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Bill Thayer

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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.

This page has been carefully proofread
and I believe it to be free of errors.
If you find a mistake though,
please let me know!


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Bishop Hill Colony
This site is not affiliated with the US Military Academy.

[image ALT: A photograph of a small two‑story rectangular wooden clapboard house, with a gabled roof pitched at about 40°. The front door is protected by a little porch supported by two columns. To the viewer's left, in the background, we get a glimpse of a low addition or possibly a separate outbuilding. It is the Jonathan Kennicott House in Kennicott's Grove, Illinois.]

Jonathan Kennicott House, Kennicott's Grove, Built 1845.

 p130  Literary Settlement

Some twenty miles northwest of Chicago, on a slight ridge shaded by oaks, elms, and a few ancient pines, stands a scattered settlement known as Kennicott's Grove. Founded more than a century ago, this settlement, located in Northfield Township, near Milwaukee and Lake avenues, is of importance today because of its association with more well-known writers, editors, and naturalists than any other similar community in Illinois. And as a result of this association, Kennicott's Grove has been the locale of numerous outstanding books, both of fiction and non-fiction.

Among the dozen or so venerable dwellings constituting "The Grove," most of which are occupied by descendants of the founder of the settlement and of his brothers, the oldest is the Jonathan Kennicott house. It was built in 1845. The man who erected it was the father of the founder of Kennicott's Grove. But this was not the first house in the settlement. That was built in 1836 by the settlement's founder — a log house which no longer stands. Because it is now the oldest, the Jonathan Kennicott dwelling is looked on with some reverence by both natives and visitors at the Grove. They recall that timbers for its construction were floated down the Des Plaines River from Half Day, where one of Jonathan's sons, Hiram, had started a sawmill in 1840.

If this house did not belong to the man who established the Grove, it nonetheless sheltered him on almost daily visits he made here during most of his mature life. This man was Dr. John A. Kennicott, known in his time as "The Old Doctor." He was not only a pioneer practicing physician, horticulturist, editor, and one of the organizers of the land-grant college system in America but he was also the father of Robert Kennicott, early Illinois naturalist, Arctic explorer, and first director of the Chicago Academy of Sciences. It was at the Grove that Dr. Kennicott established an extensive nursery that is still in existence.

In his biography of John S. Wright, founder of The Prairie Farmer, Lloyd Lewis writes: "Destined to become more famous than all the Kennicotts was Robert, who was a baby of one year when his father, 'The Old Doctor,' started establishing the farm and orchard which, known as 'The Grove,' was to become famous for its view, its rare and beautiful flowers, and its sweeps of fruit trees and berry bushes. Humble though the farmhouse was, it was celebrated for its hospitality. A drive out to the Grove was in the 1840's and '50's 'the' thing to do of a Sunday afternoon in the 'refined' social circles of Chicago."

 p131  Although it is unfortunate that "The Old Doctor's" farmhouse is gone, the Jonathan Kennicott abode remains as a link with the earliest days of the Grove. After Jonathan's death, the house was occupied by his widow, Jean McMillan Kennicott, and her daughters, Avis, Delia, and Emma. The daughters remained unmarried and, in the family as well as throughout the countryside, were known as "the good aunts." The old Jonathan Kennicott house — a frame, L‑shaped abode originally designed in the Greek Revival style — is now (1948) owned by Jonathan's great-great-grandson, J. Kennicott.

The second oldest house at the Grove is the picturesque, gabled dwelling of board-and‑batten construction into which "The Old Doctor" and his family moved from their rambling log house in 1856. Afterward, it was for many years the home of the late Edward S. Beck, associate editor of The Chicago Tribune, who had married into the family. It is now the home of Hiram Kennicott, grand-nephew of "The Old Doctor." The third oldest house at the Grove was built by "The Old Doctor's" son, Amasa, in 1875, and is occupied by Amasa's son, Walter, who still carries on the horticultural pursuits of his father and grandfather.

Another grandson of "The Old Doctor" is Leigh Reilly onetime  p132 editor of the old Chicago Evening Post, who lives in retirement at the Grove. No longer standing in the settlement is the homestead of Dr. William Kennicott, a pioneer Chicago dentist and son of Jonathan Kennicott. Another son of the latter, Dr. J. Asa Kennicott, also achieved success as a dentist in Chicago, and his beautiful home "Kenwood," which stood at what is now 48th Street and Dorchester Avenue, in Chicago, gave the name to that section of the city's South Side.

With the marriage in 1923 of Donald Culross Peattie to Louise Redfield, great-granddaughter of "The Old Doctor," the settlement on the ridge entered a more distinctively literary phase. For both Mr. Peattie, who was born in Chicago, and Miss Redfield, who was born at the Grove, are writers of national reputation. And they spent many summers at the Grove, studying the natural, as well as human, history of the place.

In this century-old setting, too, lived and wrote Mrs. Peattie's brother, Professor Robert Redfield, of the University of Chicago, a widely known anthropologist. Another who came often to the Grove was Peattie's brother, Roderick Peattie, noted geographer and writer. And the Grove was the setting of two noteworthy books, Peattie's A Prairie Grove, and Louise Redfield Peattie's American Acres — two books which poetically present the natural and human history of a grove on the spacious Illinois prairie.

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Page updated: 10 Dec 07