John Farson

John W. Farson

 

Millionaire banker John W. Farson (1855-1910) was one of Oak Park’s most legendary turn-of-the century figures.  Famous for his immaculate white flannel suits, red cravats and ties and top hats or straw boaters, Farson gathered around him a vast circle of friends who shared his interests in everything up-to-date.  As his passions shifted from horses to automobiles to roller skating, Farson amazed Oak Parkers with his public-spirited nature and high energy.



Born in Union City, Indiana, in 1855, John Farson grew up in Champaign, Illinois, where his mother moved shortly after the death of his father.  He attended Illinois Industrial University, the predecessor of the University of Illinois.  John Farson came to post-fire Chicago with $25 in his pocket.  After briefly working in a tailoring house, Farson took a job in the bank of Preston, Kiean & Co. and studied law at night.  In 1885, he was taken in to partnership by S.A. Kean but four years later formed his own firm, Farson, Leach and Co., dealing in municipal bonds in Chicago and New York.  In 1906, he dissolved that partnership and formed Farson, Son & Company with his sons John Jr. and William.

In 1881, John Farson married Mamie Ashworth, daughter of the general agent in Chicago of the British Assurance Company of Toronto, who spent her childhood in Rockford, Illinois.  They were members of the First Methodist Church of Oak Park, supporters of the local Horse Show Association and members of numerous social clubs.

John Farson actively promoted motoring at the turn of the century.  In 1903, Farson owned four automobiles, heading the list of Oak Park’s owners.  Farson was named President of the Chicago Automobile Club in 1903, and later president of the American Automobile Association.

John Farson purchased the lot at the corner of Pleasant St. and Home Ave. in 1892 for $20,000, the largest price ever paid for a residential lot in Oak Park.  For a number of years, Farson hosted band concerts open to all Oak Parkers on his unimproved property.  John Farson and his wife Mamie selected George Maher to design their house and fashion the interiors in the most up-to-date manner.

To John Farson, Pleasant Home embodied the ideal of a home, a concept that is easy to understand when visiting the house today.  As Pleasant Home was being completed in 1898, Farson began to acquire adjacent property with the idea of creating a garden to the south and west.  By late 1901, an Italian garden was arranged to the south of the house, and the fence was fabricated. Farson purchased and razed as many as 10 houses to extend the grounds.  It took until 1906 for Farson to assemble the entire estate.

Sketches of the new house and barn for the site appeared in architecture publications in November 1897.  A $10,000 circular stable and carriage house was added to the grounds in 1898, and was later converted into a garage. The sound of the chimes from a clock tower on the stable was notorious. Oak Park residents and school children later marked time by its chimes.

 

Grand Entertaining at Pleasant Home


John Farson delighted in entertaining and was known for throwing open his house and gardens for large gatherings.  Called Oak Park’s “prince of entertainers” by the local Oak Leaves newspaper, Farson kept scrapbooks filled with descriptions of social events at Pleasant Home.

Guests arrived by carriage, alighting under the porte cochere on Pleasant Street and entering the hall near the fireplace.  Above the carriage entrance in the hall is an oak panel carved with a lyre and inscribed “Music,” alluding to the room on the staircase landing where music was playing during receptions at Pleasant Home.  Once inside, the fire blazing in the hearth warmed the company.  It caught the new electric light provided by incandescent bulbs that studded the oak ceiling beams and carved decoration.

John Farson passed away suddenly in 1910.  Stories of the large and elaborate gatherings that took place over the years on the grounds of Pleasant Home and in the house itself, continue to fascinate visitors, who can almost hear the music wafting down the stairs and intermingling with the excited chatter of the party guest.

Source: “Pleasant Home 1897: A History of the John Farson House, George Washington Maher, Architect” by Kathleen Ann Cummings, 2002.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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