In 1856 the fourteenth president of the United States, Franklin Pierce, was waging a bitter re-election campaign in the midst of considerable unrest from Indian battles in the west to forces opposing the abolition of slavery in the south. America was nearing the precipice of civil war. During the spring of that year Dr. Philip Maxwell, a prominent and wealthy Chicago surgeon, started construction of a large, handsome summer dwelling in Lake Geneva on a site he had acquired seventeen years earlier for that purpose. The estate was called "The Oaks" in honor of the centuries-old trees surrounding the mansion. Tall windows, broad entrances, elaborate ornamental wood moldings, marble fireplaces and a grand staircase gave testimony to Dr. Maxwell's position as a community leader. Indeed, he was acknowledged as "The Father of Lake Geneva". Golden Oaks Mansion Regarded as one of Lake Geneva's finest landmarks, the building predates all of the area's notable summer mansions and served as a summer residence for several prominent Chicago industrialists. It was the site of an early courtship of Nancy Davis, who later became the wife of President Ronald Reagan.

The property was rescued from total dereliction in the 1970's by Ruth Ann and Christopher Brown who made it their home and established it as a bed and breakfast. In 2002, Nancy Golden Waspi acquired the "Oaks" and continued renovation of the mansion running at as a charming Inn re-named "Golden Oaks" In honor of her family. A decade later the torch was passed to Andrew & Bethany the creators of the Baker House 1885 who are currently adding their dramatic décor, and theatrical creativity to the home and bringing history to life with a Dinner Theater, charming overnight accommodations and a luxury event venue open to the public. This historical site is now known as "Maxwell Mansion 1856" located at 421 Baker St., Lake Geneva, WI.

Black Point Mansion Historic Black Point Mansion (1888) is one of the oldest mansions on Geneva Lake is known as Black Point, built in 1888 as a summer home for its owner, Conrad Seipp, and his large family. Mr. Seipp came to America from Germany in the mid 1800's, eventually establishing himself in the brewing business in the south side of Chicago. He became eminently successful, particularly after the Chicago fire of 1871, because so many of the other breweries burned down, and his was far enough south to escape the fire. In 1888, he arranged to build two homes, one a stone mansion on the south side of Chicago near his brewery, and one on the south shore of Geneva Lake. Both were designed by the Chicago architect, Adolph Cudell who had designed homes for other notables in Chicago including Cyrus McCormick.

The summer cottage which became known as "Black Point" had 13 bedrooms, and 20 rooms overall. Its four story tower can be seen from many points on the lake. It was designed to accommodate a large family during the summer months only, and over the years, the land around it, including a small farm, expanded to over 100 acres, and over a thousand feet of wooded lakefront. It was reached initially only by boat. The guests were brought over by steam boat from the City of Lake Geneva and then returned a week or more later, also by boat. Meals were served in the large dining room and surrounding veranda, running up to 90 meals a day.

The home is now owned by a fourth generation member of the original Seipp family, Mr. Bill Petersen, and his wife Jane. The original land, having been divided up among succeeding generations, now consists of some seven acres on 600 feet of lake frontage. This architecturally unique home is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. It has been called "the best surviving example of the great summer houses in Wisconsin and probably also Illinois" by an editor of the State Historical Society's Wisconsin Magazine of History. Contained in the home are furniture and furnishings which go back prior to 1888 and which have been carefully preserved by each generation of the Seipp family.

Stenning Mansion The Lake Geneva area is unique for many reasons, including its incredible number of beautiful historic and contemporary mansions. The community began earning is nickname "The Newport of the West", almost from its official inception in 1836. The great Chicago fire brought increasing number of Chicagoans into the Lake Geneva area. Many had lost their homes and businesses in the fire and simply moved to Lake Geneva as a "temporary solution" while their homes and places of business were being rebuilt. Often, they elected to stay, lured by the expansive natural surroundings and solid job market that offered numerous farming and manufacturing opportunities. Others elected to stay, drawn by the new found quality of life they had discovered, and commute via rail to their businesses in Chicago. Over the years, many lovely homes, estates and cottages were built. Today, many of these homes still exist and can be seen along the Geneva Lake shoreline.

