History of The Mansion at Elfindale
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John O'Day was born on November 18, 1844, in Limerick, Ireland. His family moved to America when John was a baby, first settling in Livingston, New York. In 1855, they relocated to the state of Wisconsin. In 1862, young John O'Day returned to New York to attend law school. He graduated in 1864 and was admitted to the bar in New Lisbon, Wisconsin. In 1865, at the age of 21, John married Miss Sarah Jane Campbell of Milwaukee, Wisconsin. In September of 1865, John and Jennie moved to Springfield where his parents had established a farm north of town. In 1888, John married Mary Alice Clymena Underwood Vail of Arbor, Michigan. He had met Alice in St. Louis early in his employment with the railroad. It was this meeting that was to be the downfall of his twenty-two-year marriage to his first wife, Jennie. John O'Day was very involved with the establishment of the Frisco general offices, as well as the railroad yards and roundhouse in Springfield. So he and his new bride, Alice, made the decision to build their home on 202 acres of the original 400 acres which John had purchased in 1888. At this time, Springfield was seventy-three years old, with a population of twenty thousand. The railroad was its largest employer.
Alice was made aware of John wanting to divorce her so she made a trip to St. Louis, checked into the Lindell Hotel, and attempted suicide with a single shot to the chest. Despite her effort to win his sympathy, John only remained with her until her recovery. The divorce was final on September 10, 1901.
John was now free, legally, to marry his private stenographer, Sue Isabelle Baldwin of Springfield. They were first married in Towson, Maryland, in late 1900. A second public ceremony was performed in St. Louis in June of 1901.
At the time of their marriage, Mr. O'Day was a very ill man, suffering from an advanced stage of kidney disease. Since Sue was carrying his child, he wanted to be absolutely sure she and the child were under the legal protection of his name. A few days following the second marriage ceremony, he arranged to adopt her two young children, John Baldwin and Catherine. (These children had been fathered by John's brother, James O'Day.)
John O'Day died on July 29, 1901, at the age of 56, at Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore, Maryland. He was survived by his two sons from his first marriage, Alexander and John, and by his third wife's two children whom he had adopted. A few weeks following John's death, Sue gave birth to a son whom she named Thomas K. (Neil) O'Day. With her children, Sue returned to St. Louis, where she remained until her death in 1946.
After John's death, Alice Clymena O'Day returned to the Mansion and her plans. In the divorce settlement, she had been awarded the 400-acre farm, including the Mansion land and up to $200,000 in stocks. Nothing was stopping her now from pursuing her dreams for the Mansion. The site of the new structure was a few miles southwest of the city in a beautiful, wooded area through which a delightful little stream ran. Alice O’Day named it Elfindale, supposedly after elves she could see dancing on the dale when there were foggy mornings.
Prior to the Mansion being finished a large barn constructed that could house two hundred animals on the lower level. It was three stories with a fourth-story center room. While the lower level was for animals, the upper floors were finished with hardwood floors and leaded glass windows. In those days, it was not uncommon for guests, traveling by horse and carriage, to stay a week or two when invited to a large estate, such as Elfindale.
The Mansion was three stories with a fourth-story tower on the northeast corner of the house. There was a full basement with a walk-out for groundskeepers and gardeners and for deliveries. The rest of the basement contained the laundry room, kitchen, and other utility and storage rooms. The basement halls had marble terrazzo floors. The entire house was covered with a half-moon, clay tile roof.
On the first floor were the library, parlor, music room, breakfast room, morning room, butler's pantry, family formal dining room, and the large room that is now the Dolphin room, was actually 2 rooms- one believed to be the smoking parlor. The second floor served the family with spacious bedrooms, sitting rooms, and guest rooms. Alice had quarters on the second floor that consisted of her bedroom and parlor. Those rooms were connected by a private hallway.
A stream ambled through the property, making its way through the area. An island, complete with pagoda, was constructed in the center of the lake. There were field stone bridges crossing the lake and a wooden foot bridge spanned the lake from island to shore. Lily pads and swans completed this peaceful scene.
Canoes were available for guests to row for leisure entertainment.The lake was stocked with fish, and guests were allowed the privilege of fishing from the banks and bridges. For special occasions, musicians were hired to play in the pagoda for the guests as they paddled in canoes or strolled at the water's edge.
Gardeners were hired to landscape the grounds with formal gardens, pleasing to the sense of sight and smell. There were peacocks roaming freely, and even a few llamas were allowed the freedom of the grounds.
On arrival, the guests would alight and enter the house by the carriage entrance. The horse, carriage, and driver would continue on to the barn and be quartered there.
There is a magnificent fireplace mantle that was purchased at the St. Louis World's Fair in 1904 that was Imported from France, it is known as the Dolphin Fireplace that is still in the Mansion today. It is in the Dolphin room, named after the fire place.
