Louis Franklin Swift
By Megan McKinney
Gustavus Swift left quite a legacy in his well-trained sons. The eldest, Louis, became president of Swift & Company immediately after his father’s death and, during his lengthy tenure, sales would more than triple. His thundering success is perhaps best described in Forbes first Rich List, published in 1918.
“Next to the Steel Trust, the largest business done by any concern in America last year was, so far as known, that of Swift & Co. Its turnover reached $875,000,000, or $3,000,000 every business day of the year. The present head of this vast enterprise, Louis F. Swift, is put down for $50,000,000, which would seem to be a conservative estimate. The company’s profits last year alone were $34,000,000.”
By the 1931 end of Louis’ presidency—which, as pointed out in a previous segment was not without criticism–Swift & Company had some 55,000 workers, 150 plants and was the world’s largest company in its field. Louis then became chairman of the board for a year and retired altogether in 1932 to enjoy European travel and warm winters in Santa Barbara.
Unlike his father who cared not for luxury and a posh address, Louis had lost no time in making his way up to Lake Forest, where his Westleigh estate was, by 1899, bounded on the east by Green Bay Road, south by Westleigh Road, north by the Leander McCormick estate near Green Bay and further north on the west side of the Onwentsia Club and Ahwahnee Road.
Photo Credit: Classic Country Estates of Lake Forest by Kim Coventry, Daniel Meyer, Arthur H. Miller
The first version of Louis’ Lake Forest house was designed by William Carbys Zimmerman in 1898.
The current Louis F. Swift House at 255 East Foster Place in Lake Forest was built for Louis in 1916 as an addition to the Zimmerman original , which was demolished in 1940. This “addition” was designed by Howard Van Doren Shaw.
Serrania: the Louis Swift Montecito house.
Louis and Ida’s children following the birth of Nathan Butler in 1881 were Bessie, 1883; Alden B., 1885; Idamay, 1891, Louis Franklin, Jr, 1895; and William Elliott, 1897.
The couple’s first born, Nathan, was also the first to die. In September 1903, the 22 year-old was playing Saturday polo at Onwentsia with such friends as Frederic McLaughlin, Charles Garfield King and Robert R. McCormick, men whose names continue to resonate today. After being struck on the right temple by a flying ball, he dismounted unassisted and was taken to his father’s house in a family carriage. When his condition worsened, surgery was performed to relieve a ruptured blood vessel on the brain’s surface. He did not regain consciousness and was dead at 9:00 the following morning.
The Alden B. Swift Lake Forest house, 80 North Green Bay Road.
Alden B. Swift was born in 1885. In 1909, he married Lydia Niblack, sister of Narcissa Niblack Thorne, creator of the famous Thorne Rooms in the Art Institute of Chicago. Both sisters were active members of the Woman’s Board of Northwestern Memorial Hospital, with Lydia president from 1948 to 1952. Winter home for the Alden Swifts was 209 East Lake Shore Drive; during the warmer months they moved out to a sumptuous estate at 80 North Green Bay Road in Lake Forest.
Another image of the Alden Swifts’ Lake Forest house shows, to the left, a smaller structure containing guest accommodations, including a living room, guest room and bath. Echoing this house on the other side is a five car garage with living quarters above. This marvelous estate served as the site for the Infant Welfare Society Showhouse & Gardens benefit in 2007.
Lydia Niblack Swift with Nathan and Narcissa.
The Alden B. Swift children were Narcissa, Nathan and Lydia. Narcissa married artist Clinton Blair King, whose first wife, Lady Duff Twysden, was the model for Lady Brett Ashley in her friend Ernest Hemingway’s novel The Sun Also Rises.
Lydia Swift Rowan, second daughter of the Alden B. Swifts.
In 1903, Louis and Ida’s daughter Bessie married Charles Fernald of Santa Barbara. The Howard Van Doren Shaw Lake Forest house above was a gift to Bessie and Charles from Louis in 1907. The property gained further fame when Cissy Patterson rented it following her separation from the Polish Count Gyzicki. Lake Foresters were amused when their daughter, the little Countess Gyzicka (the feminine form of the title), referred to the handsome residence as a “little cottage.”
During World War I Bessie Fernald served with the Red Cross in France. Her brother, Louis Franklin Swift Jr., was married first to Mary Haymaker Bennett. After their September 1933 divorce, he married Elizabeth “Libby” Chase of Chicago in April 1934. Their two sons were Louis F. III and Samuel.
Billy Swift, as Louis and Ida’s fourth son, William Elliot, was known, married Helen Morton, with whom he had one son, William, in 1930. Billy committed suicide in a private New York hospital in 1935. Friends believed the tragic act was because of despondency over poor health. He had been recovering from a nervous breakdown when he contracted pneumonia. They felt it was simply too much for the sensitive soul.
In 1916, Idamay married Count James Minotto, an Italian nobleman born in Berlin. They were parents of two children, Demetrius and Idamay. The elder Idamay, Countess Minotto, above, died at 51 in Phoenix in 1943.
Publisher Megan McKinney’s Classic Chicago Dynasties series on the Swift family will continue next with the dramatic end to the life of Edward Foster Swift and the romantic story of Charles Henry Swift.
Edited by Amanda K. O’Brien
Author Photo by Robert F. Carl