Among these are Stone Manor (officially Younglands), the 18,000 square foot magnificent Italianate palace with a 250' veranda and an expansive lawn visible from downtown Lake Geneva. The estate was built in 1900-1901 by Otto Young, a man who made his fortune buying real estate along State Street in Chicago following the great fire of 1871. It was constructed for over $1,000,000 and features such as gold-plated fixtures, a basement bowling alley, and a third floor miniature golf course astounded even the wealthiest resident. The property was a single family home until 1939 when it was presented to the order of St. Anne to be used as an Episcopalian private school for girls. The school was discontinued after only a few years. Stone Manor Mansion Later the mansion housed an elegant French restaurant Around the 1980's the mansion and remaining property were purchased for back taxes, reportedly for $74,000. It has recently been restored and converted to 6 condominiums ranging in price up to $1.6 million.

House in the Woods can best be described as a combination of many types of architecture and credit for the originality of design is jointly due architect Howard Van Dorn Shaw and artist-muralist Frederick Clay Bartlett. The home was constructed throughout the winter of 1905-1906 under a great circus tent as a birthday surprise for the owner's wife. Through the years the home and property continued to gain attention and acclaim. The June 1909 issue Stone Manor Mansion of Ladies Home Journal carried a two page collection of pictures of the mansion and observed that it was one of the most beautiful country homes in the land. A few years later it was included as one of the "Best 12 County Homes in America" in another national magazine. The property remains intact as a private estate today.

Villa Hortensia was named after Edward F. Swift's wife and constructed in 1906. Son of Gustavus Franklin Swift, founder of Swift and Co., Edward was the only one of his children to reside in Lake Geneva. The home was sold in 1922 to Silas J. Llewllyn and its name changed to Pen-Y-Bryn in honor of his native Wales. A later owner was John J. Lynch, prominent fellow in Chicago gambling circles. His winnings were said to have been shared Villa Hortensia Mansion generously with friends or given to charities. For years the estate belonged to George Getz, an avid collector of antique fire fighting equipment who created the Hall of Flame in Kenosha and later in Scottsdale Arizona. The home remains a single family residence today.

Maple Lawn is the oldest mansion, dating back to 1870. The Wrigley estates (Green Gables) were once many, running along a mile of lakeshore. Among the surviving mansions in the area are homes which formerly belonged to scions of American businesses including Harris, Allerton, Montgomery Ward, John M. Smyth, Pinkerton, Sears, Levy Leiter, and many others. The opulence and elegance of many area mansions have earned them designation on the National Register of Historic

Baker House Mansion Baker House was built in 1885 as a summer residence for Mrs. Robert Hall Baker (Emily). The 17,000 square foot, 30 room, Queen Anne Mansion was first named “Redwood Cottage”. The Land on which the house was built was originally given to Charles Minton Baker, (Robert's father),in 1838 by the city of Lake Geneva as part of a "compensation package" for becoming the first District Attorney of Walworth County. Robert, who was born and reared on this land, vowed to one day build a summer home for his family here. Forty-seven years later his widowed wife, Emily, built that summer home as a grand tribute to the man she so adored on the lake that he so loved. Upon completion of the home, Roberts initials (R. H. B.) were lovingly placed in the threshold of the entry by Emily so she would never have to pass through the door without him. Today guests are still greeted by Mr. Baker as they cross that very same threshold and the essence of Emily is never far behind... (Pictured above, in an antique postcard dated 1904, the Baker House mansion with its turn-of-the-century turret prominently stands today as it did more than a century ago, a crown jewel of Lake Geneva's waterfront). Over the last 125 years the home has had many lives: a summer house for Emily and her 5 children; a school for the Lake Geneva Seminary for Young Ladies; a "fashionable" sanitarium for wealthy patients recovering from light nervous disorders; a clandestine Speakeasy during Prohibition and by the 1930's it was a lakeside hotel and restaurant, best known over the decades as the "St. Moritz". In 2010 the "Redwood Cottage" once again became a private home that also doubles as a luxury inn for all to enjoy as if it were their own. It has been lovingly restored and renamed the Baker House in tribute to Emily and Robert. The Baker House, a Nationally Registered Historic Property, is one of the few remaining "summer cottages" that still embodies the true glory of Lake Geneva at the turn-of-the-century. It is beautifully preserved with most all of its original ornate details intact including five-wood inlaid floors (believed to be one of S.C. Johnsons very first home installations) and thirteen original fireplaces surrounded by floor to ceiling hand carved mantles embellished with pristine J & JG Low Art Tile of Chelsea, Massachusetts. This rare and highly collectible tile can be seen in every parlor of the mansion and is rumored to be one of the most diverse and well preserved examples of J & JG Low Art Tile in the country. (Additional examples of J & JG Low Tile can be also be seen at nearby Black Point Mansion and the Richard Driehaus Museum in downtown Chicago). This summer the Baker House celebrates its 126th birthday.