Sunnymere’s history goes back many years. On July 24, 1843, a year after Theodore Lake platted the original town of ‘West Aurora’, Clement H. Goodwin and his wife, Jane, sold 20 acres of land where Sunnymere now stands, to William and Robert Drane for $25.00.
In 1862, Robert Drane’s sister, Lydia, married Asa Parker Farnsworth, who came to Aurora from Battle Creek, Michigan in 1844 to teach here. Thus Lydia’s family land holdings combined with the Farnsworth multiple properties. Their daughter, Jessie Farnsworth, born in 1870, was the only one of their four children to survive. She was a frail child and not expected to have a long life. Asa, Jessie’s father, died in 1873 when she was only three years old. Lydia married Henry P. Stolp in 1885.
Despite the odds, Jessie grew into a robust and strong young woman. In 1898, when Jessie was 18, her mother turned all of the responsibility of the Farnsworth family business and land holdings over to her. Jessie subdivided the Farnsworth holdings herself–calling it the Sunnymere addition. The beautiful strip of trees upon the Sunnymere property is still admired today.
During her lifetime, Jessie was a member of the Aurora Business and Professional Woman’s Club, the Business Girls’ Bible class and the W. and E. Society. She died in 1934, at the age of 64, and bequeathed her entire estate to The Old Ladies Home of Aurora with all her land holdings to be sold and invested in ‘safe’ interest bearing securities and placed with other stocks and bonds in a trust, in memory of her mother.
The Old Ladies Home itself got its start in 1895, when Harriet Colby offered her home on Main Street to be used for a home for elderly women. The Old Ladies Home was incorporated in August of that year. But, because her home was deemed too old and too small, and there were no funds to maintain the property, it was never occupied. That home was sold and the proceeds, along with other donations, including an over $6,500 donation from the Aurora Women’s Club, were used to purchase a home at the corner of Linden and Fifth St.
In 1923, Clara Bowron left a home on Claim Street and her estate, to operate the Bowron Old People’s Home. In 1931, Fannie Henderson died, also leaving her estate to The Old Ladies Home.
In early 1938, The Old Ladies Home and the Bowron Old People’s Home combined their assets with those left by Jessie Farnsworth who had left property and her estate to be used by The Old Ladies Home. The Directors felt that the land, adjoining the municipal golf course and its close proximity to the City Park, lagoons, tennis courts and ball grounds connected with the park would be the ideal spot to build a new senior living community. The name “Sunnymere’ was unanimously agreed upon for the new home as a memorial to Jessie Farnsworth, since it was the name she gave the addition years before.
In October 1938, work began on the 48 room residence home and was completed by July 15, 1939, with a total cost of $148,102.30. Although the exterior was finished, the interior of the approximately 30 rooms in the western wing was left unfinished to ensure the trust funds had sufficient income to maintain and care for the increased number of seniors who would need care. The twelve residents from The Old Ladies Home moved in on July 18, 1939. Three years later, 1942, when the trust from Fannie Henderson was given to be used to support Sunnymere, the interior of the entire building was completed. Several items of furniture from the Farnsworth family home were brought to Sunnymere at that time and are still used today.
Sunnymere has records that go back to 1904, listing all of the over 700 women and men who have called Sunnymere their ‘home,’ some of them living at Sunnymere for more than 15 years. Former staff have come back to live at Sunnymere when they could no longer safely live alone. We have even had siblings who have called Sunnymere their home.
Today, Sunnymere, with the endowments left by these wonderful, generous women, continues to provide quality, affordable living for those age 65 and over, at an ‘all inclusive’ rate. The hardwood floors, high ceilings, and many antiques give Sunnymere its ‘charm’, while the addition, in 2004, of a large activity room overlooking the golf course offers a more modern touch.
Information for this article was compiled from Sunnymere records,the Kane County Genealogical Society (KCGS), the Aurora Public Library, the Aurora Historical Society, and the office of the Clerk of the Kane County Circuit Court and the KCGS library.