Daily Herald opinion: Making up for lost time

Forest preserve district keeps Mayslake Hall improvements on track

When the Forest Preserve District of DuPage County acquired Mayslake Forest Preserve more than three decades ago, some commissioners wanted to tear down the mansion on the Oak Brook property. They did not want the district to be in the business of preserving buildings.

Still, others saw potential in the Tudor Revival-style mansion, dubbed Mayslake Hall.

Built between 1919 and 1921 for coal baron Francis Stuyvesant Peabody, the 39-room home has ornate fixtures, spacious rooms with beautiful views and hidden spaces. It earned a spot on the National Register of Historic Places in 1994.

Many believed Mayslake Hall would eventually become a tourist attraction. It just needed to be fixed up. But getting the mansion in usable shape has taken much longer than anticipated.

DuPage voters approved a $17.5 million tax increase in 1992 so the forest preserve district could buy the Mayslake property and prevent the loss of valuable open space. However, the district did not have the funds to fully restore the mansion when it took ownership of the 90-acre site in 1993. And while private donations and grants helped pay for restoration projects through the years, none were done on a large scale.

That changed in 2022 when the district moved ahead with an extensive exterior renovation of the mansion. As part of the $6.4 million project, crews repaired the brick and limestone masonry and replaced old stucco and decayed wood on the facade. Other work included replacing tiles on the slate roof and restoring or reproducing doors and windows.

Most of the funding for the project came from a recent bond issue. Officials have said the district didn't need to raise property taxes to borrow the money.

Forest preserve officials are now turning their attention to interior repairs and exploring ways to expand the use of the building.

The district did a recent survey to gather public input about possible amenities and programming at the Mayslake Peabody Estate to “ensure the site continues to serve as a vibrant cultural hub for generations to come.”

Earlier this month, senior writer Katlyn Smith wrote that forest preserve officials want to make Mayslake Hall more accessible and visitor-friendly to reach a broader audience. The estate has previously hosted nature-themed photography exhibits, art classes, book clubs, and lectures.

For example, a conceptual master plan for the interior envisions using much of the first floor as a house museum space that can also host exhibits and events.

Officials say an updated version of the master plan and cost estimates could be presented to the forest preserve board as soon as next month. The project would happen in stages.

While there is a long way to go before Mayslake Hall can meet its full potential, we are encouraged to see genuine progress after years of inaction. Kudos to the forest preserve district and its initiative to revitalize the mansion and increase offerings there.

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