Dunham Castle
by Dan Miller
Dunham Castle at Dunham Road and Army Trail  today
Dunham Castle two years ago.

This extravagant residence, built in 1883 by Mark Dunham (1842-1899), stands as a monument to the once great horse business that made the Dunham family rich and famous. Mark Dunham was the youngest child of Solomon Dunham. Solomon had moved to Chicago in 1835, and soon claimed land for himself in the St. Charles area. On his newly aquired land, for which he paid $1.25 per acre, the elder Dunham built a log cabin. Later, this crude home would be replaced by a small brick building which later became the Dunham riding club.

 Upon the death of his father, Mark Dunham inherited Oaklawn Farm. Dunham had a great interest in horses, but especially a breed know as the Percherons. These large draft horses from France proved to be excellent in pulling farm equipment.

Dunham began importing and breeding these horses; in fact, he was the first to do so. The horse breeding earned Dunham vast sums of money. The man that built 205 N. Gifford here in Elgin retired there after raising Percheron horses.  

The size of the Dunham farm expanded to 2,000 acres and the breeding business flourished until the early decades of the 20th century. Eventually, the invention of the power tractor and other farm machinery decreased the demand for such animals.
At the height of business, Dunham decided to build a new home. It was to be unlike any other in the area. The Dunhams based the idea for the design of their new home on that of French chateaux. With the assistance of Smith Hoag, an Elgin architect, the home became a reality. The building, of brick, and stone, with different colored slate roofing, stood surrounded by woods, gardens, and a gently sloping lawn. The interior sported parquet floors, faux grained trim, huge pocket doors, statues, tapestries, and copies of fine French artwork.

Smith Hoag also designed 359 Park here in Elgin which was featured on the 2016 Historic House Tour.  
A huge thanks goes out to Tom Lee for this amazing photo.  

In 1953 the Dunham Castle was turned into four spacious apartments.  In 1987 it was purchased for $750,000 and turned back into a single family home.  In the last decade or so a lot of work was done on the building. Rumor has it that the owner's construction company was hit hard by the recession and the home was foreclosed upon.  A couple of years ago they let a non profit organization open the house for paid tours as a fundraiser.  I participated  and took a lot of pictures.  It was my opinion that the work done on the house actually did more harm than good.  Far too much was torn up with nothing put back together. When rehabbers do that it becomes physically and psychologically overwhelming to put back.    The slate roof had been removed as well as the huge metal cornices and ornaments. Click here to see pictures from two years ago. 

When I saw the property from the street today, I could not help myself and had to  trespass.  I took some pictures of the exterior where the work that has been done  is amazing, actually better than the original in many cases.  The huge original cornice and ornament were galvanized metal  originally.  The new is all copper as well as the flashing and roofs on the little dormers which were completely rebuilt. The foundation was tuckpointed with the raised bead restored.  All the windows are new aluminum clad but they did put the arch on the top which is very expensive.  

The back side of the home has not been restored as they plan to put a large addition on the back. Unfortunately a fancy porch was lost.   I have heard that the building will be a venue for fancy weddings and gatherings. Click here for the pictures I took today.   

If you are interested here are pictures of Solomon Dunham's house which is now the Dunham Woods Riding club.  

Gifford Park Association
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