Forest Faves: Mayslake Forest Preserve and Peabody Estate
The rich cultural and natural history of Mayslake Forest Preserve and Peabody Estate in Oak Brook make it a big favorite of District naturalist Nikki Dahlin. With its impressive Tudor-style mansion built by coal magnate Frances S. Peabody in the 1920s to its English gardens and Portiuncula chapel, Mayslake provides visitors with a memorable connection to the rich cultural history of DuPage County.
But its treasures don’t end there. Mayslake is also a forest preserve that proves good things do come in small packages. The 87-acre preserve features some of the best diversity in DuPage County, both in habitat and the plants and creatures that call it home. There are wetlands, lakes, creeks, a rare section of savannah, and an expanse of the finest prairie restoration seen in the preserves.
Dahlin’s connections to Mayslake go back as long as she can remember. Her grandfather used to take her mom fishing at Trinity Lake, and when she was a youngster, she remembers seeing an occasional Franciscan brother waving to passing cars on Cass Avenue. “Monday mornings in high school would always include stories of which of my more adventurous classmates got chased away by the Franciscans while sneaking in to find Peabody’s Tomb over the weekend,” Dahlin said. Today Mayslake takes on a whole new meaning for Dahlin. “Mayslake always served as a retreat, first for the Peabody family, then the Fransciscan monks, and now its quiet, peaceful setting is there for anyone to enjoy.”
When to go
Dahlin said she she doesn’t know if there is a “best” time to visit Mayslake, as any time is a good time. The early hours are perfect for an amazing array of birdwatching, including raptors, water birds, and songbirds. Midday on the prairie is a bug hunter’s paradise, and a spring wetland walk at dusk will include a concerto of frogs. Later in the evening, you just may hear the call of a great horned owl.
If you go
Dahlin encourages adventurous visitors to take a tour and learn the history of Mayslake Hall, but don’t stop there. Follow one of the footpaths north of the Portiuncula chapel. It will lead through a section of prairie, past the wetland, over the creek, and to the savannah. She guarantees you will be amazed and see it all in a relatively short walk. Mayslake also offers fishing, an off-leash dog area and picknicking. It also offers fun programs and events throughout the year, including Wonders of Winter, Holiday Art and Craft Market, plays by First Folio Theatre, and musical concerts.
Favorite hike/activity at preserve
Dahlin said she likes bugs, especially pollinators, and the Mayslake prairie lures them in … like flies! She even spotted a species of mydas fly that had not been recorded on the site. Dahlin enjoys hiking different foot paths, especially around the wetland, and is never disappointed in the photo opportunities.
Dahlin often wonder how many people drive by Mayslake every day, not knowing what they are missing. Today it’s a beautiful site, wrapped in stories and legends, incredible natural areas, and for those who love a mystery, there really is a secret passageway!
The Portiuncula Chapel is a replica of the original in Assisi, Italy, which is named for the “little portion” of land where St. Francis of Assisi received his call to serve the poor.
After Peabody’s death in 1922, his family commissioned the Franciscans to build the chapel on the south side of Mays’ Lake as a memorial to the late industrialist. The order moved the chapel to its current location in 1973.
The nondenominational chapel is available for weddings, baptisms, memorial services and other special ceremonies. For rental information, contact the Mayslake Peabody Estate events coordinator at (630) 206-9569 or email@example.com.