The House That Inspired F. Scott Fitzgerald's Daisy Buchanan Turns the Page
For Kingdom Come Farm, a new chapter is just beginning.
Just the mention of F. Scott Fitzgerald conjures images of Jazz Age romps through the French Riviera, Long Island’s Gold Coast, or Roaring ’20s Manhattan. Yet it was Lake Forest, Illinois, a suburb just north of Chicago, that the writer considered the most glamorous place in the world.
It was one girl who made the town wondrous for him. Ginevra King, the eldest daughter of stockbroker Charles Garfield King, was the It girl of Lake Forest. Known for her dark, curly hair and deep voice, Ginevra was part of a group of debutantes called the “Big Four” that included the golfer Edith Cummings, one of America’s first superstar female athletes. Ginevra was definitely out of Fitzgerald’s league.
The sprawling 1906 home has been lovingly restored by its new owners, but it hasn’t lost many Jazz Age touches that Fitzgerald might recognize.
The pair had a short relationship, meeting first at a party in Fitzgerald’s hometown of St. Paul, Minnesota, in 1915. They wrote letters to each other, and Fitzgerald visited King at her home, but within two years the relationship was over. In 1918, King would marry the son of a banker (and grace the cover of Town & Country). Fitzgerald would go on to write some of the most famous stories in American literature. Still, whether it was Isabelle Borgé in This Side of Paradise, his debut novel, or Daisy Buchanan in Gatsby, King was the inspiration for almost all of Fitzgerald’s fictional women. And Lake Forest would forever stay in his mind as more than a place, as an ideal. Kingdom Come Farm, the sprawling mansion built for the Kings in 1906 by Howard Van Doren Shaw, served as the heart of the writer’s life in this period, and today it’s once again the grand house it used to be.
“Here’s the room where the party would make their way out to the lawn,” says Jeanette Hodgkinson, pushing open doors that lead to the back yard of the home she and her husband Danny moved into in 2019. That’s likely where, if the legend is true, Charles King told Fitzgerald that “poor boys shouldn’t think of marrying rich girls.”
But 1915 was a long time ago. Over the years the home’s luster faded; it changed hands repeatedly and was remodeled in Colonial Revival style with Art Deco touches in 1938. It was updated again in the mid-’50s, but after that, nothing. Paint chipped, mold set in, a statue in the pool made by the architect’s daughter, Sylvia Shaw Judson, went missing. “There was a buck living in the back yard,” Danny says.
When the couple first visited the home, it was just months away from demolition. The Hodgkinsons bought Kingdom Come Farm and 1.4 acres, including an English garden, in the fall of 2018 for less than $700,000—a significantly lower price than years earlier, when the house and five acres of land were listed for more than $6 million.
You could always tell through his fiction where Fitzgerald had been. His time in France influenced Tender Is the Night, and, of course, Long Island’s toniest towns served as the setting for The Great Gatsby. But, judging from Fitzgerald’s written works, Lake Forest was a forgotten chapter in his life. That might explain why the home’s importance has been overlooked. Even the Hodgkinsons were initially unaware of the connection. “It just felt special,” Jeanette says.