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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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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 Heckman House near Oregon, Illinois.]

Wallace Heckman House, Near Oregon, Built 1893.

 p203  "Ganymede"

In existence for almost half a century, the Eagle's Nest Art Colony on the attractive, wooded banks of the Rock River, in the Black Hawk country of northern Illinois, is one of the best-known art colonies of the Midwest. Here, during the heyday of the community, gathered writers, artists, and sculptors who were nationally known and who did much to develop a native American literature and art. One member of the group, Lorado Taft, executed the giant statue of Black Hawk that towers above the Rock River just north of Eagle's Nest.

In the center of this colony, which is located across the river from the town of Oregon, stands a comfortable old white stone residence that is regarded with reverence by artists and writers who visit it today.

For here lived the founder and benefactor of the community, Wallace Heckman, who was a distinguished Chicago lawyer, connoisseur of the arts, and business manager of the University of Chicago. In his later years he became vice-president of the Chicago Surface Lines. Although a man of business affairs, Wallace Heckman had an appreciation of the arts which few Chicago men of his time could equal.

That he should establish an art colony on the Rock River seems natural, since this region, with its riverside bluffs, woodlands, and rolling country, is one of the most scenic in the northern part of the state. But Heckman was not the first to discover its attractiveness. A famous American woman writer seems to have been the first to call attention to the charm of the Rock River country. She was Margaret Fuller, one of the Concord group of writers. She visited this region in 1843 and described it in one of her books, At Home and Abroad.

But she did more than this. She gave a name to this spot, calling it Eagle's Nest because of a tall, dead cedar tree upon which eagles nested. Here, too, on July 4, 1843, she composed one of her best-known poems, "Ganymede to His Eagle." And another thing she did was to name a spring near the riverside "Ganymede's Spring." What brought Margaret Fuller to this place originally was that here lived a cousin of hers, one of the early settlers of Ogle County.

As a consequence of this visit by Margaret Fuller in the early days, Wallace Heckman, when he set up the art colony here, formally called it Eagle's Nest. And upon completion of his residence in 1893, he named it "Ganymede." He had earlier visited the Rock River country, was impressed with its scenic beauties and had bought a thirteen-acre tract here for his country home.

 p204  Then, five years after being established in his spacious house on Rock River, Wallace Heckman invited a group of Chicago writers, artists, and sculptors to spend their summers on the grounds of his estate and provided cabins for them. They accepted the invitation, and from that year the popularity of the colony grew.

In the original group who came in 1898 were Lorado Taft, sculptor; Ralph Clarkson, Charles Francis Browne, and Olive Dennett Grover, artists; Hamlin Garland, Henry B. Fuller, and Horace Spencer Fiske, writers; Irving K. and Allen B. Pond, architects; Clarence Dickinson, organist; and James Spencer Dickerson, secretary of the University of Chicago.

In his widely read book, A Daughter of the Middle Border — a book, by the way, which was written in the guest room of the Heckman residence — Hamlin Garland described at some length the early days of the colony. Here, in this idyllic setting, Garland began a romance with Lorado Taft's sister, Zulime, which led to their marriage. Having an attractive personality, Miss Taft was one of the most popular members of the original group.

"The camp," wrote Garland, "consisted of a small kitchen cabin, a dining tent, a group of cabins, and one or two rude studios to which the joyous offhand manners of the Fine Arts Building had been transferred. It was, in fact, a sylvan settlement of city dwellers — a colony of artists, writers and teachers out for a summer vacation."

Describing the house, Garland wrote: "The Heckman home, which the campers called 'The Castle,' or 'The Manor House,' a long, two‑story building of stone which stood on the southern end of the Bluff, overlooked what had once been Black Hawk's Happy Hunting Ground. It was not in any sense a chateau, but it pleased Wallace Heckman's artist-tenants to call it so and by contrast with their cookhouse it did, indeed, possess something like grandeur."

In later years many other famous writers and artists visited Eagle's Nest, among them William Vaughn Moody, Ralph Pierson, Bert Leston Taylor, Harriet Monroe, Lucy Fitch Perkins, George Barr McCutcheon, John T. McCutcheon, Dr. James H. Breasted, Mrs. Laura McAdoo Triggs, Edgar A. Bancroft, Charles R. Crane, and I. K. Friedman. Here, too, came Robert Burns Peattie and his novelist wife, Elia, who brought with them their two sons, Donald Culross and Roderick, both of whom were to become nationally-known writers.

Since the death, several years ago, of Ralph Clarkson, painter and one of the original members of the colony, there has been little activity at Eagle's Nest. Throughout the life of the colony, Mrs. Heckman assisted  p205 her husband in providing hospitality for the guest writers and artists.

In the years since the Eagle's Nest colony was established, numerous prominent Chicagoans have acquired farms and estates in this vicinity. One of the largest of these tracts is the 4,600‑acre Sinnissippi Farms, originally owned by the late Colonel Frank O. Lowden, former governor of Illinois. Just north of Eagle's Nest is the farm of Hal O'Flaherty, foreign editor of The Chicago Daily News. Other large estates in the vicinity were owned by the late Walter Strong, onetime publisher of The Daily News, and the late Medill McCormick, former owner of the Chicago Tribune and United States Senator.

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Page updated: 3 Dec 17