Prairie Avenue Novel

         And Arthur Meeker’s Chicago


Arthur Meeker, Jr.’s novel Prairie Avenue was published in 1949.





By Megan McKinney


 If you want to learn about twentieth century Chicago, think of enlisting Prairie Avenue author Arthur Meeker, Jr. as a guide. He was born in the city at the beginning of the century, November 3, 1902, to a prominent family, with his father a top executive of Armour & Co.

The two families—Armour and Meeker—were close for several generations; the newly married Arthur Meeker, Sr. was based in England, heading the company’s European branch when Philip D. Armour brought him back to take a senior position in Chicago. As a sweetener, old P. D. found the couple a house at 1815 South Prairie Avenue. And in time their country place would be Arcady Farm, next to Mellody Farms, the famously opulent J. Ogden Armour estate at the edge of Lake Forest. 

Young Meeker’s novel Prairie Avenue is a delight; however, his 1955 non-fiction book, Chicago, WITH LOVE, is both a delight and a must for anyone wishing to learn about twentieth century Chicago from reading the words of a man who lived through its first six decades.  



This is the Meeker house at 1815 South Prairie Avenue in 1890, twelve years before the birth of Arthur, Jr. We are told the mansion was tall and yellow, much like the house young Arthur would feature in his Prairie Avenue novel.



The junior Meeker’s childhood there gave him ample material for the book. But not the answer to the big question. Who was the model for the fictional Abner Kennerley? One guess we have read is an Armour—some have thought it was old P.D.,  others believed it was his son, Ogden. Another guess has been Cyrus McCormick. Still another, Marshall Field. We go with Marshall Field. There are several clues that it is Field on page 43 alone.

Arcady Farm, the Meeker family country place, was built by the senior Arthur Meeker on property given to him by “next door” neighbor Ogden Armour. It was an enviable estate and long continued to be a destination for Meeker family summers and weekends.

Above are gates to the country house of the folks next door to the Meekers.

The next-door folks were the second generation boss and his family, the J. Ogden Armours in their Lake Forest estate, Mellody Farms.

There was much to see at Ogden Armour’s Mellody Farms. Construction was completed on the 1,200-acre Italian-style estate in 1908.  The grounds contained an orangerie, two large ponds stocked with fish, a herd of deer, stables, and the household’s own power plant. The mansion itself featured a bowling alley and twenty marble fireplaces.


Elsie de Wolfe was resposible for some of the estate’s interior design. Above is one of her Mellody Farms rooms


However, to truly benefit from Mr. Meeker’s knowledge of Chicago and its grand surroundings, go to Amazon  for the  purchase of a copy of Chicago, with Love.

Although he attended both Princeton and Harvard, studying playwriting at each, Arthur, Jr. left both without graduating.

The party-going Arthur Meeker, Jr.

Following college, Meeker returned home and moved on to journalism, writing society and travel pieces for both the Chicago Daily News and the Hearst paper, Chicago American.

Although he began spending part of each year in Europe, becoming fluent in French, and purchased a chalet in Switzerland on the Bürgenstock above Lucerne, the thoughts of Arthur Meeker, Jr. were never far from Chicagoor New York.


He gave up his Chicago home in 1951 for an apartment at 4 Gramercy Park in New York, yet served as president of the Society of Midland Authors. His eight novels were successful, particularly The Ivory Mischief, published by Houghton Mifflin in 1942 and a Book of the Month Club selection.


 In 1955 Mr. Meeker’s career hit its zenith with the publication of Chicago, With Love. This achievement has continued to be a major source of recent Chicago history for nearly seven decades since.

We recommend both Chicago, With Love and Prairie Avenue. Read the latter to guess which real life Prairie Avenue tycoon was the model for the fictional Abner Kennerley?  


 Author Photo: Robert F. Carl