Breaking News
More () »

This famous inventor/nudist used to call Kewanee home

Back in 2018, our Good Morning Quad Cities crew made a stop at this hidden gem.

KEWANEE, Ill. — Francis Park is a fascinating part of Kewanee's history even though it's three miles east of the small Illinois town. 

There are 60 acres for folks to use at the park, and 40 of them are made up of woodland. Deep within the woodland area is the home that belonged to famed inventor Fred Francis: the Woodland Palace.

Francis grew up on a farm just east of Kewanee and graduated from the University of Illinois in 1878, according to the Kewanee Historical Society. Noted as a "mechanical genius," Francis retired from the Elgin Watch Co. after just 11 years. That's when he bought the land for himself and his wife Jenny. 

The Woodland Palace was far ahead of its time. Francis equipped the home with innovations like baseboard heating and air conditioning that were powered by wind. 

His wife had tuberculosis, so he also built a solarium to change the air every minute.

Some may even call Francis a bit weird. 

"Fred was a practicing nudist," park caretaker Gerald Phelps told News 8 back in 2018. "He'd have a tea kettle here, and he'd have a pipe running from here into the wall, and on the other side of this wall is a chamber. He'd take a steam bath. Then he'd go out, and he'd run around the palace until he'd dry off. In the winter, he'd do the same thing but do snow angels out in the snow." 

It's also notable that Francis would travel back and forth from his home to Kewanee to gather bricks to build the masterpiece., usually while barefoot. 

When he died in 1926, Francis left his property to the City of Kewanee. It's now a State Historical Site and on the National Register of Historic Places. 

Watch more Kewanee stories on News 8's YouTube channel

Before You Leave, Check This Out