By Donna Lenz Wright/The Week
(Published Feb. 14, 2007, 9:38 a.m.)
The Black Point Legacy, 1888-2005 has been a dream for a handful of history buffs in Lake Geneva for a number of years, as has the Black Point Museum on Geneva Lake.
But in the past several months, both have become a reality.
For 119 years the Black Point mansion has overlooked the waters of Geneva Lake's south shore, as the Petersens, whose family has owned the property since it was built, watched as time passed and people came and went.
It is said to be one of the finest existing examples of original Queen Anne architecture in Wisconsin and was home to the Petersen family, descendents of Conrad Seipp, a self-made brewer and builder from Chicago.
For 10 years several groups wrangled in court over the future of Black Point. Historians, and the Petersen family, wanted it to become a museum; neighbors, among others, opposed the plan.
Finally, in the fall of 2005, the court sided with the family and within the next few months, the Black Point Museum will be open to the public.
In conjunction with these events, Judy Johnson and Gwen Tveter, co-authors and both teachers before retiring, have published, The Black Point Legacy, 1888-2005 with all proceeds going directly to the Black Point Historical Preservation, Inc.
Tveter and Johnson, and their husbands Richard and Herb respectively, researched the family and home for five years.
"I am so excited about the opportunity for school children to go through that house," said Johnson, also member of the Royal Joy Williams Questers, Chapter 1288.
"Four generations of the family and their guests were always welcomed at Black Point. Except for the very cold months, the house was always full.
"They kept excellent records right there in the home," she continued. "They were scrapbooking long before it became the hobby it is today. Every photo was logged and all the names listed."
They also met each Saturday morning during those years with William Petersen, Seipp's great-great-grandson, to gather information for the book firsthand.
"Every time Bill would come he would have more stories and more memories so we would add them," said Tveter, secretary of the Black Point Historic Preserve and president of the Royal Joy Williams Questers, Chapter 1288 and past state Questers president.
The book gives a biography of Seipp and his descendents with many high-quality photos. It follows the family through their years at Black Point raising animals, swimming, boating and so much more.
"It's a wonderful bunch of memories," Johnson says. "They may have been well-off, but they worked hard. Their children had chores and were taught to be contributing adults with responsibilities and a good work ethic."
The house is still filled with the original furniture of the family, arranged as it was during its heydays, and the book has many quality photographs of this as well.
Black Point was originally named Die Lorelei, after the German legend of the maiden along the Rhine River so beautiful that sailors couldn't look away, in turn wrecking their ships.
After World War I, German ascent was at an all-time low, so the family renamed the home Black Point, or mekateneashe-Potawatomi for black oaks-which were abundant on the grounds once inhabited by the Potawatomi tribe.
Favorite family tales
The Black Point Legacy, 1888-2005 is filled with top-notch old and new photographs of the inside and outside of the estate; biographical details; historical details and many fond family memories.
"William (Petersen) Sr. made a monster of plaster of Paris for the kids in the woods," Tveter says. "He was from Sweden, so a lot of those legendary stories from Sweden were part of his life. It had red flashing lights and made noises. It was quite a thing for about six years until the plaster disintegrated."
The 12-foot monster was operated by batteries and covered with scales. The story and a photograph are included in the book.
Tveter's parents also had a summer home in Lake Geneva when she was a child and she fondly remembers Black Point's vast and beautiful gardens in particular.
Later, as a now full-time citizen of Lake Geneva and member of the Lake Geneva Garden Club, Tveter attended tours of Black Point.
"That's where I was able to meet Mrs. Petersen about 20 years ago," she said. "She was such a gracious hostess."
Johnson likes the images of the grand July 4th celebrations the family had year after year, she said.
"I picture watching the fireworks from that wonderful tower; the oldest grandchild raising the flag; and baking sugar cookies for this wonderful celebration.
"They were a family that loved to celebrate together."
Other aspects that Johnson holds high are the physical landmarks left behind of generations of one family over the years.
"The cornerstone of the Chicago brewery is on the property, right off the east side of the screen porch," she continued.
"And you can see where the front door changed from the side of the lake to-later when carriages and cars were used-the side of the street. Even the old carriage stone is still there."
More to come?
"(The book) really came out very out well and has been well received," Tveter said. "But there's more to tell-more of the feeling of what it was like to live in those days.
"Black Point is obviously an important part of Wisconsin history, especially during its golden age, 1880 to the 1920s. That's when these very wealthy Chicago people came here and established their homes on this lakefront. It's a very important era."
"It's a time capsule-it truly is," Johnson added.
"I feel now more like I'm leaning toward another volume that would explain what life was really like in 1880s and get more into the everyday nitty gritty," said Tveter. "There are many, many more photos and mountains of stuff to go through."