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Dunham Castle
5N645 Dunham Road, Wayne

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Dunham Castle

This extravagant residence, built in 1883 by Mark Dunham (1842-1899), stands as a monument to the once great horse business that made the Dunham family rich and famous. Mark Dunham was the youngest child of Solomon Dunham. Solomon had moved to Chicago in 1835, and soon claimed land for himself in the St. Charles area. On his newly aquired land, for which he paid $1.25 per acre, the elder Dunham built a log cabin. Later, this crude home would be replaced by a small brick building.

Upon the death of his father, Mark Dunham inherited Oaklawn Farm. Dunham had a great interest in horses, but especially a breed know as the Percherons. These large draft horses from France proved to be excellent in pulling farm equipment. Dunham began importing and breeding these horses; in fact, he was the first to do so. Not only did the horse breeding earn Dunham vast sums of money, it also brought the gratitude of both French and American people. The size of the farm expanded to 2,000 acres and the breeding business flourished until the early decades of the 20th century. Eventually, the invention of the power tractor and other farm machinery decreased the demand for such animals.

At the height of business, Dunham decided to build a new home. It was to be unlike any other in the area. The Dunhams based the idea for the design of their new home on that of French chateaux. With the assistance of Smith Hoag, an Elgin architect, the home became a reality. The building, of brick, and stone, with different colored slate roofing, stood surrounded by woods, gardens, and a gently sloping lawn. The interior sported parquet floors, statues, tapestries, and copies of fine French artwork.

In its heyday, Dunham Castle played host to several famous people. During the 1893 Colombian Exposition, a train from Chicago to Wayne brought guests to see the Percheron horses. Those that made the trip included Cyrus McCormick, George Pullman, and the Duke of Veragua--a direct descendent of Christopher Colombus. In the early 20th century, the residence served as a retreat for such politicians as Adlai Stevenson and Everrett Dirksen.

Following the death of Mark Dunham in 1899, his son, Wirth, inherited Dunham Castle. Upon Wirth's death in 1931, Dunham's Incorporated, a real estate firm, was established. The firm sold parcels of land for homes and estates to be built on. The Dunham Woods Riding Club took over the original brick home of Solomon Dunham in 1950. Meanwhile, the Castle fell under the ownership of Mr. and Mrs. John Dole. In 1953, the home was converted into four spacious apartments. Fortunately, no alteration to the interior structure compromised the original character of the house.

After changing owners several times following its transformation into apartments, the Griffins of Wayne bought the house in 1976. During their ownership, the Griffins looked into making the grand building into a museum, professional office, or a private dining club. None of these ideas came to fruition. In 1986, the home was again put up for sale. More than a year later, David Armbrust of Glen Ellyn bought the home for $750,000. The Armbrust family planned to restore the building to its original purpose--a single family home.

One can not conclude a brief history of Dunham Castle without mentioning Jane Dunham. Much of the character of the residence would have been destroyed had it not been for the foresight and historical awareness of this lady. Miss Dunham grew up in the Castle and had great memories of sliding down the bannister. When the home was being divided up into apartments, her insistance that the interior configuration be unchanged preserved the home's integrity. Miss Dunham also stored much of the family's furniture on the third floor of the residence. When the Armbrusts bought the home in 1987 Miss Dunham was delighted that her childhood home would again be inhabited by a single family.

During the decade prior to her death in 1995, Miss Dunham established the Dunham-Hunt Museum in downtown St. Charles. It is the existence of both this museum and the Dunham Castle that celebrates the grand history of the Dunham family and its great importance to the history of the area.

For photographs also see...

St. Charles Illinois p 113-114
Dunham Castle Vertical File
St. Charles Illinois p 105

Also see...

Dunham-Hunt Museum

Sources

  • "Authority Landmark Site--Dunham Castle..the Story-book Look Behind the Tall Trees Where Army Trail and Dunham Rds Meet." Fox Valley Airport Authority Oct. 1985.
  • Barnes, Shirley. "A Prairie Princess Turned Preservationist." Chicago Tribune 13 Aug. 1989, 18:1:4.
  • Bercaw, Charlotte. "For These New Owners, Their Home is a Castle." Aurora-Beacon News 12 Sept. 1987, A2.
  • Cain, Carol. "Groovy Castle is Recognized." St. Charles Chronicle 8 Aug. 1979, Our Towns Sect.
  • Cummins, Carol. Dunham Castle: The Family, Grounds, and Building. 1974.
  • Seigenthaler, Katherine. "Landmark Up for Sale." Chicago Tribune 10 July 1986, 2:6B.
  • Smith, Bruce. "Splendor of Past Glory Lives on in West Suburban Landmark 'Castle'." Chicago Tribune 31 May 1972, 3.
  • Weis, Don. "Dunham Castle Valley Showplace, Started by Pioneer in 1878." Aurora-Beacon News 13 August 1955, 3.

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