Many have memories of Dole Mansion but may not know its history

The Dole Mansion is at the center of the Lakeside Arts Park in Crystal Lake.

The Dole Mansion is at the center of the Lakeside Arts Park in Crystal Lake.

By Tim Stanton, Staff Writer

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If you grew up or worked near the Crystal Lake area in the last 20 years, you had to have heard of, or went to, the Lakeside Festival held in early July.  The festival features carnival ride, games, a massive beer garden with local food, and Independence Day fireworks.  Although the fairgrounds have been moved from time to time, mostly the event has been held in the front yard of the massive Dole Mansion, forever implanting the imagery in the childhood memories of many.  The truth is that this property has a long and fascinating history and has adapted with the changing times for a century and more.

It’s 1863, and the civil war rages on in America whilst this great building’s halls are constructed from the finest materials and Italian influenced style.  Charles Dole, a member of the Chicago Board of Trade committee sunk $100,000 (equivalent of 2.8 million dollars today) into his new mansion perched near the beach of Crystal Lake, a fledgling city with clear, crystal water.

After the Dole family moved in, an army of servants were hired and housed at the mansion alongside his family, utilizing the dozens of servant corridors which would give any human claustrophobia in the modern era.  Dole loved horse racing and built large stables on his property along with a horse track that he would gaze upon from the top floor of his elegant home, and even went so far as to extend the railroad from the downtown stop all the way to his front door for his daughter’s wedding (locals still find evidence of this throughout the town even after all these years).

In 1896, Charles Dole retired and sold his beautiful home and successful business Crystal Lake Ice Company to his son-in-law A.C. Stowell for $1.  At the time, the ice company was shipping the crystalline water as blocks of ice all over the Midwest, creating many jobs for hardworking townspeople.  Unfortunately, the Crystal Lake Ice Company burned down in 1914, seemingly ending the Dole family time in the city as the mansion was boarded up for many years.

In 1922, Mrs. Lou Ringling, widow of Al Ringling, the oldest brother of the famous circus family, purchased the mansion for $500,000 and created the original Country Club of Crystal Lake as the surrounding land was converted into many golf courses.  However, they, like many in this country, could not predict the Great Depression. Just 16 years after the acquisition, the doors were officially closed and once again this great home was abandoned. Dozens of years later the road behind the Dole was renamed Ringling Avenue in honor of Mrs. Lou Ringling.

From 1944 to 1976 the Dole mansion was purchased twice, first for the Franciscan Order of Lake Forest to be used as a Prep Seminary and school for boys, then by the First Congregational Church for retreat facilities and offices.  During this time, two massive stained glass windows were installed in the annex of the mansion, which would later be taken down and adopted by churches in Italy where they remain to this day.  In 1979, the first Ice Cream Social was held on the grounds, and grew and evolved over the years into what we know as the Lakeside Festival after the property was bought by the Crystal Lake Park District.  But what does the mansion do the other three hundred and sixty days a year?

Lakeside Arts Park staff member and Fund Development Associate Kristin Theros Miller describes it best: “Our mission is to preserve and protect the Dole Mansion and Lakeside Legacy property for community use in a natural and historic setting.  The Mansion now serves as an educational gateway for music, craftsmanship, and appreciation of the arts. ”

“We have everything ranging from music lessons to chef kitchens going on everyday here,” Miller said. “Today the mansion is known as the Lakeside Arts Park and features art galleries and performing arts to delight visitors, including special events coming up on April 18th like the Roaring 20’s which includes a historical tour of what the mansion was like in the 1920s, lunch in the art gallery, and a concert in our newly refurnished Listening Room.”

For more information or to buy individual tickets, visit