Monday, February 8, 2010

The Pinkerton Villa & The Snuggery

The house, which Pinkerton called The Villa, was a square building with porches on three sides and a cupola on top.  A hallway 8 feet wide ran the entire length of the building, about 50 feet. The hallway was illuminated by 4 chandeliers and there were rooms on each side of the hallway.  Pinkerton's room was at the northeast corner and was lined with bricks.  The bricks made the room "sound-prof" and it was here that he held meetings with ":mysterious visitors." 

Original oil paintings lined the hallway.  They showed the Battle of Gettysburg, Sherman's March to the Sea, Gen. McClellan and his staff, the Battle of Bull Run and the Secret Service Department.  In this last picture Allan Pinkerton was surrounded by 15 of his operatives  Over each door were portraits of noted men who were his personal friends:  Gen. George B. McClellan, Abraham Lincoln, Gen. U.S. Grant and Gen. W. T. Sherman.  Paul Loose, an artist brought from Scotland, did all the paintings.

The house was painted snowy white and trimmed in green.  All of the outbuildings were painted the same. The Snuggery was actually a wine cellar.  It was partly underground and was connected to the house by an underground tunnel.  The tunnel was dug for protection because, after the Molly Maguire investigation, there were threats on his life.  It is said that men with rifles would stand guard in the cupola.  In the Snuggery were wall maps of the West, where Pinkerton would trace the movements of his operatives. 

After Pinkerton's death in 1884, he left instructions in his will that the farm should remain in the family forever.  However, his two sons, Robert and William, had little interest in the farm and it was sold around 1910.  It has since been sold several times and is now owned by Les Bork, owner of Bork Nurseries.

Three or four years ago, members of my family made a trip to Onarga and found the farm and house.  The house was in total disrepair.  It was near collapse then and probably has by now.  The Snuggery is gone and the tunnel is filled.  The sad part is no one made any attempt to save the paintings or the maps.  They were last noticed rolled up and stuffed in a barrel. What was once a beautiful and wonderful place is now destroyed.  The present owner, I am told, has no interest in saving the house or allowing anyone else to do so.  Too bad!  However, it does appears to be a very profitable operation as a nursery.  The larch and maple trees were also gone.

There is a marker in the cemetery for one of his spies.  There is also a marker for the same person at Graceland cemetery.  Timothy Webster was captured and hanged by the Confederates as a spy, but I am not quite sure where his body is interred - Onarga or Chicago? 

We were in Onarga on a Sunday and all the stores were closed.  However, quite by accident we met Patricia Goff who is the owner of the local newspaper.  As a 17 year old student in Larkin High School, Elgin, Illinois, she had written a paper on Allan Pinkerton (1966).  She never lost her interest in the man and now lives just a few blocks from the famous farm.  Patricia was kind enough to share with us her  materials on Allan Pinkerton.  Much of it has been used in writing these blogs, especially a small booklet of the collected writings about Allan Pinkerton and the Larch Farm.

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