I am always on the lookout for interesting places to visit. Sometimes, I hear about places and other times, it is quite a mystery how I stumble upon the most amazing places. That is exactly what happened to me a couple of springs ago when I was lucky enough to stumble onto the Hegeler Carus Mansion in LaSalle, Illinois.
Many of you know that I work at the library as my day job and sometimes I’m lucky enough to travel to distant places and confer with great library minds. It was on one of these excursions that I came across this mansion. I was leaving the library in LaSalle, (another great place to visit by the way) when I spied a blue roof with an interesting window over the tops of the trees and the roofs of the other buildings. Well, of course I had to find out what it was, so I drove around until I finally came upon this glorious location!
Construction on this magnificent building was started in 1874 by the Hegeler family. They commissioned W.W. Boyington to design it. Boyington was an acclaimed architect from Chicago who had also designed Chicago’s famous Water Tower. The mansion contains seven levels, with 57 rooms, including 10 bedrooms, 8 bathrooms, and 10 fireplaces. It even includes an indoor gymnasium!
Edward Hegeler and Camilla Weisbach Hegeler met when Edward was a student of Camilla’s father, Julius Wesibach. Edward was enrolled at the Bergakademie (School of Mines) in Freiberg, Germany where he took mining engineering and surveying classes. Edward and Camilla fell in love, but Edward was soon to leave for America. Edward promised Camilla that he would come back for her when he had made a start on a good life for them and their future. He left for America in 1856.
Edward was 21 years old when he left Germany. He traveled with a classmate of his, F. W. Mathiessen. They decided to head west toward Illinois because of the coal and zinc ore mines, which would be perfect for their zinc smelting business. Their company, Mathiessen and Hegeler Zinc Company would eventually become a major provider of zinc. Zinc was in heavy demand at this time because it was used in the production of armaments during the Civil War.
Edward followed through with his promise and returned to marry Camilla in 1860. He wrote to her in January 1860 to announce his return and wrote his famous quote, “One is on the earth to enjoy life, which matter should not be put off too long – it might get too late.”
The couple were married in April of 1860 and returned to LaSalle, Illinois in July of 1860. Their marriage was by all accounts a happy one and produced 10 children, eight of them being raised in the mansion. All of the Hegeler offspring were successful but their oldest child, Mary would be the one to follow in her father’s footsteps. She was a remarkable, bright inquisitive child who assisted her father at the smelting plant. Mary would be the first woman to graduate in engineering from the University of Michigan. This was, of course, very unusual for the time period. She was also the first woman to study at her father’s alma mater, the School of Mines in Freiberg, Germany.
Mary would eventually inherit the mansion, and with her husband, Paul Carus, would raise her own 6 children in the home in LaSalle. Their youngest child Alwin, (born in 1901) would live in the home until he died in 2004.
Besides Zinc smelting, Edward Hegeler was also interested in publishing and started his own publishing company, Open Court in 1887. Its mission was to provide a place for the discussion of philosophy with an emphasis on the relationship between science and religion. Edward hired Paul Carus to work for him and then Carus fell in love with Mary.
Paul Carus would go on to write many books and articles, including “The Gospel of Buddha According to Old Records.” One of the interesting items in the mansion is a very beautiful Buddhist altar. The publishing company would be known for the children’s magazines “Cricket” and “Spider”.
The Mansion is a wonderful place that stands as a testimony to this family who came searching for their American Dream. The address 1307 Seventh Street, LaSalle, Illinois and the phone number is 815-224-6543.
The staff is very knowledgeable about the family but even though they won’t discuss the subject of ghosts at all… there is definitely a feeling you get when you step through the doors into some of the rooms. There is a very cute little gift shop in the basement.
For more information visit their website at : http://hegelercarusmansion.blogspot.com/
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