Charles Deering, son of William and Abbey Reed (Barbour) Deering, was born on July 31, 1852, in South Paris, Maine. His father – co-founder of Deering, Miliken & Company, a dry-goods wholesaler in Portland, Maine – gave up textile sales to manage E.H. Gammon’s harvester manufacturing plant in Plano, Illinois. In 1883, the senior Deering bought out Gammon and moved the plant to Chicago, where he began incorporating a newly-developed twine binder into his harvesting machine. In 1902, Deering Harvester Company merged with its leading competitor, McCormick Harvesting Machine Company, and formed the core of International Harvestor Company. Charles Deering, who had served as Secretary of Deering Harvester, became the first chairman of the Board of the new conglomerate and headed it from 1902 to 1910.
Charles grew up with a great appreciation of agriculture, a keen business mind, and developed a strong interest in the fine arts. Both Charles and his younger brother James (1859 – 1925) passionately amassed works by the Old Masters as well as painters of their own day. James collected 15th to 19th century art for his mansion, Vizcaya, also located in Miami, Florida. Charles preferred to fill his mansions in Sitges, Spain and also built the Stone House to house works of the Spanish masters, such as El Greco, Diego Velasquez, and Rembrandt. In total he amassed more than 4,000 pieces of art and had one of the largest collections of art in the world. His art collection was appraised at $60 million dollars in 1922.
As a connoisseur and art patron, Charles befriended and often supported financially the work of several key artists. He had close associations to important artists such as John Singer Sargent and Anders Zorn. In fact, Sargent encouraged Deering to pursue a career in painting. He often sketched and painted portraits of prominent individuals. A painting of William Denison Whipple, Brevet Major General, U.S. Army hangs in the library of the Stone House. This painting was completed by Mr. Deering in 1894.
Upon his death, Charles Deering gave his collection to his two daughters, Marion Deering McCormick (Mrs. Chauncey, 1886–1965) and Barbara Deering Danielson (Mrs. Richard, 1888–1982). The women donated many works to the Art Institute of Chicago in the decades following their father’s death. James Deering also left his collection to Charles’s daughters – his nieces. His influence on art, architecture, and natural preservation lives on at the Estates he built here and in Spain. The sea side home in Maricel still serves as an art museum and the Deering Estate at Cutler is growing in importance as a creative studio for local artists and art.
After Charles Deering’s death in 1927, his immediate heirs owned the Estate for more than half a century. The property was put up for sale after the last heir – Charles’ daughter, Barbara Deering Danielson, passed away. In 1985, the Nature Conservancy brokered the deal that allowed the State of Florida and Miami-Dade County to purchase the property.
The Charles Deering Library at Northwestern Library (named after Charles Deering) was built in 1931 and took two years to complete. The Library was donated by the Deering and McCormick families, generous benefactors of Northwestern University for over a century.