Editor’s note: This is the first installment of a five-part series on the Patten family. Click here for part 2, here for part 3, here for part 4 and here for part 5.

Postcard, Patten house at 1426 Ridge Ave, Evanston, c. 1909. The Patten house, designed by architect George W. Maher, reportedly cost $500,000 to build. It had eight bathrooms, 15 fireplaces, a large ballroom and a stable (later converted into a 10-car garage). Called a “marble palace,” the house was a showplace of wealth, well stocked with rare and costly objects, artwork and books. The estate was surrounded by an 8-foot high ironwork fence (parts still extant) that cost $80,000 and was said to have been a part of the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago. The fence was designed by Maher (1). The house stood on property bounded by Ridge Avenue, Lake Street. and Asbury Avenue. The house stood for 35 years before it was torn down. Credit: Evanston History Center

In the first decades of the 20th century, the Pattens were one of Evanston’s wealthiest families. Their palatial home on Ridge Avenue was noted as a “landmark” of the North Shore, a structure that drew both praise and criticism when it was completed in 1901.

The Patten family patriarch, James A. Patten, was director of the Chicago Board of Trade, Evanston City Council member, mayor of Evanston from 1901 to 1903, and a self-described “capitalist.” 

Patten made a fortune on the commodities market. He used vast portions of his wealth not only to build a palace in Evanston worthy of the Gilded Age, but he and his wife, Amanda Louisa Buchanan Patten, also made generous gifts to various institutions and organizations in Chicago and especially in Evanston, including the Evanston Hospital, YMCA, First Presbyterian Church and Northwestern University. 

James A. Patten (1852-1928) and Amanda Patten (1858-1935), both portraits from 1918. Credit: Evanston History Center

Born in Cumberland, Ohio, Amanda Buchanan moved with her family to Chicago when she was a young girl. She married Patten in Chicago in 1885. “She is not,” a reporter noted in 1909, “a society woman and is noted for her unassuming dress and ways.”

Patten may not have had the wealth of Cornelius Vanderbilt or J.P. Morgan, but at his death in 1928 he left an estate valued at nearly $18 million – about $290 million today. 

The Pattens were devotees of what Andrew Carnegie called the gospel of wealth” (3), which posited that the affluent must properly administer their wealth, so that, as Carnegie wrote, “The ties of brotherhood may still bind together the rich and poor in harmonious relationship.”

The Pattens were indeed praised as Evanston’s greatest benefactors. But James Patten was also widely derided for his allegedly unethical business practices, a hallmark feature of the so-called robber barons. Over the course of his time in Evanston, he would be heralded, indicted, celebrated and even portrayed in a film by D.W. Griffith.

1745 Chicago Ave., Evanston, where the Pattens lived from about 1896 until 1901 when they moved to their new mansion on Ridge Avenue. They later donated the house to Northwestern University. Northwestern president Abram W. Harris lived in the house from 1906 to 1916. (4) Credit: Evanston History Center

The Rise of James Patten

In 1896, the Patten family moved to Evanston. At 1745 Chicago Ave., James Patten lived with his wife, Amanda, his daughter, Agnes, his two sons, Thomas and John, his mother, Agnes, and his older brother, George.

At that time, three women, Lina Carlson, Lillie Olson and Anna Swanson – all immigrants from Sweden – lived and worked as servants in the Patten home. The family’s coachman, Andrew Anderson, was an immigrant from Norway. 

This was James Patten’s second time living in Evanston.

Born in Freeland Corners in De Kalb County, Illinois, Patten lived for a time with his grandparents, George Beveridge and Ann Hoy Beveridge, in Somonauk, Illinois. There, he later recounted, his grandparents and their children, including the future governor of Illinois, John L. Beveridge (1824-1910), operated a station on the Underground Railroad (5).

At 17 Patten moved to Evanston to attend Northwestern Academy, completing the course there in 1871 (6). At that time he lived with his uncle, John L. Beveridge, who had moved to Evanston in 1854.

Young Patten lived in his aunt and uncle’s stately home at 1745 Chicago Ave, which would later become the Patten family’s home once they settled in Evanston just before the turn of the 20th century.

In 1848, James Patten’s uncle, John L. Beveridge, married Helen Judson (1829-1909). She was the daughter of Philo Judson, one of the founders of Northwestern University and a member of the group that first platted Evanston in 1854. Beveridge served in the Union army during the American Civil War and later was a Cook County sheriff and a member of the Illinois state senate and the U.S. Congress. He served as Illinois governor from 1873 to 1877. Credit: Findagrave.com

After graduating from Northwestern Academy, Patten returned to the family farm to work for a year. He then received an appointment by his uncle, the Illinois governor, to a position at the Illinois grain inspection department in 1874.

After gaining experience in that job, Patten went to work for a Chicago grain broker, G. P. Comstock and Co. He then briefly formed his own business with his brother George, his brother Henry (who also lived in Evanston), and another partner before he and his brother launched the firm Patten Brothers (4).

James Patten, The Northwestern, March 28, 1901. Credit: Evanston History Center

In 1882, Patten became a member of the Chicago Board of Trade, eventually serving on its board and then as president. His own firm would evolve over the years, later becoming known as Bartlett, Patten & Company.

“An instantaneous flash picture of the Chicago Board of Trade in session,” George R. Lawrence, May 24, 1900. Library of Congress. Patten described the Chicago Board of Trade: “Occupying the entire middle section of the hall are . . . groups of traders whose activities are focused in five pits, one each for wheat, corn and oats, another for provisions, and one the smallest for rye and barley. . . . The wheat pit is the most competitive market that has ever been designed by men” (7). Credit: Library of Congress

As Patten’s fortunes were increasing substantially, he turned his attention to local politics. He loved Evanston and often said he “expected to remain” in Evanston for the rest of his days (8).


  1. “James A. Patten Mansion Going to Wrecking Crews,” Chicago Herald and Examiner, September 4, 1938.
  2.  “Wheat King Patten Tells How He Made Millions in Few Days,” Spokane Press, April 17, 1909.
  3.  “Wheat King Patten Tells How He Made Millions in Few Days,” Spokane Press, April 17, 1909.
  4.  “$17,991,000 Left by James Patten,” Evanston News-Index, December 21, 1928.
  5.  “Mrs. J. A. Patten’s Life Dedicated to Service,” Evanston Review, January 31, 1935.
  6.  James A. Patten and Boyden Sparkes, In the Wheat Pit, 1927, 7. Originally published in The Saturday Evening Post. Jennie M. Patten, History of the Somonauk United Presbyterian Church (Chicago: np, 1928), 58.
  7.  Archibald Small Robertson, Genealogy of the Robertson, Small and Related Families (Indianapolis: W. D. Pratt, 1907), 153; James A. Patten and Boyden Sparkes, In the Wheat Pit, 1927, 7. Originally published in The Saturday Evening Post.
  8.  “Why I Prefer to Live in Chicago,” Chicago Tribune, March 27, 1910.

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