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Nudist, famous former inventor, called Kewanee home

KEWANEE, Illinois- Before our live shots at Johnson-Sauk Trail Wednesday, May 23, for the GMQC Road Trip, we were able to stop by another hidden gem, a little bit closer to the city.

There are 60 cares of land for people to use at Francis Park.

"40 of it is woodland area," Kewanee Grounds Maintenance Manager Kevin Newton said Tuesday, May 22. "We have some trails, and 20 of it make up an RV camping site. We have a shelter house here that you can rent for any type of celebrations, reunions, birthday parties, and things of that nature."

The crown jewel that everyone enjoys though is the home that belonged to inventor Fred Francis, called the Woodland Palace.

"He wanted his palace to look just like a palace," park caretaker Gerald Phelps said Tuesday. "It didn't have anything to do with religion or anything."

Phelps has been working on the home for the past four years, but the history of it dates all the way back to 1890, when Francis started building it. He lived in it with his wife Jeanie until she died in 1921.

Francis is believed to have brought every single brick of the house in by bike, riding it from the city of Kewanee to the house outside of town.

"This was a girl's bike at one time," Phelps said Tuesday while showing us the bike. "He beefed it up by putting the support in, so he could carry the bricks and so he could give Jeanie a ride to Kewanee on the front of the bike."

There were some other unique qualities about the man who paid his way through college by owning a steam engine designing business.

"Fred was a practicing nudist," Phelps said Tuesday, about to explain Francis' routine to us. "He'd have a tea kettle here, and he'd have a pipe running from here into the wall, and on the other side of this wall is a chamber. He'd take a steam bath. Then he'd go out, and he'd run around the palace until he'd dry off. In the winter, he'd do the same thing but do snow angels out in the snow."

Phelps says the palace draws in people from all over the world.

"I've had people from England, Greenland, Japan, South Africa, Australia. I had one from Australia, and...Iowa," he said jokingly.

Francis Park is open Tuesday through Sunday from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m.

See the GMQC Photo Scrapbook of the 2018 road trip here: