In 1898, Ade had written a one-act farce for the actress May Irwin for $200. The payment seemed like a fortune to him at the time. Ade felt that the skit wasn't very good and for many years routinely apologized to Irwin for taking her money. Irwin kept the play in a trunk for years before dusting it off and using it as filler in one of her shows. The play, Mrs. Peckham's Carouse, became Irwin's biggest hit and she made back her $200 many times over. Ade also had written a comedy, The Night of the Fourth, which had been so thoroughly lambasted by the critics that he never put his name on it and quickly sold all rights to it. Ade’s rather questionable theatre debut not withstanding, he decided to give Broadway another try. In 1901, he wrote The Sultan of Sulu, using the story idea given to him by John McCutcheon, who had heard about the real life Sultan of Jolo on one of his trips aboard. The Sultan of Sulu was produced on Broadway in 1902 and was an instant success. Ade quickly followed it with Peggy from Paris and The County Chairman in 1903, and The Sho-Gun in 1904.
Early to bed and early to rise is a bad rule for any who wishes to become acquainted with our most prominent and influential people.
George Ade, "The Modern Fable of the Old Fox and the Young Fox," 1902
By the early 1900s, Ade had become financially successful and began sending his substantial earnings home to his father’s bank to prove to the town that college hadn’t been a waste of time after all. Ade trusted his brother William's investment skills and eventually ended up owning 2,400 acres of productive farmland in the Newton County area. In 1902, one of William’s purchases was 417 acres near Brook, Indiana (15 miles north of Kentland). Ade became attached to the grove of trees alongside the Iroquois River and envisioned a summer cottage where he could escape the ever increasing pressures of fame. With the help of a Chicago architect, his ideal cottage grew and eventually expanded into an estate with landscaped gardens, a pool, pool house, garage, greenhouse, barns, outbuildings, and a caretaker's house. In 1910, Ade added a golf course and country club. Ade christened the estate "Hazelden", a paternal family name. Over the years, Hazelden became the site of numerous political rallies, formal gatherings, actor retreats, golf tournaments, and Ade's famous annual party for local children. In 1904, when construction on Hazelden was completed, Ade moved in and wrote his next play, The College Widow, in three weeks.
In 1904, The College Widow joined The County Chairman and The Sho-Gun on Broadway, making George Ade the first playwright in history to have three plays running simultaneously. The story of the high jinks revolving around the football team of the fictional Wabash College [Ade’s pseudonym for Purdue] became his most successful play. The energetic football game in the last act received rave reviews from New York critics while the colorful dialogue peppered with slang delighted playgoers. A few years later, the play went overseas to the Strand Theatre in London, where it only played for a few weeks. The British audience found the American slang confusing even with the explanatory booklet that accompanied the playbill.