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Friday, June 01, 2007

Perseverance pays off for the vision of Black Point

I've always maintained that little would get done if people knew what they were getting into ahead of time.

Home remodeling projects, running a marathon, even weddings on occasion are just a few endeavors that come to mind.

How many times have you heard someone say, after reaching the end of a long, drawn-out project, "I'll never do that again?"

Ignorance has fueled many a great achievement.

That's not to say people aren't thrilled with what they've accomplished; it's just that they would have thought twice before beginning.

I'll bet William Petersen and his wife Jane, who has since passed away, never anticipated the hurdles they would face following their decision in 1994 to give their Black Point estate to the state of Wisconsin.

Following years of planning, legal wrangling and delays, the estate along the south shore of Geneva Lake will open to the public for tours beginning June 15. Writer Donna Lenz Wright has the details in this week's cover story.

We've covered the ups and downs of the project since it was first conceived more than 13 years ago.

Our first feature story on the estate ran in May of 1998. Writer Anne Celano Frohna, now editor of At the Lake Magazine, and staff photographer Terry Mayer were invited on a tour of Black Point by William Petersen.

Modestly called a summer cottage, the home remained virtually unchanged since brewing magnate Conrad Seip decided to build it along the shores of Geneva Lake in 1888.

We've been in the home several times again over the years, as the project moved slowly forward. A scrapbook of those photos is included with this week's cover story by Donna Lenz Wright.

At the time of that first story, Petersen was optimistic that Black Point would be open to the public in 2000.

But opposition from some of the neighbors sent the project into limbo, and plans for the historic site died and were reborn several times over the intervening years.

The legal battle that ensued wasn't waged by novices either. Both sides went toe-to-toe in every arena they could think of.

The first skirmishes took place before a committee of the Walworth County Board. In June of 1999, the committee denied the conditional use permit necessary to move the project forward. But that decision was eventually reversed and the permit was approved by the county board.

Then the battle moved to Walworth County Circuit Court, where opponents sued, saying the project would violate a restrictive covenant placed on the property in the early 1900s.

A jury, however, disagreed and ruled against the opponents.

The battle for Black Point eventually ended up in the state legislature.

Funding for the historical site had been added and deleted from the state budget several times.

In 2002, the project became caught up in the Capitol caucus scandal when then-Senate Majority Leader Chuck Chvala was indicted for, among other things, shaking down supporters of Black Point for campaign donations.

By 2005, and with every avenue of opposition exhausted, Petersen met with local preservationists, attorneys and state officials in the dining room of the historic summer home to sign over title of the estate.

Now run by the Black Point Historic Preserve, the renovations and preparations have been made to turn the summer home into Wisconsin's newest historic site.

Would the Petersens have gone ahead with their idea, knowing it would take more than a dozen years before the doors would open to the public?

It's hard to say, but because of determination of the Petersens, visitors to the home will be able to gain a rare insight into the grand vision that defined the Geneva Lake from those early years through today.



Anonymous Anonymous said...

Having recently visited Black Point, it is a real treasure for the Lake Geneva area-- well worth your time to visit. CP, Chicago, IL

12:38 PM  
Blogger Dan Plutchak, editor said...

Dear CP,

We agree. By the way, I fixed the link above to our feature story on Black Point.


12:45 PM  

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