Thursday, May 9, 2019

Philip Maxwell, M.D. was the eleventh and last surgeon of Fort Dearborn.

Philip Maxwell was born in Guilford, Vermont on April 3, 1799. Maxwell moved to Sackett's Harbor, New York, where he became a physician. He was a member of the New York State Assembly (Jefferson County) in 1832. 
The wedding portrait of Philip Maxwell, married in 1822.
He was commissioned as a physician for the United States Army and was assigned to Fort Dearborn in Chicago as an Assistant Surgeon, arriving on February 3, 1833 and served until the fort was abandoned on December 29th, 1836.

While in Wisconsin, Dr. Maxwell was so impressed with the beauty of the country surrounding Lake Geneva he paid $1,600 ($37,000 today) to plat Lake Geneva in 1833, and is acknowledged as the "Father of Lake Geneva" for having done so.
Plat of Lake Geneva, Wisconsin.
He was listed among the “500 Chicagoans” on the census prior to the incorporation of Chicago as a town on August 12, 1833. On September 26, 1833 he signed the Chicago Treaty document with the Indians as a witness and received $35 ($920 today) for a claim he made at this treaty.

He was promoted to a full surgeon in 1838 and served with General Zachary Taylor at Baton Rouge, Louisiana. He decided to make his home in Chicago after resigning from the service. From 1844 to 1847, he ran a doctors office at the corner of Lake and Clark Streets. 

A rotund gentleman of about 280 pounds, he was known for his jolly demeanor and a flair for horsemanship with a reputation for galloping "hell-for-leather" through town.

In 1845 he served as Chicago's City physician and sat on the Chicago Board of Health. In 1848, he joined the practice of Dr. Brockholst McVickar at Lake and Clark Streets, near the popular Tremont House, where he resumed his role as a physician. His spirited discussions at the billiard table of the Tremont House with Dr. Egan, a like large man of wit and overflowing humor, have become legend.

His name was mentioned among the attendants at the meetings that resulted in the organization of the Chicago Medical Society in 1850. In 1853 he became the State Treasurer of Illinois. 

In the Spring of 1855 he bought land there and began building a large summer house in Lake Geneva, Wisconsin, moving in the following spring. Tall windows, broad entrances, elaborate ornamental wood moldings, marble fireplaces and grand staircase gave testimony to Dr. Maxwell’s position as a community leader.

Having relocated to Wisconsin, Philip’s office in Springfield was declared vacant by reason of his non-residence in the state of Illinois. He announced his permanent move to his new house in Wisconsin. 

Regarded as one of Lake Geneva’s finest landmarks, the building predates all of the area’s notable summer mansions and served as a summer residence for a line of several prominent Chicago industrialists who entertained both political and social dignitaries. General Ulysses S. Grant once stayed here. It was also the site of an early courtship of Nancy Davis, who later became the wife of President Ronald Reagan.
Dr. Philip Maxwell's summer house, built in 1855, in Lake Geneva, Wisconsin.
The property was rescued from total dereliction in the late 1970′s by Ruth Ann and Christopher Brown who made it their home and established it as a five room bed and breakfast for more than two decades .

In 2002 Nancy Golden Waspi followed her heart and purchased the property to create a charming Inn and Restaurant named the “Golden Oaks” in honor of her Family and respect to the original name “The Oaks.” She further Improved the property and filled the home with love and great energy for the next decade creating beautiful and memorable experiences from all who visited.

In 2012 Andrew Fritz of Lake Geneva’s Baker House (built in 1885), adopted the home from Nancy and began to put his creative twist on things. This became a detailed three year renovation project which included acquiring the adjacent land and buildings, which were originally part of the five acre 1856 Maxwell Estate. The completed boutique resort encompasses three acres of gardens, lounges, outdoor fireplaces, a heated pool, croquet and bocce ball amusement and 30 luxury hotel rooms steeped in history and renewed with dramatic Gilded Age grandeur.

Maxwell's book, "Doctor Maxwell’s Prescription and Diet Book of the Sick and Wounded at Fort Dearborn, 1832-1836," is preserved at the (Chicago Historical Society) now the Chicago History Museum.

Philip died on November 5, 1859, aged 60 years, at his home in Lake Geneva. Hundreds of mourners travelled by train from Chicago for his funeral. Philip was buried in Pioneer Cemetery in Lake Geneva, Wisconsin. His beloved wife, Jerutha, died from breast cancer complications at home in Lake Geneva on March 27, 1875.
Chicago's famous Maxwell Street is named for Philip Maxwell.
Compiled by Neil Gale, Ph.D.


  1. And I thought the street was named after the scientist, James Maxwell. I enjoy your history class very much!

  2. Another good read. Thanks, Neil! My family moved to Illinois in 1838 in LaSalle County so I love reading all the pioneer history.


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