In the News: Black Point Estate


Step Back in Time to the Early Days on Geneva Lake

By Holly Murphy

Walking into the Black Point Estate is like walking into a time capsule. The 13 bedroom, 1 bathroom mansion, which was considered a "cottage" by the wealthy Chicago family who built it, is filled with artifacts from pre-civil war to the 1970s.  Seeing it in person is a one-of-a-kind experience and now that it is a part of the Wisconsin Historical Society, everyone can have the chance to see it, too.

The home was used for seven generations by the Seipp Family and was designed by Adolph Cudell in 1888. Conrad Seipp, a wealthy beer baron from Chicago built it to be a summer house for his family. It cost $25,000 to build, which was a lot of money at the time. But it's a small amount compared to the price it cost to build the Seipp's permanent home on Michigan Avenue in Chicago. The Seipps built both houses at the same time, with the Chicago home coming with a whopping price tag of $250,000. Conrad died in 1890, just two years after his homes were complete, however the Black Point Estate has been a part of his family for over a century.

Conrad and Catharina had six daughters, who all went on to have families on their own. Family time was very important to the Seipps and it wasn't unusual for them to have 30 to 40 people staying at the house at one time. They even had a dining room table that could seat all 40 people.

During the summers in Lake Geneva, the children sailed, played yard games, including marbles and croquet, and even had a farm where they raised goats. According to Emily Larson, an intern at the Estate, "After you proved you could raise your own goat, you were able to sit at the big kids table." She also talked about the coming-of-age ritual of when a child turned 14, they were given the honor to raise the American Flag on the tower, which symbolized that the Seipps were up in Lake Geneva for the summer. "In the early days there were no stairs to the tower so the kids were scared climbing up the outside of the tower to raise the flag."

What's amazing about this house is the amount of belongings they didn't throw away. In one of the bedrooms they had a medicine cabinet, with medicine from the early 1900s. Usually when you see an expired bottle of medicine in your cabinet, you throw it away, but the Seipp's kept everything, from old clothes, to medicine. It's pretty crazy.

Another thing I loved about the house was that there was a dollhouse that was made by Conrad in about 1888 for his daughters. It's still sitting in the second floor hallway with much of the furniture still in place.

Grandma Catharina was the woman in charge at the estate. She was the only person who had a bathroom in the entire mansion. You were in big trouble if you were caught in Grandma Catharina's bathroom. Everybody else on the estate used chamber pots. Chamber pots were bowls in every bedroom on the estate. That is were they went to the bathroom. They then would put the pots on the balcony where the maids would come by every morning, clean the pots, and put them back in the room. The balcony wrapped completely around the estate so the maids could walk around the outside of the house, do their work, without going into the main hallways. Later, in the 1970's some closets were turned into bathrooms so now there are three in the house.

The house was handed down through the family, and when it got to Alma Peterson, the grand daughter of Conrad Seipp, she had the idea to preserve it as a museum.  Her son, William, worked for over a decade on all the details to make it a museum for the people of Wisconsin.  " It's the last home that shows the turn of the century living in Lake Geneva." said the intern, Aurora Froncek. 

There is so much more to see and learn at the Black Point Estate and David Desomone, the Estate's Director, has created some great tours that are educational and fun at the same time. The "Porch, Parlor, and Play" Tour is made with kids in mind.  Kids and their families board a boat at the Riviera and take the trip to the Estate by boat, which is how the Seipps arrived at their home each year. (Roads weren't build until the 1920's.)

After hiking up the 120 steps up to the mansion, kids will play yard games as the Seipps kids did, tour the house, read stories and have Cracker Jack's and Lemonade on the porch, which was a big part of the Seipps family time. The next Porch, Parlor, Play Tour is schedule for Tuesday, August 21, 2014.  For more information on this tour, click here.

Other upcoming tours include the daily Geneva Lake and Estate tour provided by Lake Geneva Cruise Line and the Historical Society. Tours leave from the Riviera each day. Click here for more information. And coming this October is the "Angels Take Them Away Tour." It will cover Death and Mourning in the Victorian Era. For more details about that tour, click here. 

The Black Point Estate Tour is a wonderful experience for all ages. I highly recommend this tour to families who are interested in Lake Geneva's amazing history.