Friday, February 5, 2010

Allan Pinkerton's Villa - The Larch Farm

In 1864, Allan Pinkerton bought 254 acres of raw prairie land, 80 miles south of Chicago, near Onarga, Illinois. Some of the railroad land was sold off so that by 1870 about 210 acres remained. It was basically a square of land with a large, commodious, one-story dwelling, often called the Villa. The entire farm was enclosed with close-trimmed hedge of orange trees and inside this hedge seven rows of larch trees, set four feet apart.

The larch trees grow in Scotland, so Pinkerton ordered 85,000 trees be shipped to America.  They arrived at the harbor in New York City in sub-freezing weather and the agent responsible for receiving them stopped in a local pub to warm himself with liquor and never made it back to the ship. The trees froze and were ruined.  The agent was fired and Pinkerton ordered another 85,000 larch trees from Scotland.

In addition to the Larch trees over 1,000 evergreens were planted.  Along the main roads leading to the house, rows of maple trees were planted giving a great deal of color to the farm.  Four acres surrounding the house became the lawn.  Walks of graceful curves with beds of coal cinders bordered with blooming flowers.  There were many flower beds which contained marble and terracotta vases filled with flowers and rare plants.

Two greenhouses contained over 2,000 plants each of unlimited variety.  The barns, stables, corn cribs and the ice-house were beautiful and useful buildings.  Everything was watered by a 130 foot well using the latest in windmill technology.  There was also a small lake not far from the house.  In addition to all the trees and plants, Mr. Pinkerton had 2,000 apple trees planted along with pear, quince and cherry trees.  "The fruit and vegetable gardens contained almost every known variety, and received the careful attention of experienced gardeners."  There was also a large strawberry bed and a fish pond.  The fields were limited to corn and oats and a labor force of ten men was employed year round with double that number in the spring and summer.

There were three entrances to the property, each with its own guard house and attendants always dressed in blue uniforms.  "You are welcome to drive through, they'd tell you, but you must walk your horses.  Mr. Pinkerton doesn't like to have dust stirred up on his flowers.  If anyone drove his carriage too fast, the attendant would blow his whistle and order that person off the grounds."  There was also a $5.00 fine.

Pinkerton loved dogs, especially the Scotch terriers, and there was a dog cemetery and a headstone for each dog.  It was reported that he often took his rocking-chair and in the evenings would sit by the cemetery.  In addition to dogs, there were Shetland ponies and Indian ponies.  Dandy was a coal black stallion who is said to have been the "most beautiful and perfect Shetland" ever seen.

It was a beautiful farm unlike anything in Iroquois county and perhaps the entire country.  There is so much more to talk about, especially the house and the snuggery.  We will do that tomorrow.  My family visited Onarga and Larch Farm a couple of years ago and I would like to tell about that later.

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