Historic Structures

Hegeler Carus Mansion, La Salle Illinois

Date added: December 10, 2021 Categories: Illinois House Mansion Second Empire

The Hegeler-Carus Mansion, constructed in 1874-76, is a seven level Second Empire style residence in La Salle, Illinois, approximately six blocks north of the Illinois and Michigan Canal, a National Heritage Corridor and National Historic Landmark district. Designed by noted Chicago architect W. W. Boyington for Edward and Camilla Hegeler, the fifty-seven-room mansion is located on three acres. Occupied by Hegeler descendants from its construction in 1876 until 2004, the mansion exhibits an exceptional degree of interior and exterior integrity. Original wall finishes, stenciling, fixtures, and furnishings are intact. The ground floor featured the office spaces, presses, and typeset of the nationally renowned Open Court Publishing Company, which was established by Hegeler and continued by his son-in-law Paul Carus. The company was based in the house from 1887 to 1936.

The Hegeler-Carus mansion, designed by noted architect William W. Boyington, was built to occupy all of Block 29 in the original town of La Salle, Illinois, with its house, outbuildings, landscape features, and grounds. The mansion sits just south of what was the largest zinc-producing company of its day, the Matthiessen & Hegeler Zinc Company. A winding drive circled from Union Street (now vacated) to the east, then to the main entrance and extended completely around the mansion. The three-acre site of the Mansion and its original landscaping provided a park-like environment. There were flower gardens and trellises, which provided avenues for the trailing vines that extended from the ground to the upper floors of the house. A horseshoe staircase located on the east side of the house, has a large rock garden located in its center. This rock garden serves as a focal point for the main facade. A small bird-shaped reflecting pond is located southwest of the house near Seventh Street. A tennis court (now demolished) was located directly west of the house. A gazebo was located in the southwest corner of the lot but has since collapsed; the stone foundation remains. A trolley was brought in for the Carus children to use as a playhouse, and was located on the northeast section of the grounds. There was a conservatory on the northwest section of the grounds, just west of the garage. The conservatory was designed by Chicago architect William LeBaron Jenney. It deteriorated and collapsed many years ago but long range restoration plans are to reconstruct it.

Edward C. Hegeler and Frederick W. Matthiessen established the Matthiessen and Hegeler Zinc Company, which included a zinc smelter (1858) and rolling mill (1866), in La Salle in 1858. Following the company's industrial success providing supplies to the Union armies during the Civil War, Hegeler contracted with W. W. Boyington and August Fiedler to design a fashionable new mansion near the factory complex in the mid-1870s. Completed in 1876, the mansion was the largest home in the area and served as family living quarters as well as a place for Hegeler to entertain business clients, scholars, and frequent out-of-town guests. Later, the first floor of the mansion housed the editorial offices of the Open Court Publishing Company while the upper floors housed the Hegeler and Carus families.

The Hegeler-Carus Mansion had been continually inhabited by family from the completion of the mansion in 1876 until November 2004. In 1876, Edward and Camilla Weisbach Hegeler moved in with their seven surviving children. They had lost two young girls to the "fall sickness" before the mansion was completed. Another child of theirs, Olga, was born after they moved into the "big house," as it was called by family members. Their oldest child, Mary, married Dr. Paul Carus in 1888. They moved away (to Chicago) for a short time, but Edward soon asked them to move back so Mary could help him run the zinc business. Dr. Carus also worked for Mr. Hegeler as editor of Open Court Publishing Company. Mary and Paul moved back to La Salle and resided with her parents in the mansion. Their six surviving children were all born while Mary and Paul were living in the mansion. One child, born in 1889, did not survive infancy. Their youngest child, Alwin, was born in 1901 and lived in the mansion until his death at age 102 on November 8, 2004. Although he traveled extensively, his official residence was always 1307 Seventh Street, La Salle, Illinois.

In 1995, the Hegeler-Carus Foundation was established with the mission "to encourage and support cultural activities by restoring and using the Hegeler-Carus Mansion, an American center of philosophical, scientific, and religious dialogue." The Foundation was fortunate to have Alwin's memories and keen mind for the next nine years to help in the restoration process. Several family members continue to serve on the Foundation's Board of Directors, and are dedicated to preserving their family's legacy as well as what is truly an American treasure.