The town of Lake Geneva is a quaint beach resort town that is popular attraction for visitors to stroll along Main Street to go shopping, indulge in numerous of restaurants near the lake, relax on the beach, walk along the lake, or take a boat tour to visit the mansions.
Did you know the lake was also a popular destination for the Chicago millionaires to escape the busy life during the Victorian Era? They originally came here on the Chicago and Northwestern Railroad in order to hunt and fish on the spring-fed lake.
They quickly realized that this would be am excellent location for their summer beach homes. The homes were also used when they were waiting for their Chicago homes to be re-built after the Great Chicago Fire. Fifth and sixth generations are still living in these mansions today.
Most notable Millionaires include: The Wrigley family, Edward Ayer (Field Museum), Tracy Drake (Drake Hotel founder’s sister), and the Ryerson Family who helped re-build Chicago after the Great Fire.
The Bell Family wrote the “Young and the Restless,” Walden Shaw (Yellow Cab founder), the Schwinn family, Freeman Gosden and Charles Corel (broadcasted Amos and Andy), and Norman Harris of Harris Bank….just to name a few. However, the only mansion on the lake that visitors can tour is Black Point Estate. The Estate can be found nestled on a tree filled hill overlooking Lake Geneva.
History of Black Point Estate
Conrad Siepp was a German Immigrant and was the founder of Siepp Beer in Chicago. The beer company was known for being the first brewery to ship outside of Chicago and for using advertising. However, the company became Pabst beer’s biggest competitor and eventually dropped out of the race. This is why the beer is no longer around today.
In 1887, Mr. Siepp bought 8,000 square feet of land to build Black Point Estate as a summer beach home for his family. He originally named the home Villa Loreley after the German poem written by Heinrich Heine (the name was later changed to Black Point after the state of Wisconsin acquired the property).
What is notable is that the home is a Queen Anne cottage that has thirteen bedrooms that was built for his wife, five children, and the family’s servants. On the main level, there is a wrap-around porch with wicker furniture for guests to relax and enjoy the views of the lake. On the second floor there is a balcony and an observatory on the third floor.
Beautiful gardens surround the home and there is even a water fountain next to the front steps. The brick sidewalks on the property are from the brewery in Chicago. Three big rocks outside the front steps were used as stepping stones for the ladies to step into the carriages since it was taboo back then to show any part of the ankle.
Since the home is not insulated, another house was built next door for the family to stay during the winter and used as a guest house for visitors. Ice blocks were cut from the lake during the winter and stored in the ice room to help cool off the house during the summer. Evergreen trees were planted around the property because the family loved the trees.
Over seventy-five varieties have been planted. For entertainment, one of the relatives built a giant dragon in the woods. There was also a working farm built on the land, which the children were given the task to watch over the goats.
Visitors have the opportunity to explore the mansion on a three hour tour, which also includes a boat tour around the lake. What is interesting is that visitors must climb up 120 stairs in order to visit the home.
This is due to the fact that the home is built on a hill and was the most common way to visit back in the day. This home is truly a Victorian time capsule because all the original furnishings were left in the home after the last relative donated the home to the state of Wisconsin to be opened as a museum.
I had the pleasure of taking this tour this summer and I certainly had an amazing time. highly recommend this tour if you love history and exploring historic homes. The tour guides gave a fantastic job of exploring the history of the family and the home.
They also said that the home’s temperature was measured last year over the winter and the home reached twenty below. There is even time to explore the ground on your own before the boat comes back to the dock.
What is really interesting is that this tour has been rated one of the best tours on Forbe’s Ten Best Estate Tours in the US. The mansion is among other stately homes such as the Biltmore Estate and Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello.