City parks can be novel camping experiences and have never been a problem for us. Finding fun and interesting stopping places is one of the joys of full-timing and a good reason to keep our itinerary a little slack.
Driving along the state route through Kewanee Illinois a few days ago, we came upon a sign for a city camping park. We took the turn to find out about Francis Park in Kewanee. It was a neat surprise.
As we drove up to the city camping park we caught sight of a petite brick and stone house with a metal dome over the entrance porch. We were struck by the beautiful grounds and the house seems placed just right on them.
Fred Francis was a very talented and ingenious man who built Woodland Palace on 60 acres of timbered land northeast of Kewanee. He had lots of time to build the house. Elgin Watch Co. paid him a fortune in royalties for his watch spring engineering designs, and Frances retired at age 33 to build his home.
Fred Francis was a pragmatic engineer and inventor. His house design was driven by function, filled with fun innovations, and still pleasantly decorated with beautiful woodwork and some artwork. We enjoyed a tour directed by Sara, a summer intern. She described and showed us a lot about the house. Our favorite features in the house include:
- hinged storm window panels operable from inside,
- copper screen attached to the bottom of the lower sash,
- fireplace flue heat recovery directed to either living room or bedroom,
- sand- and charcoal-filtered cistern water
- forced air ventilation powered by windmill hundreds of yards away
- stunningly gorgeous woodwork in flooring, trim, and furniture
Francis had time on his hands, having retired at 33 years, and was tremendously talented both as designer and craftsman. He used his time, a huge lot of it, on his home projects. Francis seems to have enjoyed the process every bit as well as the completion. He started building the house in 1890 and worked on it for 36 years. Everything is done so beautifully, he seems not to have rushed any aspect of the work. He ran all the wood moulding by hand with wood cut, dried, and milled from his 60 acre property.
Woodland Palace’s water source is a 2,000 gallon cistern Francis dug and filled with yards of charcoal and sand to naturally filter rainwater. Several pipes in the cistern connected to a hand-driven demand pump in the house. Francis installed a pressure tank and heated water with a heating coil around the stove pipe. He implemented indoor hot and cold running water long before many Americans even thought about having an indoor toilet.
Francis installed air conditioning for his house. He is said to have been the first in Illinois to mechanically air condition a house. He did this without electricity, too. He piped fresh cool air 350 feet through underground clay tile from the woods into his house, and used a windmill-powered fan to drive the air throughout the house. He also circulated warm air through the walls to increase comfort in the house.
Other little details include his shoes — copper-soled boots and wood snow shoes. Francis was a physical culturist. His practices included walking up to 20 miles a day, staying very physically active, nudism, and walking barefoot to absorb important minerals through his feet. When he would travel to Chicago or walk on snow, he would protect his feet.
Francis Park and the sixty acres of land provide a wonderful resource for camping and hiking. Sixty RV and tent sites include electricity and water and a dump station are available on the campus. A nice playground and very nice lawn area provide good play space for children. Plenty of firewood and available shade provide great relaxing space for everyone. This is nice place to visit and stay, we’ll gladly return. Woodland Palace is detailed, functional, pleasing to look at, and his work has held up many years.
Camping cost us $16 a night with electricity. The Woodland Palace Tour is $2/person. A busy train track passes within a mile of the campground — don’t say we didn’t mention it — but we didn’t hear train horns once we shut our eyes.
See you down the road!
Jim and Debbie