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News and stuff about Lake Forest and Lake Bluff

Lake Forest Preservation Foundation Hosts Holiday Fete at Historic Holabird and Roche House

Local historian Art Miller (pictured, above) shared this history of the notable property:

Insley, 360 Mayflower Road
Residence of Mr. and Mrs. Carter Harrison (Isabel Scribner) Fitzhugh
Architects Holabird and Roche, 1893

The Family:
Mrs. Fitzhugh was the younger sister of Mrs. Walter Cranston Larned across the street at Blair Lodge, 405 Mayflower Road (demol. ca. 1913), and the granddaughter of New Jersey railroad baron John Insley Blair, 1802-1899. Carter Harrison Fitzhugh, a descendant of two presidents and many eminent Virginians, was in the iron manufacturing business when the house was built. After 1900 he was president of Fitzhugh Luther & Co., engaged in railroad equipment sales and manufacturing on a national scale, including selling narrow gauge locomotives from his late father-in-law’s Pennsylvania Railroad, when that line converted to standard gauge, to southern railroads where his family background inspired trust. Isabel lived at Insley from her arrival as a bride in 1893 until she died at 95 in the 1960s, almost as old as her grandfather had been.

Grandfather Blair gave the house as a wedding gift to Isabel and her spouse, as he had given the Larneds Blair Lodge (architect William Le Baron Jenny, 1882) a decade earlier. The young ladies’ father, New York publisher Charles Scribner, had died quite young and their mother, too, so that the orphaned Isabel lived with the Larneds and made her debut in that holiday-decorated house. Blair, the “Railroad King of the West” owned more miles of track than any other person in the world. He was the nineteenth wealthiest American upon his death, according to The Wealthy 100 … by Michael Klepper and Robert Gunther (1996), possessing then a share of the gross national product (GNP) larger than those of J. P. Morgan (23rd), Henry C. Frick (25th), Philip D. Armour (30th), or in the mid 1990s Bill Gates (31st) or Warren Buffett (39th). George Pullman (63rd) and Cyrus McCormick I (76th) were also-rans. Edith Rockefeller McCormick’s father, John D. Rockefeller, was (1st), with 1/65th of the U.S.’s GNP in the late 1930s.

The Architects:
John Holabird, son of the quartermaster general of the Army and an architect, and his Paris trained partner ______ Roche, were engaged to design the buildings for the late 1880s-organized Fort Sheridan, just south of Lake Forest. While this work was being completed, the firm also designed three homes on lakefront streets in Lake Forest, the 1892 Tuttle house (Mrs. Tuttle was a daughter of J. V. Farwell), now accessed on Westminster; the 1894 Fitzhugh house, Insley; and the 1895 Briar Hall for the Byron L. Smiths (demol. 1950s), at the bow westward in Lake Road, south of Woodland. The firm was known for their participation with Jenney and Cobb & Frost in the race to perfect iron and steel frame skyscraper construction, beginning with their 1879 Tacoma Building in the Loop.

The Site and House:
The site is on the high point west of Mayflower Road, up a gentle rise; the lawn in front or to the east was sold in the late 20th c. by when the house was rescued from dilapidation, the west or rear wing of the 1890s structure having been closed off unheated since before World War II, with plumbing turned off in 1947. The house sat empty for many years. Insley was restored by the Baclawskis, 1992-95, and Rebecca Curtis Baclawski spoke about the house’s history and their two-year restoration at the Foundation’s holiday party in 1995. The west bedroom suite still had its 1893 wallpaper, she noted, and the west wing plumbing was stuffed with 1947 newspaper.

The three-story, thirty-eight roomed red brick house’s form or plan is that of a “T”, with the kitchen and master bedroom suite being on the first two floors of the long wing west. The east front of the house—-framed with two gable ends–is quite formally classic, with Georgian colonial roots, built the year after the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition, where classicism debuted in Chicago. One notable Virginia precedent is the 1795 Potts-Fitzhugh house, Alexandria, Virginia—also a classic two and half story, “T” plan, red brick structure with two front gable ends at the third story level. It is better known as the Robert E. Lee boyhood home. The Insley plan allows for the central stairway as in Alexandria, and the sunny, south-facing library east and great dining room west.



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