By Holly Leitner
Step back into the slow-churned, 1900s lakeside lifestyle at one of Wisconsin's newest museums, Black Point Mansion on Geneva Lake.
The Geneva tour boat takes visitors to the well-maintained south shore relic. From there, you climb the steps to the secluded estate built in 1888, insulated by a dense forest. For a moment, the trees silence the lake's melody of wave runners and weekend cruisers, and just the birds and crickets hum at the old Queen Anne style home.
Black Point Mansion was put on the National Register of Historic Places in 1994 for its immaculate preservation over the past 120 years, and just last summer it was made a museum. Inside and outside, the original owner's heirs barely touched it. Finally, after a decade-long legal debate on what to do with this Wisconsin time capsule, owner Bill Petersen was able to fulfill his mother's wishes to have her home transformed into a museum.
It begins with the story of Conrad Seipp, a German immigrant who found his American dream in brewing - his business was once the fifth most successful brewery in the country. Conrad Seipp Brewing Co. escaped the devastation of the 1871 Great Chicago Fire, and he planted a chunk of his fortune early on in 28 acres of Geneva's south shore.
Today, the 13-bedroom home, once a fully functioning lakefront estate complete with servants' quarters and private farm, whispers its story through the details - and via history-buff tour guides.
Traditionally, women and children came up around Memorial Day and stayed through October. Days passed by watching regattas, embroidering, walking to the neighbors' two miles down the road. Gwen Tveter, secretary of the administrative board of the Black Point Historic Preserve, points out that, back then, if you wanted to communicate with the city you wrote a letter with a gold-crusted blotter and inkwell, which still sits there today.
And if you wanted to dance, you made the music yourself on the grand piano. “The piano was as vital as the kitchen stove,” said Tveter.
Visitors can see the same piano the family gathered round when Conrad's daughter Emma, who was a concert pianist, played on the 50th anniversary of the home.
Black Point was a way of life-and with that came summer lessons and chores for the children. The favorite chore of all was raising the flag. At the age of 14, each child would undertake the coming-of-age ritual of raising the American flag from the tower. When visitors voyaged from Williams Bay across the water, they could always see that flag inviting them to Black Point. It was the symbol of Seipp's American dream manifested.
And today, thousands of visitors voyage across Geneva's busier waters, see that flag waving, and visit a turn-of-the-century lifestyle for just a couple hours.
Tours leave from the Geneva Lake docks. For more information on tours or special events at the estate, visit www.cruiselakegeneva.com.
Holly Leitner is a freelance writer and photographer based in Milwaukee. Content produced in cooperation with Wisconsin Trails, www.Wisconsintrails.com.