Geneva History Museum features new Fabyan exhibits

Museum to highlight Darlene Larson’s work to preserve Fabyan legacy

The Geneva History Museum, 113 S. Third St., Geneva, is offering two new exhibitions about Colonel George and Nelle Fabyan, according to a news release.

The featured exhibition, “Saving Fabyan’s Legacy: The Darlene Larson Story” and “The Curious World of Colonel Fabyan,” a hands-on children’s exhibition.

Darlene Larson was a longtime Geneva resident who recognized the decline of this local historic site and took action.

Larson, who died in 2018, spearheaded the first renovation of the Japanese Garden after visiting it in 1971 and finding it in a deteriorated condition.

She formed a partnership with the Fabyan Forest Preserve and enlisted her fellow Geneva Garden Club members to raise funds to restore the garden, which took six years to complete, according to the release.

She founded the Friends of Fabyan in 1979 to continue the preservation of the estate and the legacy of Colonel George and Nelle Fabyan.

The Fabyans bought 10 acres on the west bank of the Fox River in Geneva in 1905. They expanded the property to become a 325-acre country estate they called Riverbank, according to the release.

Over the years, they invested $800,000 into it with a Japanese Garden, a private zoo, an island called the “Isle of View,” a Roman-style swimming pool, a lighthouse, windmills, gardens, grottoes, greenhouses, a farm and Riverbank Laboratories.

Frank Lloyd Wright remodeled the farmhouse, which they called the “Villa.” It contained the Fabyans’ expansive private library and collection.

They employed 100 people as chauffeurs, cooks, maids, farmers, animal handlers, sculptors and gardeners.

The exhibition includes photos, notebooks and scrapbooks from Larson’s collection. It also displays structures on the estate with a 50-inch touch-screen map with more than 100 photos of what it looked like in 1920.

Preservation Partners of the Fox Valley, the Fabyan Foundation and State Street Jewelers are sponsors of the exhibition, which will be open through Dec. 21.

“The Curious World of Colonel Fabyan” for children will be open from June 15 through Aug. 24 and features the meaning of objects in the Japanese Garden, the moon bridge and windmill.

Children can also learn to tie knots in the bear cage – which is now full of stuffed animals that represents the Fabyans’ zoo.

Children can also learn how to decode secret messages like the scientists once did at Riverbank Laboratories – and send their own messages across the room on a homing pigeon, according to the release.

The Fabyan Foundation is sponsoring the children’s exhibit.

More information is available online at or by calling 630-232-4951.