Alice loved to show off the Mansion but building it took most of the finances she acquired from the divorce. She realized shortly after its completion that she must sell her beautiful show place, so she began with the auction of her furniture. Although she was offered bids up to $250,000 for the house and grounds, she believed the grounds were ordained by God for His use. Consequently, she contacted her friend and adviser, Father Boarman, a Jesuit Priest in St. Louis.
Sisters of the Visitation / St. de Chantal Academy for Girls
The Jesuits were chaplains for the Sisters of the Visitation, a predominantly French order. The Visitation nuns came to the United States in 1799 and founded Georgetown Visitation Convent, near Washington, D.C. Several groups left the Georgetown Convent to settle in other areas. From a convent in the Chicago Diocese, six sisters left for St. Louis, establishing a convent and a school there that were extremely successful. In fact, the school grew so fast that soon they were suffering from lack of space. With seven teachers and forty pupils, there seemed to be no answer to their problem. The Sisters prayed diligently for property they could afford that would contain enough room for expansion as the enrollment grew. For almost as long as the monastery of the Visitation in St. Louis had been in existence, Providence had been preparing their home. When Mrs. O'Day spoke with Father Boarman, it was obvious to him that God had brought them together. This was truly an answer to prayer for both the Sisters and Alice O'Day.
On December 8, 1905, the deed of sale was signed. For the $30,000 mortgage, which was the exact amount for which the Sisters had sold their home in St. Louis, Elfindale became the property of the Sisters of the Visitation. In September of 1906, it also became the home of the St. de Chantal Academy for Girls.
The Order of the Visitation was founded at Annecy, Haute-Savoie, by St. Francis de Sales and St. Jane Frances de Chantal in 1610, and was introduced into this country in 1799, at Georgetown, D.C.
St. de Chantal Academy, opened in 1887 by the Sisters of the Visitation Order in one of the fine residence parts of St. Louis, was, in 1906, removed to Elfindale, Springfield, Missouri.
The life and work at Elfindale have for their single purpose the full and thorough training of its children for the mission that awaits them. To this end, the school seeks by a judicious combination of physical, mental and moral training, to develop harmoniously their entire nature, and by the refining influences of a happy Christian home to mould their character, in order thus to make them not only accomplished and edifying members of society, but also sensible and practical women.
The government of the school assumes self-respect and self-restraint on the part of the pupils; consequently, the discipline is mild, though firm, and the pupils are expected to confirm cheerfully to the established rules and regulations. The restrictions. are such only as are essential to the formation of habits of order and self-control.
Save Elfindale Saga
Through the years, as transportation became less and less a problem, the need for a boarding school declined, until in 1943 it was replaced by day school only. During the next twenty years, the number of students continued to expand, but the walls did not. It was with deep regret, in 1964, that the decision was made to close the school. The Academy was then converted into a retreat house, open to all the Christian community in the area. Retreats for men, as well as women, were held there.
Renamed the St. de Chantal Retreat House, the gray stone mansion also housed the DeSales Library and Bookstore. In addition, the Sisters baked altar breads for many parishes in the diocese and continued the work of Saint Francis de Sales with the DeSales press.
In the early 1970's, struggling with inadequate finances for the upkeep of the property, the Sisters decided to sell Elfindale. Some interest was shown by a group of citizens who tried in vain to interest the city in buying the property to preserve it as a city park. There were many other attempts to acquire the property for different projects. One such attempt was proposed by Premier Properties, a Tulsa based real estate development group. Thus began an era known as the "Save Elfindale Saga."
Only a few city zoning regulations stood in the way of leveling the magnificent building and bulldozing the remaining forest area to make way for the tract housing development planned by Premier Properties. Many other plans and ideas for the property were also brought before the city council, but all of them came to nothing.
Then on October 3, 1978, the Sisters found a group of buyers, and the property passed from their hands for 1.5 million dollars to RNT, Inc. of Springfield.
The buyers were Reza Shaygan, president of the corporation and his wife, Nahid Honayouni; Mansoor T. Najafi and his wife, Harlene NaJafi; and Ahmad Amin Elahi and his wife, Mina Beglarzadeh. The plans the Iranians had for the property did not materialize, so the property was sitting unused.
In 1979, Cornerstone World Outreach Center had its beginning with a small group of men and women meeting in private homes, having church services and Bible studies. The number soon grew to eighty-five people, so the meetings were moved to Stone Chapel on the Drury College campus in Springfield. After holding services there for a year, the number of people in attendance had increased to over two hundred. Now it was time to look for a more permanent place with room for growth.
Cornerstone's Pastor Jess Gibson and the leadership of the church met with the Iranian group that owned the property at Elfindale, and inquired about renting the Chapel for their church services. The RNT Corporation agreed that Cornerstone could use the property until it was sold. The church was to pay the utilities, insurance on the property, and the cost of any repairs and clean-up. At this time, the Iranians were asked about rumors that had been so rampant at the time they bought the Elfindale property.
