Herbert Mills

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TheInventiveMr.Mills2

Herbert S. Mills, the second owner of Pleasant Home, made his fortune in the amusement business. Inheriting his father’s business and applying his own inventive spirit, he ran the Mills Novelty Company in Chicago.  Shortly after the Worlds’ Columbian Exposition of 1893, the young Mills built the first coin-operated automatic slot machine and later manufactured Mills machines of all kinds for his penny arcades and fortune telling machines. Mill’s penny arcades became institutions on America’s main streets and amusement parks at the turn-of-the-century.

The Mills children remembered their father’s skill in playing any stringed instrument.  Enraptured by violin music, Mills wondered if it could be improved and commercialized.  Working with Henry K. Sandell, who had patented a mechanical violin, Mills developed the “Violano Virtuoso,” a self-playing violin and piano. The Pleasant Home Foundation acquired an original Violano Virtuoso, which today, sits in the same room the Mills family’s machine stood, for visitors to Pleasant Home to enjoy.

Herbert and his wife Leonie were prominent members of St. Edmund’s Church on Oak Park Avenue. Leonie focused her philanthropic work on Catholic social and welfare organizations.

While the Mills family preserved much of the interior design by Maher, they redecorated the drawing room. A tiled fireplace surround was installed and painted canvas placed on the ceiling and walls. Farson guestrooms became children’s rooms, redecorated with printed wallpapers and furnished with traditional four-poster beds. The Mills family also had a Lord & Burnham conservatory constructed on the grounds.

Raising eight children during the years they spent in the home, the Mills lived more quietly than the Farsons. Well into the 1960s, Oak Parkers still called the mansion “Mills House” in memory of the family that preserved it. Today, their grandchildren relate their memories of the house, including games of hide and seek in the secret passages, and relates still gather at the house for family occasions

In 1939, when the Mills family sold the house to the Park District of Oak Park, the grounds were designated as Mills Park in their honor.

 

 

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