J. Ogden Armour’s “summer home”

Photo from the Second Book of the North Shore ; homes, gardens, landscapes, highways and byways past and present– by Marian A. White, pub. J. Harrison White, 1911

Ogden Armour was heir to P.D. Armour of meat packing fame – inheriting the business and Chicago’s richest fortune at the time.  Writer Arthur Meeker, whose own father was Ogden Armour’s partner, described the house, and the malaise of an unhappy marriage between Ogden and his wife, Lolita (a close friend of Meeker’s mother) – and Armour’s affair? with Opera star Mary Garden.  Intersting stuff.

Meeker in his 1955 book Chicago With Love;  a polite and personal history described the J. Ogden Armour “summer house” in Lake Forest, Illinois this way:  [When he and his sister Mary were children]

…”We had everything we could possibly want – more, no doubt, than was good for us – but the Armours had that, and a great deal else as well.  Not long after Arcady [Ogden’s manse] was built, Ogden Armour, my father’s chief partner, erected an elaborate companion piece, Mellody Farm, a couple of miles north-west of us.  We felt seignorial with our hundred acres: the Armours had a thousand.  They made a long drive in from Telegraph Road bordered by rows of young elms, which had to be buttressed by wires to withstand fierce Midwestern winds.  Half-way along it, the road swooped over a huge stone bridge surmounting the St. Paul tracks (the Armours had their own station), then down again to two lakes, well stocked with bass and perch, but always, mysteriously, fuller of bullheads than of anything else.  These ornamental pieces of water were the haunt of a race of war-like swans, which were wont to chase us whenever we came near them.  A little farther on, a patch of woodland concealed the stables and greenhouses and other outbuildings; the drive swept grandly past lawns and clumps of trees to the house itself, an authentic vision of pale marbles and rose-pink plaster.  It was, naturally, an Italian villa;  I always felt the trouble with it was that it was too damned Italian.  Nothing could have looked more lamentably inappropriate under the high, thin prairie sky than this ponderous pleasure palace, with its fountains and rose gardens and formal, cypress-lined terraces, in which nobody took any pleasure.  (shall I except the little Meekers, running wild upstairs amid a riot of silk afghans, scented bath salts, and solid-gold toilet sets?)  The interior was, if possible, even grander then the exterior; it was as sumptuous as the late Lady Mendel [designer] and an unlimited bank account could make it….What was it for?–the panelled library of books nobody read; the music room with its harp and organ and grand pianos no-one knew how to play; the lake that wasn’t fished; the horses that weren’t ridden; the roses in the garden one hadn’t time to smell!

“Having been born and brought up in a happy family, I found it disturbing to learn that there were unhappy ones, too, not only in story-books, but living next door, as next door goes in the country.”

The house still stands; it is part of Lake Forest Academy and is used for receptions, corporate functions, wedding and banquets.

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