It had become evident in the mid-1970's that power was going to be tested in Iran. The Ayatollah Khomeini was moving to displace Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, the Shah of Iran. The Shah left his country in exile January 16, 1979, and the Ayatollah took control January 31, 1979.
The Iranians, who were the RNT Corporation in Springfield, having inside knowledge of the events unfolding in the Middle East, sought to prepare a "safe house" for their soon-to-be-exiled Imperial Shah. The location and physical presence of the tunnel on the Elfindale property suited their purposes; consequently, they bought it to house the Shah when he would finally leave Iran.
Politics played a big part in the reason the house was never used for this purpose. The Shah had been assured he would be welcome in the States to live and receive treatment for the lymphatic cancer and leukemia from which he was suffering. However, due to the hostage affair, President Carter decided it would not be wise for the United States to have the Shah in this country. Therefore, he was denied entry. The Shah spent his exile in Egypt, making trips for medical treatment to the Bahamas and Mexico. He was finally admitted to a hospital in Houston, Texas, and later allowed to visit Sloane Kettering in New York City. The Shah died on July 27, 1980, in Cairo, Egypt.
Sale to Cornerstone and The Mansion at Elfindale Bed and Breakfast
In 1984, a Springfield developer, Howard Stancer, bought the Elfindale property. He began developing a shopping center on the south, an office building on the west, and Creekside and Creekside Crossing Retirement Community, to the north of the original Elfindale buildings.
At the same time, Cornerstone Church was able to buy the thirteen acres that contain the lower parking lot, the access road, and the Hermitage, Chapel, Convent, and Mansion. Soon after acquiring the property, the decision was made to begin construction on a sanctuary behind the Convent, facing a new street the city named Elfindale Street. Ground was broken June 23, 1985, and dedication ceremonies for the completed facility. were held on November 22, 1986.
The new sanctuary freed up the Mansion that had been used for many church activities. Now a decision had to be made for the future use of the Mansion. Since it is on the Historical Society's list of homes, the church leaders decided it should be made available to the public in some manner.
Although the building was in need of much restoration, its potential for elegance and gracious hospitality was obvious. It seemed only fitting that the Mansion should serve once again in its original capacity· for entertaining weary travelers and friends. Thus, turning the Mansion into a bed and breakfast inn was determined to be the best use of the facility. Soon after that decision was made, the Springfield Symphony Guild asked to use the Mansion for their fund-raiser' 'Showcase '90 House." (To date, the Mansion has been their most ambitious "Showcase" project because of the sheer size of the building.)
The Symphony Guild made arrangements for several prominent interior decorating firms to design, restore, and furnish all of the first floor rooms, all but two of the second floor rooms, and the Tower Suite on the third floor. Members and friends of Cornerstone Church, both men and women, worked fervently to decorate the remaining five bedroom suites so that the entire Mansion would be ready for the "Showcase" tours. (When the Symphony "Showcase" ended, the designers removed all their furnishings, except the floor and wall coverings, drapes, bed coverings, and permanent fixtures. The process of replacing the furniture and accessories began as the facility was prepared to open for business.)
The original house had thirty-five rooms and seven baths. When thirteen rooms were made into bedroom suites, it was necessary to add six additional baths to accommodate rooms that had not been bedrooms before. Two public restrooms were also added on the first floor.·
Although the building was structurally sound, much work had to be done in order to meet city codes. The beautiful old tin ceilings were carefully removed to update the electrical wiring and to install a sprinkler system. (The tin ceilings were put back in place when the installation was finished.) Steam heat radiators were replaced with a forced air heat system, and air conditioning was added.
One of the most challenging opportunities of the restoration was the addition to the grand staircase. To meet the fire code for public buildings, both front and back staircases were required.
The back staircase, originally used by servants, extended from the basement to the third floor. The grand staircase, used by the family, ran only between the first and second floors. To extend the grand staircase, a room was sacrificed on the third floor.
A master craftsman was engaged to resolve the difficult problem of matching the original woodwork, fashioned one hundred years earlier. His labor and skill resulted in such a perfect match that it is almost impossible to distinguish between the old staircase and the new one. The restoration began in mid-November of 1989, and the Mansion officially opened for public tours on May 12, 1990. Between May 12 and May 27, the Symphony Guild raised $55,000, making the Mansion the most successful "Showcase" project in the history of the Guild.
On June 1, 1990, the Mansion at Elfindale began operating as Missouri's largest bed and breakfast inn. Comparable in style to a European hotel, it boasts thirteen private bedroom suites and four public rooms, including the Parlor. The Dining Room, Dolphin Room, and Fireside Room are all available for meetings, banquets, luncheons, showers, weddings, and receptions. The adjacent Chapel is also used extensively for weddings.