After a few trips over the rails, it is now time to travel the actual roads of history in Henry County. Our next stops will be a few homes and architecturally interesting spots in Henry County along the back roads. Our first stop is one of the most unique homes in the area and well worth a visit. Just three miles east of Kewanee, 29862 N. 900 Ave, stands the unique home of Frederick Francis, Woodland Palace. The small house, but large marvel, was started in 1890 and built from brick, stone, and native wood. The house features disappearing doors and windows, radiant heat deflectors in the fireplace chimney, running water, hand-carved molding, a water purification system, and is the first house in the state of Illinois to have air-conditioning all without the aid of electricity.
Fred Francis, a University of Illinois graduate, was an artist, poet, inventor, builder, mathematician, engineer, and a nudist. Francis worked on his home for thirty-six years. His patents for watch mechanisms made him a wealthy, yet eccentric man. His beloved wife, a victim of TB, required healthy air to breathe and so Francis created a wonderful sun room for her complete with circulating, cleansed air.
Both small people, Fred Francis accommodated his wife and himself with a home which seems very small to modern visitors, but has all needed comforts: indoor plumbing, a basement kitchen, and a hallway for the bedrooms modeled after a Pullman railway car. Unfortunately, Mrs. Frances died of her illness and Fred Francis mourned her for the rest of his life. He succumbed to his own hand, shooting himself in the basement of the home, after he could no longer bear the pain of a hernia inflicted while still working on his house. Francis Park features the house and a camp site with electrical hookup. Tours of the home are available and various events are held on the grounds during the year.
For our next stop, we journey to the western side of the county to consider the only castle in Henry County!