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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.
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This site is not affiliated with the US Military Academy.

[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 Dunham House in Wayne, Illinois.]

F. B. Marchialette

Mark Dunham House, Wayne, Built 1880.

 p198  Fox River French Chateau

Reminiscent of a chateau in La Perche, that distinct of France famous for its Percheron horses, is the gray stone mansion in the little village of Wayne in northern Illinois, a mansion widely known as Dunham Castle. Modeled after a French chateau, this residence has been a landmark of the Fox River Valley for more than half a century, being particularly associated with the introduction of Percheron horses into America. Although Percherons no longer roam the pastures around it, the castle continues to be an equestrian center, for on its grounds each year is held the Dunham Woods Horse Show, and here, too, are staged annual hunts and other equestrian events. It is also the nucleus of a colony of socially prominent Chicago gentleman farmers, and among guests here in the past have been numerous members of European royal houses.

In a setting not unlike that of provincial France, with great old elms bordering roadsides and stone gates marking the entrances to estates, Dunham Castle stands as a memorial to the man who built it — Mark Dunham. It stands, too, as a reminder of Mark Dunham's role in the history of American agriculture — the introduction and long-continued breeding of Percheron horses; sturdy draft horses which helped break the soil of the western prairies and aided the advancement of civilization in the Midwest. As a breeder of horses Mark Dunham in his time was visited by horse fanciers not only from all parts of America, but from many European countries as well.

He was America's leading importer and breeder of Percherons during the latter half of the nineteenth century. He brought them over by the shipload and transported them in special trains to Wayne. Old residents of Du Page County say that the whinnying of the Percherons could be heard for miles when they ate their first mouthful of green grass after weeks of travel by boat and train. According to one story Mark Dunham turned down an offer of $20,000 for a colt on the New York dock and this colt in a few years became the most famous Percheron in America. His name was Brilliant. He was the ancestor of a long line of blue-ribbon Percherons.

Once when Mark Dunham was on a business trip in Normandy he was asked about American western ponies by Rosa Bonheur, famous French painter of animals. She said she would like to paint some of them. On his next trip to France, Dunham brought along two ponies for the painter. She was so gratified over this generous gift that she  p199 made two paintings of Percherons which Dunham had purchased and presented them to him. These are still in the possession of the Dunham family. Additional prized possessions of the family are numerous bronze statues of horses made by famous French sculptors.

Having acquired a fortune as a breeder and importer of horses, Mark Dunham decided to build a large house suitable to his tastes. The castle was erected in 1880. It immediately won the admiration of residents of the Fox River Valley and visitors from Chicago and other  p200 points. Although modeled after a French chateau, the mansion has an interior more in keeping with the late Victorian era. Still in the house today are the furniture and other household articles used in Mark Dunham's time.

Much like that of any well-to‑do horse breeder of France, Mark Dunham built his castle on an ancestral estate. For the land on which it stands was acquired by his father, Solomon Dunham, in 1842. A native of New York State, Solomon Dunham had come west with his family, traveling by way of a flatboat on the Ohio River and a covered wagon across Illinois. He acquired three hundred acres of land near the Fox River, paying $1.25 an acre, and built a log cabin. He was one of the founders of Wayne. In time he built himself a brick house, made from clay on the spot, and this house is today the Dunham Woods Riding Club.

In the years when Mr. & Mrs. Mark Dunham lived in the castle they entertained many notable personages. Among the earliest of these were the Infanta Eulalia of Spain and the Duke of Beragua. The castle was the scene of a brilliant wedding when Belle Dunham, daughter of Solomon, was married to Count Adimari-Morelli, of Italy. One of the latest royal visitors was Crown Princess Juliana of the Netherlands, who was a guest there on her visit to Chicago a decade ago.

Living in the shadow of the castle are a number of prominent Chicagoans, among them the novelist, Arthur Meeker, and Corwith Hamill. And, in the fields around the castle where blooded Percherons once pastured, tractors are used to cultivate the soil.

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Page updated: 11 Dec 07