By Rachel Baruch Yackley | Daily Herald Correspondent
Enjoy an evening that will transport you all the way back to the 1860s, with a Civil War ball to benefit the Farnsworth Mansion Foundation's efforts to rebuild the Farnsworth Mansion, once an important historic landmark in St. Charles.
On Saturday, May 1, the public is invited to help the Farnsworth Mansion Foundation celebrate the 150th anniversary of the start of the Civil War, starting with a real Civil War encampment at 10 a.m., with closing ceremonies at 4 p.m., followed by the Civil War ball at 5 p.m.
This year also marks the 150th anniversary of the construction of the original Farnsworth Mansion, and it's just a year shy of the 150th anniversary of Camp Kane, the Civil War training camp, which was based in St. Charles.
Kim Malay, president of the Foundation, said this annual event is to "bring out awareness of this (mansion) project, and the importance of it. We also want to get the word out as we need additional volunteers and board members."
While the Civil War was raging, the Emancipation Proclamation was signed; Louisa May Alcott and Mark Twain were writing (among many others); liquid soap, coffee percolators and root beer were invented. Chicago got the first water supply tunnel in the U.S. It was undoubtedly a busy time of change.
At the same time, much was happening in St. Charles. Action began on September 18, 1861, when the 8th Regiment of the Illinois Volunteer Cavalry, commanded by Col. John Farnsworth, brought 1,164 men into service on the eastern bank of the Fox River, at Camp Kane, in what is known as Langum Park.
Right at this same site, visitors will be able to walk through a realistic Civil War encampment on Saturday, May 1, as re-enactment troops train on battlefield tactics and drills. This is a free event, but donations to the Farnsworth Museum Foundation will be accepted.
Tickets are already on sale for the evening's Civil War ball. Guests are encouraged to dress in 1860s period costumes, which can be homemade or rented at All Dressed Up in Batavia, but Malay said, "You don't have to come in costume. Especially if it's your first year, just come check it out."
The ball will begin with a buffet dinner, followed by a short program.
"If everyone wants a taste of Underground Railroad history, we'll be talking about that, too," said Malay.
Period music and dancing, featuring the Century Air Minstrels, will highlight the evening. Dance lessons will be provided by Terrance Welch, so everyone will be able to join in the Virginia reel, the broom dance, the hat dance, and more.
All ages are welcome to the ball. Students from Wredling Middle School in St. Charles may even be attending, as an extension of their Civil War Week activities at school.
Farnsworth, an attorney and an Illinois congressman, owned the property on the east bank of the Fox River at the time of Camp Kane, and built his mansion in 1860, just west of the river. He died in 1897 and is buried in North Cemetery in St. Charles. The site of his home later became Mount St. Mary's Academy in 1907.
In 1993, the mansion was completely demolished, although the stone facade and the interior trim were salvaged. Not to be forever a footnote in local history, in 2000, the City Council approved the rebuilding of Farnsworth Mansion, on the south end of Langum Park.
When finished, the mansion will house an Underground Railroad and Civil War museum, which will feature the importance of the Civil War in Kane County and nationwide, as well as the local and national history of the Underground Railroad.
Local research shows that St. Charles has possibly more than 20 properties which were either stops along the Underground Railroad, or their first owners were members of the Kane County Anti-Slavery Society.
The Foundation was hoping to break ground on the museum by this year, but "the economy hit hard, and put a damper on our plans," said Malay.
But the delay has come with benefits. In 2009, the Farnsworth Foundation formed a partnership with The African Scientific Research Institute, which is affiliated with the University of Illinois in Chicago.
"We are working with the ASRI. The project is going to be a nationwide thing on the Freedom Trail, what the Underground Railroad is known as," Malay explained.
"The Mansion will definitely be a major focal point and will be a national resource for the project. Farnsworth was so involved in the abolitionist movement that this just seemed like the right thing to do."