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William Reddick

This webpage reproduces a chapter of
Old Illinois Houses

John Drury

reprinted by
The University of Chicago Press
Chicago and London, 1977

The text is in the public domain.

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and I believe it to be free of errors.
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[image ALT: A photograph of a two‑story rectangular brick house, with a gabled roof pitched at about 40° and two chimneys; it is partly overgrown with roses or ivy. The front door is arched with a fanlight. It is the Caton House in Ottawa, Illinois.]

John D. Caton House,​1 Ottawa, Built in early 1880's.

 p165  Queen Anne Style Mansion

On a spring day in 1833, shortly after the small log settlement of Chicago had been incorporated as a town, a lanky lad of twenty-one arrived there aboard a sailing vessel. His name was John Dean Caton. He had come to Chicago determined to practice law and equally determined never to have anything more to do with a farm. Only a short time earlier he had suffered a severe cut on his foot while working on a farm in his native state of New York.

In later life, however, when John Dean Caton was one of the best-known men in Illinois, being then an associate justice of the Illinois Supreme Court, he evidently broke his early resolve and acquired a large farm on a bluff above Ottawa. Here he erected a magnificent Queen Anne style mansion which became one of the noteworthy old residential landmarks of Illinois. In winter, when the trees surrounding it are bare, its red brick, castle-like bulk, with its gable roof, great round bays, dormers, spacious veranda, and tall chimneys, may be seen from the streets of the city below.

In addition to Justice Caton, this house is associated with numerous other prominent persons, among them the justice's son, Arthur J. Caton; Mrs. Marshall Field; Senator Albert J. Beveridge, and Mrs. Beveridge. In the early years of the present century it was a summer social center where house parties, lawn fetes, and outdoor sports events attracted the attention of society editors in all parts of the state.

Because of the charm of its location, above the rooftops of Ottawa and the sparkling expanse of the Illinois River, the Caton house brought other leading Illinoisans to this river bluff and in time a colony of country homes was established here.

So far as can be determined, Justice Caton erected his brick mansion early in the 1880's. He was then retired from public life. At that period Queen Anne architecture was in vogue among well-to‑do citizens. And in this class of citizens was Judge Caton, for in 1867 he had enhanced his worldly fortune by selling his interest in a pioneer Illinois telegraph company to the then newly organized Western Union Telegraph Company.

He was not sitting on the Supreme Court bench at that time, having retired from office in 1864 after twenty-two years' service, mostly as chief justice, in the state's highest tribunal. While on the bench, he served with distinction, and his decisions are scattered through some twenty-seven volumes of Illinois reports.

 p166  It is known that Judge Caton first saw Ottawa when he attended a political convention there in 1834. The river town was, at the time of the visit, in a boom stage as a result of the opening of the Illinois and Michigan Canal, which ran through it. After his first appointment as associate justice of the Supreme Court in 1842 — justices then traveled on circuits — John Caton again saw Ottawa.

"Judge Caton's circuit," says an old volume of Illinois biographies, "consisted of twelve counties, and at Ottawa, the county seat of one of them, he decided to make his home. Here, on one of the bluffs overlooking the rich valley of the Illinois, he built a comfortable mansion, surrounded by groves and lawns, and commanding a view of the most beautiful scenery in the state."

This mansion was his first home. Here was born, in 1851, the judge's son, Arthur, who was reared here until he was sixteen. This house was then replaced by the present brick dwelling. In his new abode Judge Caton lived the life of a country gentleman, tending to his blooded stock, studying nature, reading in his library, and engaging in literary and scientific pursuits which resulted in half-a‑dozen noteworthy books from his pen.​a He also, in company with his wife, made occasional trips to Europe and the Far East.

At a house party in the Caton home young Arthur Caton met Miss Delia Spencer, attractive daughter of one of the founders of the Chicago hardware firm of Hibbard, Spencer, Bartlett & Co. They were afterwards married and lived with the elder Catons at Ottawa. During the 1890's Arthur Caton was a leading Chicago lawyer, sportsman, and clubman. By then he and his father had established a Chicago residence on fashionable Calumet Avenue. Among their closest neighbors and friends there were the Marshall Fields.

Upon the death of Judge Caton in 1895 the Ottawa estate fell to Arthur Caton, and here he engaged in his favorite hobbies — raising thoroughbred horses and pedigreed dogs. His wife, meanwhile, won wide admiration as a hostess. After the death of Arthur Caton in 1904 the Ottawa mansion became the property of his widow. Some ten months later she was married to Marshall Field, who then was a widower and considered one of the richest men in the world. But this marriage was destined not to last long, for Marshall Field died of pneumonia five months later.

In the years following, Mrs. Marshall Field continued to occupy her Ottawa estate, spending the summer months there. In winter she lived either at her Chicago residence or at her imposing home in Washington, D. C. Often with her as companions in the Ottawa mansion were her  p167 niece, Mrs. Albert J. Beveridge, and the latter's husband, Senator Albert J. Beveridge, of Indiana. With the death of Mrs. Field in 1937 the Ottawa landmark fell to Mrs. Beveridge. She afterwards sold it to Anthony S. ("Hum") Berry, a well-known Ottawa merchant and real-estate man.

Under the guidance of Mr. Berry, the old Caton home was made the nucleus of a suburban development on the North Bluff, known as Field Hill Estates. Many recently-built homes, white-painted and bright, surround the venerable Caton mansion under its elms and evergreens.

Some remodeling has been done in the interior of the mansion but on the whole it retains much of its onetime splendor. Here are twenty-eight great rooms trimmed in fine woods and adorned with marble and tile fireplaces, parquet floors, and highly ornamental built‑in cabinets. Some of the rooms retain their original brass and copper chandeliers, one of which is handsomely embellished with opalescent and ruby glass.

The Author's Note:

1 The house has been razed since this article was written.

Thayer's Note:

a Judge Caton's books include historical notes on early Illinois, especially its judicial history; and several on deer.

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Page updated: 11 Dec 07