WHERE: Lasalle, Illinois
WHAT: Going here was a strange experience. Allow me to start back earlier in the summer when a friend and I were touring the Ellwood Mansion in DeKalb. As we were going through the house a man who was taking the tour with us – told us that if we liked old mansions we should visit the Hegeler-Carus house in LaSalle. So I looked it up on the web and saw that Mr. Hegeler made his fortune in zinc. Neither my friend nor I care that much about zinc fortunes even though the picture I found of the outside of the house looked interesting.
But then one day something I planned to do was cancelled and my friend was also free – so we decided to go.
We got there about 20 minutes before a tour started so we sat on Wal-Mart type lawn chairs on the elegant front porch and waited. Once inside, we paid and then were ushered into the one completely restored room in the house where about a dozen other people joined us. The tour guide was obviously passionate about the house as we began viewing the rooms. One of the stipulations when obtaining the house was that nothing could be discarded and that included every book in the house. Although the tour did not go in much of the house – it does have seven floors and 57 rooms.
One of the coolest things about the house was a steep, wide stairway down to a lower level. Above the stairway was a balcony and the kids of the family (seven in the original family, ten in the other) would put on plays for the family.
We quickly learned that the house represented more than Mr. Hegeler and zinc, but also his son-in-law, Paul Carus. In fact, it was Paul’s wife, Mary, who was put in charge of the zinc works – very unusual at that time for a woman to be in charge of a business.
Paul Carus was known for his dialogue on science and religion and wrote “The Gospel of Buddha,” the first time an American studied middle eastern thought at least on a formal basis. So, someone gave him a buddha which is in the front hallway although he made sure people knew he wasn’t buddist. Yet the book was used in buddist seminaries.
But the story goes on – Paul Carus also established Open Court Publishing in the basement, publishing books that explored philosophies and science. His son continued in publishing and branched off into Open Court Textbooks – and Cricket and Ladybug Magazines. Open Court largely was responsible for introducing eastern philosophy in the US.
To add to the uniqueness of the house, it also has the world’s oldest gym inside (not renovated) with exercise equipment, rings and a basketball hoop. (You can see pictures of it on the web.)
One of the descendents runs the company that makes the parts for water filters (like Brita).
Another invented spellcheck.
KID FACTOR: No. Don’t bother. No matter what the age.
CONCLUSION: I’m not sorry we went. Who knew that this house tucked away on a side street in LaSalle had such an influence on our country? I also understand that restoring a home takes a long time – yet, I feel there were little things they could do to make the place look nicer. Like dust. Like have some retired carpenter make them some rocking chairs or whatever was the usual sitting-on-the-porch chair back in the 1800s when it was built. (I’m fairly sure it wasn’t plastic lawn chairs.)
We did have a lively conversation on the way home – what we would do if we were PR people for the house.
Not my favorite historic house of all time. But a fun afternoon.