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Black Point: A look inside the house that Conrad Seipp built

Donna Lenz Wright/The Week

(Published May 31, 2007, 3:47 p.m.)

Conrad Seipp would be proud that a place close to his heart-a place he made through hard work where seven generations of his family lived-is now preserved as a museum focusing on their lives and representing life during the turn of the 20th century in Walworth County.

When Seipp was born to the family of a farmer and carpenter in 1825 Germany, visions of wealth and opulence were the furthest things from his world.

When he died in 1890, after years of hard work in the land of opportunity, he had acquired both.

He capped off his success by creating a grand summer world for his family on Geneva Lake's Black Point.

In two weeks his beloved summer home will be open for tours as the state of Wisconsin's newest historic site, preserved and restored as it was when Seipp first built it.

The Black Point Legacy, 1888-2005, was written by Gwen Tveter and Judy Johnson. They met with Seipp's great grandson, William Petersen every Saturday in the summer "for years" while putting his information together for the book. Through the book and speaking with the authors, a typical summer day can be visualized.

Children's voices and a pounding hammer punctuate bird songs and splashing.

It is the beginning of the summer of 1890. The entire Seipp family has relocated to their summer home on the Geneva Lake until October winds blow them home to Chicago.

Sunshine reflects off the waves of the lake on the beautiful early summer day. Fluffy white clouds occasionally float by, offering bits of relieving shade.

Children gather fruit from the trees in the orchard, baskets swinging from their forearms. Boys in overalls, girls in dresses. The fruits they pick will become sweet preserves and pies.

Teens gather in the music room. At one end sits the family Stella music box that plays music from metal discs.

Notes from the piano, violins and horns float through the rooms and hallways carrying "America The Beautiful" and "Can You Telegraph My Baby" through the house and onto the verandas.

On the veranda ladies gather reading, sewing and socializing. The iron teacart sits behind them offering cold drinks and the table between them is covered with newspapers. They sip their drinks as they try to keep cool while their high-necked, long-sleeved long skirts blow in the lake breeze.

Kitchen workers take the familiar walk to the refrigerator on the lakeshore to gather vegetables and other perishables stored there.

In this pre-electricity time, the many artesian wells that fill the lake with the freshest water on the planet also served as refrigerators. Shelters built around the cold water wells kept the cool air in and perishable foods fresh at a steady 55 degrees.

Family, employees and friends at times and all of their children, go through the routine that was repeated for 117 years.

In these early decades, Black Point, or as it was called then Die Lorelei, was a tiny self-sufficient world surrounded on three sides by miles and miles of farmland, prairie and woods, and one side by Geneva Lake.

From the highest hill, the house watched over the gardens, orchards, outbuildings and the lake-the only way to get in or out of the little world.

"There is only one bathroom in the whole house," Tveter said.

"At that time bathing in the lake was a normal procedure.

Outside of weekend boat trips to Lake Geneva for supplies and the butcher there, everything was self-sustained.

"Everything they had, they raised themselves-fruits, vegetable, animals-the whole works."

While it was a summer home with plenty of recreation and fun, the fundamentals of education and hard work were instilled into the children all summer long.

"Children were not just playing in the water-they had lots of farm chores and schooling to do," Tveter says. "On the third floor there is a small room where the tutors came for Latin, English, German, math, physics and that sort of thing.

"They had fun swimming and sailing, but they also had a very busy life."

Black Point was built in 1888, during the years when Seipp was married to his second wife, Catherine. His first wife, Maria, died in 1866.

Catherine loved music, gardens and reading and the estate is steeped in all three.

"Music was a very large part of the Seipp family daily life," Tveter said. "As was storytelling and games-remember there was no other entertainment."

Many of the gardens that tour-goers will see were conceived by Catherine herself.

And books were not confined to a library room; rather they were everywhere.

"Bookshelves chocked full of books were in every room," Tveter adds.

"The dining room was the hub of action most of the time, but the music and billiard rooms were very active too."

People will now be able to experience their world, see the catalog clippings that the children pasted on the walls of the billiard room and appreciate the view that they called home .

Tours of up to 45 people will depart daily, seven days a week, at 11 a.m. and 1 p.m. and return and 2:45 p.m. and 4:30 p.m. respectively. Tickets are $32 for adults, $30 for seniors, $27 for youths ages 13-17 and $21 for children ages 4-12.

For more information or reservations, contact the Lake Geneva Cruise Line at (800) 558-5911 or visit www.cruiselakegeneva.com.

IF YOU GO

What: Public tours of Black Point
When: Daily, beginning June 15
Where: Tours of 45 people launch twice daily at the Geneva Docks
Info: Lake Geneva Cruise Line (800) 558-5911 or
www.cruiselakegeneva.com.

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