Monday, July 18, 2011

The Hegeler Carus Mansion in LaSalle Illinois

On Sunday July 10, Executive Director and Curator Bill Tyre gave a presentation on the history of Prairie Avenue as part of the Second Sunday lecture series at the Hegeler Carus Mansion in LaSalle Illinois.  The mansion is a fascinating house museum, recently designated as a National Historic Landmark.  And there are a few interesting connections between the house and Prairie Avenue.

The house was designed in 1874 by William W. Boyington, a prominent architect best known in Chicago for his design of the Water Tower.  Boyington was an early resident of the Prairie Avenue area, designing and constructing a home at 2107 S. Calumet Avenue, where and his family resided until 1871.  (Ironically he moved from the house just a few months before the Great Chicago Fire.  His home on Calumet escaped the fire; the new home into which he had just moved was completely destroyed).  While living on Calumet, he designed a spacious home for Levi Z. Leiter, original business partner of Marshall Field, across the street at 2114 S. Calumet Avenue.

The elaborate interior decoration of the Hegeler Carus mansion is the work of August Fiedler, a talented German-American who excelled in interior design and furniture making.  Although he designed many interiors in Chicago and elsewhere, most have been lost, leaving the Hegeler Carus as the largest and most intact surviving example of his work.  A few pieces of furniture in the house appear to be the work of Isaac Scott, the talented designer who created many of the pieces of furniture and most of the picture frames in the Glessner house.  Fiedler and Scott were known to work together.  In a journal entry from May 1876, Frances Glessner notes the arrival of the “small bookcase” (now in the master bedroom) that was designed by Scott but made by August Fiedler. 

The Hegeler Carus mansion was completed in 1876, at which time Edward and Camilla Hegeler moved in with their large family.  Hegeler had made his fortune in the zinc smelting business, and by 1880 it was largest such business in the U.S.  In 1887, Hegeler launched The Open Court Publishing Company to provide a forum for the discussion of philosophy, science and religion, and hired the German scholar Dr. Paul Carus to serve as managing editor.  Carus wrote 75 books and nearly 1,500 articles in his lifetime and is credited with introducing Buddhism to the western world through his text The Gospel of Buddha According to Old Records.  He married the Hegelers’ daughter Mary in 1888.

The Glessners owned at least one book by Carus, entitled Nirvana, A Story of Buddhist Philosophy, published in 1896 by The Open Court Publishing Co. (and shown above).  The beautiful book is printed on crepe paper with silk thread tied binding and double leaves folded Japanese style.  Takejiro Hasegawa of Tokyo illustrated and printed the book which featured stunning color woodblock prints produced by Suzuki Kason.   The book is part of the museum collection today.

Today a trip to the Hegeler Carus literally transports the visitor back more than century.  Although faded from more than a century of use by three generations of one family, the house and its contents are incredibly intact, from the original Fiedler painted decorations on the walls and ceilings to the wonderful custom made furniture.  It is well worth the 95 mile drive from Chicago to see this architectural and historical treasure.  For more information, visit


  1. Sharon WagenknechtJuly 19, 2011 at 11:13 AM

    Bill, I'm so glad your trip to the Hegeler Carus was such a success! Delighted to know about the Nirvana book at Glessner House, and I'm guessing there will be more discoveries in the future that show a connection between the houses/families.

  2. i was fortunate to be able to at least go to the talk caf hosted about the house several weeks back. i can't wait to go... i have relatives who lived their lives in lasalle and my cousin (their granddaughter and whose mother grew up there) is anxious to go see it..along with my mother, who grew up in streator, not far from lasalle.. this was an interesting post, as all your posts are..


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