In the first decade of the 1900s, Jonathan Ogden Armour acquired the 1200-acre property then called Mellody Farm. When Mr. Armour bought Mellody Farm, his wife, Lolita Sheldon Armour, was visiting in Vienna, so the purchase of the land and planning of the 29,000 square foot Italianate mansion were arranged as a surprise for her. She knew nothing about it until she returned and sensed that something was up; then, Mr. Armour took her out and showed her what he had bought. At the time, much of the area of the present lakes and nearby woods was low, swampy ground. They obtained the services of Arthur Heun and started building in 1904.
It took four years to complete the building. Under the direction of the famous architect, the ground on which the mansion was built was filled and raised and the lakes now known as Eagle and Willow were created from the resulting earth-cutting and drainage. They were reputed to have spent a total of $10 million on the entire project: approximately $8 million on buildings and $2 million on landscaping by noted landscape architect Jens Jensen. A private railroad siding was built so that freight cars could bring in the huge marble slabs, the bronze stair railings, and the hand-carved panels.
The house, known today as Reid Hall, was completed in 1908. The family moved in on May 5, 1908, and lived there until approximately September 1927. Many of the house’s mantle pieces (there are 15 fireplaces) and the paneling of the library reading room, which the family used as a living room, were imported from Paris, Vienna and London. It is also reputed that the marble staircase was built with the primary purpose in mind that their daughter, Lolita Ogden Armour, would descend the curving stairway on her wedding day, which she did in 1921, when she married John J. Mitchell, Jr.
Mr. Armour had amassed an enormous fortune as president of the Armour Company and from successful widespread investments, including a controlling interest in the Milwaukee Railroad. Unfortunately after some bad investments, Mr. Armour apparently lost virtually all of his holdings by the mid-nineteen twenties. As part of the process of liquidating his assets, he had to surrender the estate to a local bank only a few months before his death.
Following the takeover of the Armour property by the bank, the property was purchased for a golf club that never materialized, then it passed into receivership in the early 1930s. It was later purchased by a philanthropist, who sold the property to Lake Forest Academy in 1947 for $400,000. Classes started in 1948 at the new 678-acre location featuring two lakes and all the original buildings. Today, the Academy grounds total approximately 170 acres.