Pleasant Home gets a makeover

Park district and foundation upgrade building following Historical Society departure

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By Timothy Inklebarger

Staff Reporter

One of Oak Park's most historic homes, known by most people in the village as Pleasant Home, located at 217 Home Ave. in Mills Park, is going through some big changes. 

The Prairie-style house, owned by the Park District of Oak Park and operated by the Pleasant Home Foundation, was, until about a year ago, also home to the Historical Society of Oak Park & River Forest.

The 30-room structure was designed in 1897 by architect George W. Maher for investment banker John W. Farson and his wife Mamie Ashworth Farson.

Some old-time Oak Park residents still call it the Farson House, according to Pleasant Home Foundation Executive Director Heidi Ruehle-May, who will be leaving soon to take a new position as head of the Unity Temple Restoration Foundation, effective June 29. 

She said during a recent tour of the home that the Pleasant Home Foundation recently raised $40,000 to restore and re-install the original stained glass in the front doorway to the building. The funds also were used to restore the wood paneling around the front door.

The stained glass, similar to side panels adjacent to the doorway, was installed last week after Chicago-based Drehobl Art Glass completed its work.

The park district, meanwhile, is restoring the roof of the structure over the summer, replacing asphalt shingles with clay tile, Ruehle-May said.

"There's a lot of structural work being done," she said. "It's going to be phenomenal."

The restoration efforts and the departure of the historical society — the museum relocated to a 121-year-old Cicero Firehouse, 129 Lake St., last summer — have helped open up the building, enabling the foundation to offer more space for events and additional tours.

"This had costumes in it," she said, showing a room on the third floor the historical society used to archive its materials. "You couldn't see the windows. You couldn't get an idea of the scale of the space, which is why [the historical society] needed their new space because they outgrew this."

Pleasant Home is going to start offering more for visitors, such as a "hidden spaces tour," Ruehle-May said, pointing out a hidden area in a stairwell that she says the Mills family — Pleasant Home's second owners after the Farsons — used to hide liquor. 

"This area behind here you can see the rafters above the library. It's 4 or 5 feet of space," she said. "The story goes that during Prohibition they hid their hooch up there."

More information about Pleasant Home is available on the foundation's website at https://pleasanthome.org.

This article was updated to correct information about Pleasant Home during the summer. The facility is open all year.

CONTACT: tim@oakpark.com

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Heidi Ruehle-May from Oak Park  

Posted: June 13th, 2018 1:29 PM

Great article Tim! Point of clarification, Pleasant Home doesn't close during the summer months, we're open all summer for tours, rentals and programs - it's just a bit steamy in July & August!

Jeff Schroeder from Oak Park  

Posted: June 12th, 2018 4:58 PM

The entrance hall, or "Great Hall" as it is known, is already one of Oak Park's most special spaces. Now with the addition of fully restored art glass panels for the entrance way, this space will be even finer. The two front door panels have not been seen in the home for decades.

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