Tag: Lake Forest

SWIFT: Louis of Lake Forest


 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


Down to a Fine Art

Lake Forest Native Adair Peck Embraces Variety of Mediums to Create Eclectic Works


        By David A. F. Sweet


Since COVID-19 swept the world, artist Adair Peck has focused on painting flowers. But these florals are far from typical: using a blowtorch, she blends in multiple layers of melted bee’s wax on the canvas.

“I find the process incredibly relaxing,” says Peck, a Lake Forest native who has lived in Bozeman, Montana for 15 years. “The paintings are finished with a hard resin, which gives them dimensionality and a high shine.”

Peck’s art career has been both prolific and broad. In terms of mediums, she has created multi-media paintings using old metal fences, etchings, woodcuts, murals, and more. She has designed the sets for an Off-Broadway production at the famed La MaMa Experimental Theatre Club in Manhattan. She has drawn the homeless people of the Lower East Side, the commuters of Chicago, and the social world of her parents.


Adair Peck has stayed busy during the pandemic in her Montana studio.

In fact, it is her mother Fay — a renowned North Shore artist — whom Peck cites (not surprisingly) as her mentor. As a teenager, Peck and her mother would pack the station wagon with canvases, easels, and two German Shepherds to go on expeditions, often to a Lake Forest backyard to paint gardens.

Other times, Peck would arrive home to an unusual sight.

“She often drew her friends, and on any given day, I would find one of them sprawled naked on the living room carpet modeling,” said Peck, who earned a fine arts degree at Boston University. “My mother was a trailblazer. She thought little of others’ opinions on her art or her lifestyle. We were a bohemian family in an affluent, conservative town.

“My parents threw parties every summer with a live band that would rage into the wee hours. I loved these parties so much when I was little. I am told at one of the parties, I rummaged through purses and coat pockets to hide our guest’s car keys so the party would never end!”


Adair painted the scene at Cafe Vinos in River North in the early 1990s when she often visited cafes and bars to find subjects.

I can vouch that story is pure Adair. I have known her for more than 50 years, words a little shocking to type as they accentuate the passage of time. I remember racing her to my house on our bikes after Lake Forest Country Day School finished for the day, and I think she always won. A large, floral painting of her mother’s hangs in our house today, along with a cone-top beer can from her father David’s sprawling collection.

Family definitely called her home after college. But when the budding, optimistic artist returned to Chicago and searched for a gallery in River North, she was rejected by six. Finally, she joined Gilman and Gruen Gallery.

“It was a wonderful experience,” Peck said. “They were very excited about my work, and by the time I left the gallery, they’d scheduled my first Chicago show.”


Each spring, Adair teaches at The Longfellow School in Montana as an artist in residence. Students are holding animal papier-mache mounts she helped them create for an auction.

Soon after, New York beckoned. Peck enrolled in Brooklyn College’s Master of Fine Arts program. She drew scenes in cafes and bars. Discouraged by the loneliness of studio life, she joined a printmaking workshop in Chelsea, operated by legendary printmaker Bob Blackburn. Subjects of her etchings and woodcuts included the local YMCA ladies’ locker room, colorful characters of the Lower East Side, and crowded subway cars.

The biggest challenge Peck has faced as an artist is one her mother knew well: raising small children. That’s primarily in the past, as her daughters Margot, Madison, and Franny are adults.


Following in the tradition of her mother Fay, Adair is fond of painting flowers.

“I wanted to spend all of my time with them, but I also wanted to keep my art practice alive,” Peck recalled. “Making art also keeps me spiritually and mentally strong, so I needed it to keep me sane.”

Because oil paintings take so much time, Peck gave them up as her children grew up and embraced creating papier-mache figures. Inspired by wild animals of the West, and working with a variety of colorful papers, she made papier-mache mounts, some of which hang in the Yellowstone Club in Big Sky, Montana. Said Peck, “Papier-mache was the spontaneous, playful medium that allowed me to be creative on my own terms while raising my three daughters full time.”


With husband Todd Shea and their daughters Madison, Margot and Franny, Adair’s family has enjoyed living in Montana for 15 years.

The 21st century has allowed Peck to promote her work and establish relationships across the world through the Internet. And though the century also has ushered in a pandemic, Peck’s passion for art has helped soothe any worries. Said she, “Rarely a day goes by that I am not making art. It is as essential to me as fresh air and exercise.”


Unsung Gems columnist David A. F. Sweet can be followed on Twitter @davidafsweet. E-mail him at dafsweet@aol.com.