The dream home of an iconoclastic renaissance man still stands as a monument to his domestically mundane vision.
We should all be so lucky as to be able to build our dream home, but it took a mathematician-engineer-inventor-naturalist to create Illinois’ Woodland Palace, an eccentric house built using pioneering utilities systems and a range of strange design influences.
The small estate known as the Woodland Palace was created by one Fred Francis, a multi-disciplinarian nature lover who graduated from the University of Illinois in 1878. Francis began building his home in 1889, and would not finish for another 37 years, when he died in 1926 at 70 years old. But what a house he built.
Using his backgrounds as an inventor and engineer, and funds from patents he had developed during time spent as a watchmaker, the home was built with a number of ahead-of-their-time innovations. His home became the first in Illinois to be air conditioned after Francis installed an elaborate series of fans that would carry air all throughout the house, and which could be used for heating in the winter, using the radiant heat of the steam pipes in the house. In addition to these innovations, a number of the doors and windows were lightly automated, with doors that could open and close automatically, and screens, storm windows, and shutters that could be hidden in place. The home also had clean, running water, without even having electricity.
Francis was also somewhat of an artist, and it comes through in the design both inside and outside the house. While most of the house is a fairly boxy affair, the main entrance is flanked by classical columns, and topped by a decorative onion-style feature. There is also a glass-walled solarium jutting out of one portion, built for his wife while she was suffering from tuberculosis. Inside the home, all of the furniture and decorations are said to have been done by Francis as well.
The remarkable home still stands today and is none the less impressive for the decades that have passed since it was built. Much of the home remains as Francis made it and tours are available for anyone interested in the creations of genius ahead of his time.
Know Before You Go
Interstate 80 to exit 33 towards Kewanee on Hwy 78 turn left on to 900th Avenue follow to Francis Park.
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