until the Hegeler Carus Foundation was formed in 1995 to assume care of the structure. Paul Carus was invited by the Hegelers to work as editor at Open Court Publishing, which the Hegelers had launched in 1887, and married their daughter Mary in 1888. Paul and Mary raised their six children in the home, the last of whom died in 2004.
W. W. Boyington (better known for his work on the Chicago Water Tower) was commissioned as architect, and August Fiedler designed the interiors. Only one room is restored to near-original condition, but many of the rooms are virtually unchanged from their original design. I'm amazed that a home can survive several owners over 130 years without remodeling! In this case, I'm glad the successive generations recognized they probably couldn't improve on the original product and just left it alone, although many areas are pitifully faded or damaged. The structure is now a National Historic Landmark, so renovation requires more paperwork and approvals, but could be better funded.
Although the interior desperately needs restoration, one can still appreciate the details Fiedler used to tie rooms to each other, and make them each unique at the same time. I was especially impressed by the parquet floors as each room had a unique design that complemented the other woodwork in the room. Some decorative features were painted on the walls and ceilings, right alongside the intricate carvings.
The photo above shows the house as viewed from the street. A family entrance at ground level beneath the central tower is used for general admittance today, as the original formal entrance to the right is no longer available to the public. A large, horseshoe-shaped staircase welcomed visitors and placed them on a porch that wraps almost all the way around the house, from which they entered the home at the end of a broad welcoming hall. We were told the family entertained in that hall, in the parlors on either side, and in the dining room at the opposite end of the hall. The layout of the house was impressive, and yet comfortable, convincing me that another visit may be in order if the restoration of the home continues successfully.
Thanks for visiting!