History

History of The Mansion at Elfindale

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John O'day

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 Jennie 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 round house 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. The Mansion construction began early in 1890 and was completed in the fall of 1892.

 

 

 

 

The Mansion

The Mansion construction began early in 1890 and was completed in the fall of 1892.  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.  The setting was so relaxing and restful that they named it Park Place. Later on, Alice O’Day had it renamed to Elfindale, supposedly after elves she could see dancing on the dale when there were foggy mornings.

 

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. (The original is still intact as of 1993.) The third floor was occupied by the servants and connected to their basement work area by the back staircase.

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. (The original is still intact as of 1993.) The third floor was occupied by the servants and connected to their basement work area by the back staircase.

  

On the first floor were the library, parlor, music room, breakfast room, morning room, butler's pantry, family formal dining room, and the State Dining Room, which later became a ballroom. During the time that Mr. O'Day served as a leader of the Democratic Party in the State of Missouri, the State Dining Room was used to entertain the Governor. The second floor served the family with spacious bedrooms, sitting rooms, and guest rooms. Alice and John had separate bedrooms, as well as sitting rooms. Alice's were cozy and contained a private hallway connecting them. On the other hand, John's rooms were quite spacious. His private bath had a six and one-half foot tub, very large for that period. In addition to the family bedrooms, there were three guest rooms.

Alice's Plans for the Mansion

The house and grounds were grand as they were, but Alice had illusions of grandeur, with plans far exceeding what John had in mind. As she continued to plan and spend, John became disenchanted with her ideas; her spending seemed to have no end. Since no amount of persuasion could change her mind, John and Alice were estranged and finally divorced.
Shortly before the divorce, Alice made the 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 b1rth 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  and its furnishings, and the livestock and racehorses residing on the property, as well  the Oriel  building  in  St.  Louis and  up to $200,000 in stocks. Nothing was stopping her now from pursuing her dreams for the Mansion.
A stream ambled through the property, making its way through the area where the stone was quarried for the Mansion. Alice had the stream dammed to create a large lake. An island, complete with pagoda, was constructed in the center of the lake. There were several field stone bridges crossing the lake--two of which remain today--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.
Alice enjoyed having her breakfast early, followed by coffee in the morning room overlooking the lake. As the early  morning mist rose over  the water, she imagined she saw elves and  fairies  dancing  in the dale. With that  vision  in mind, Park Place was renamed, "Elfindale." Alice, continuing  with  her  plans,  had 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.  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.
Alice had no need for the State Dining Room, so she transformed it into a ballroom, placing in it the magnificent fireplace mantle purchased at the St. Louis World's Fair in 1904. Imported from France, it is known as the Dolphin Fireplace. With the completion of the ballroom, she continued with her  lavish  entertaining  until  she  depleted  her   funds. Finally, when she realized she must sell her beautiful show place, 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 advisor, 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."
The Shah

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.