Maryville's Villa Mansion Witnessed 115 Years of Change

Maryville's name, mission, and campus have changed with the times, and the Villa has seen it all.

The Maryville grounds are a familiar sight in Des Plaines, and were one of the features to put Des Plaines on the map in the late 1800s. While the campus has been remade several times over, one of the most prominent buildings, the Villa, has been maintained since 1897.

Perhaps the only place in Des Plaines that could truly be called a mansion, the Villa was designed for the archbishop to beat the summer heat.


The history of , began in earnest on October 8, 1882. On that date Archbishop Patrick Feehan and Chicago Mayor Carter Harrison, with a crowd estimated at 4,000, laid the cornerstone for the new institution's school on the former 440-acre Knott farm in unincorporated Des Plaines.

Newspapers described a chaotic scene, as the visitors made their way from the Des Plaines train station to the site two miles north.

Some Des Plaines farmers seized the opportunity to gouge fees for carriage rides, but most of the crowd elected to hoof it through the rain and mud.

The gothic building was designed by architect George Vigeant, and was to be called St. Mary's Training School, but, more popularly, Feehanville. It served the poor, destitute orphans of Chicago as an orphanage, reformatory and refuge.

In 1882, many orphans or abandoned children in Chicago were left to fend for themselves on the streets. This often led to their arrest for minor offenses, and with nowhere else to turn, many were sent to reformatories or jail.

Archbishop Feehan saw that these children, on their first arrest, would be left to learn the skills and habits of the criminals around them and proposed that arrested youth be turned to an institution that would teach them a useful skill, so that they may grow to be respectable citizens.

Boys could be trained in printing, farming, horticulture, and shoe making initially, Feehan said. In the meantime, the inaccessible location in rural Des Plaines would keep the youth away from bad influences in the city.

Feehan was so proud of the grounds that in 1897, he decided to create his own getaway, a summer residence in the clean country air, away from the heat and dirt of Chicago.

Feehan’s Villa was designed by Willett & Pashley, the same architects that worked on Holy Name Cathedral, the archbishop's residence in downtown Chicago, and St. Mary's Training School Administration building, built at the same time.

Contrary to myth, the Villa was not a replica of Monticello, although parts bear a slight resemblance. Also, it was not originally located at the Columbian Exposition of 1893. The colonial building featured a cupola, reception rooms, and wings with rooms adjoining suites for assistants and guests.

Related: Check out all three posts about Maryville's history.

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Karla Jacobson June 20, 2012 at 02:01 PM
I have the pleasure of working in this building today. It's a shame it has been allowed to start falling into disrepair. it's a gorgeous building inside; beautiful large fireplaces and unique molding. It now comes under the care of Our Lady of Guadalupe Shrine and they have not kept up the repair or maintenance of their part of the building.
Brian Wolf June 21, 2012 at 03:26 AM
I would like to see inside, but I didn't know who to talk to.
KATHY MAGANA June 23, 2012 at 02:45 AM
I was at Maryville Academy from 1968 to 1971. My younger brothers and sisters were there longer. I used to work in the Villa. It is very beautiful inside.


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