Going to Dwight

Yesterday I went to Dwight.

If this were the 1890s, you might assume that I went to Dwight, Illinois, to get help at for a “liquor habit” or, as a woman, for an addiction to laudanum (a form of opium.)

I actually went to Dwight to continue my research on The Pillars. Here’s the fun story:
After three trips to the Kendall County Records office, I managed to come up with a pretty good idea of the Chain of Title for the house, a record of ownership and title transfers. Using the newspaper archives and Ancestry.com, I was able to learn a little about each family who owned the house. Except one.

The second owner of the house was Mary E. Keeley from Chicago. She purchased the property in 1913, as well as two more parcels of adjoining land to the southwest, more than doubling the size of the property. She probably added an addition, clay tennis court and a pool and pool house. She definitely hired a gardener as reported in the newspaper, which also noted that she sent her effects to California when she sold the home in 1918. She was listed as a widow on the 1918 warranty deed.

I tried searching for Mary E. Keeley in Chicago and came up with a few possibilities, but none of them seemed to fit. I asked about her at the historical museum and searched for her at both the Oswego and Aurora public libraries. Nada.

Then one night I had dinner with one of Laura’s neighbors–Roxy–who happened to mention something about the “Keeley Cure for Alcoholism.” Bingo! I immediately glommed onto the name and went home to google it. It turns out that Mary E. Keeley was the wife/widow of Leslie E. Keeley, a doctor who studied alcoholism, believing it to be a disease rather than a moral failure. He and the chemist who worked in the drug store below his office collaborated to develop the “bichloride of gold” treatment, eventually claiming that alcoholism was a disease that could be cured. Over the next twenty years, they treated thousands of men and women, most of whom went on to live productive and alcohol-free lives. They trained others and started clinics in other states and countries until there were more than 80 Keeley Clinics around the world. Graduates of the program went on to form clubs, a kind of precursor to Alcoholics Anonymous and several national conventions followed. There was even a Keeley Day at the Chicago Exposition of 1893. This was also a time of huge temperance movements and Prohibition, which lasted from 1920-1933. Although Keeley’s methods seem a bit “quackish” in light of modern medicine, they really were in line with how medicine was practiced in those times. Still, opinions vary to this day, some calling him an opportunist quack and others that are more positive.

The town of Dwight underwent a huge boom of growth and wealth. Now a small town on historic Route 66, there are massive buildings and large beautiful homes and parks that look out of place in such a small town. An elegant hotel now stands empty and his partner’s home is an empty restaurant with a For Sale sign in front.

Dr. Keeley died in 1900 leaving an estate of over $1,000.000, most of it to his wife, “our” Mary E. Keeley.

I do not know a whole lot about Mary, but I do know that she bought the Oswego home, improved it and then sold it five years later. She moved to Pasadena, where I also know she “devoted her life to the furtherance of the Christian Science cause” and donated large amounts of money to the local Church of Christ, Scientist. I also know that she had an extensive collection of Christian Science literature and Bibles dating back to the 1500 and 1300s. This information is from her obituary when she died in 1931. Both she and Dr. Keeley are buried in an impressive mausoleum in the Dwight Oaklawn Cemetery.

I believe that her improvements to the PIllar’s property may have been to develop a place to treat men (or more likely women?) for alcoholism or drug addiction. I am guessing that the addition on the house, as well as the gardens, tennis court and pool were intended to provide a place where the Keeley cure could be administered. I don’t know if that ever happened or if it was a plan and a dream that was never realized.

I also know that she was Mary E. Dow before marrying Dr. Keeley in 1887, at age 38, twelve years younger than him. They never had children. Mary also studied the Christian Science faith (possibly a student of Mary Baker Eddy) and probably convinced her husband to embrace the faith late in his life as well. Interestingly, the Pillars was owned by Christian Scientists for the next 70+ years and through the tenure of three families, all Swedes with surnames ending with “–sons.” The Hansons (1918-1947), the Carlsons (1947-1969) and the Erlansons (1969-1996.)

I am still looking for answers but the story just got a lot more interesting. (I realize that genealogy stories may be boring to some and even more so, stories that aren’t actually related to anything but a house, but I am having a great time.)

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