Sunday, January 4, 2015

A Step Back to a Time of Elegance.

By Pamela S. Meyers

Driehaus Mansion -- Formerly Wadsworth Hall
I’ve written before about the historical significance of my hometown of Lake Geneva, Wisconsin and the surrounding area. Beginning with the Chicago Fire in October 1871, many of Chicago’s wealthy came north to beautiful Geneva Lake to build summer homes that rivaled that in Newport, RI, the east coast retreat of the New York wealthy. For this reason, the area gained the nickname, Newport of the West.  

Monticello--Thomas Jefferson's home.

As the years passed on, more wealthy came and built beautiful extravagant homes, some of which have become teardowns, being replaced by more modern mansions. Others are in disrepair. Some have been purchased by people who appreciate the history behind these homes and have endeavored to restore rather than replace. One that has recently gone under extensive renovation to bring it back to it’s glory is a mansion that began it’s life as Wadsworth Hall. Built in 1906, the structure is a magnificent example of stately and classical Georgian architecture. It’s often compared to Thomas Jefferson’s home, Monticello

Built by Norman Wait Harris, organizer of the banking house that later became Harris Bank, he named the home for his wife who had been a Wadsworth and was a cousin of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow.

The following pictures are taken after the recent restoration.

As you can imagine, the interior of the home was especially regal, including a 12-foot wide staircase in the 50-foot wide central hall. 

The staircase led to a landing about 20-square feet wide with windows that looked out on the lush landscape designed by the Olmstead Brothers, who had designed Central Park in New York City. 

The restored dining room back to it's original design. I can't imagine all the elegant dinner parties that must have taken place in this room.

The wood-paneled library 


The property was eventually sold by Mr. Harris to a Mr. Shaw, and then eventually became the property of Daniel Peterkin the president of the Morton Salt Company. Over the years, the property had been maintained, but often tweaked according to the fashion of the current time.

Many of the large estates on Geneva Lake have been subdivided, and to prevent this from happening to this estate, the Peterkin family worked with the Lake Geneva Conservatory to place deed restrictions on the property that would prevent it from being subdivided.

The most recent owner of this magnificent home is investment manager, Richard Driehaus. A number of years were spent renovating the interior back to its original state, and now that the restoration has been completed, Mr. Driehaus often opens the property to charity organizations for fundraisers and events. He also hosts a large Fourth of July party every year, complete with a huge fireworks display that is enjoyed by many locals, in addition to his invited guests.

The home is by far one of the most elegant homes on the lake, classy, even at the street entrance to the estate (shown here) to it’s view from the lake.

The home is easily seen from the lake or from the shore path, which is open to the public. You can see in the picture people walking across the mansion's front yard on the public shore path. It’s well worth making a point to see this historical estate up close and personal.

A native of Lake Geneva, Wisconsin, author Pamela S. Meyers lives in suburban Chicago with her two rescue cats. She’s an hour's drive away from her Wisconsin hometown, which she visits often to dig into its historical legacy. Her novels include Thyme for Love, and Love Will Find a Way, contemporary romantic mysteries and her 1933 historical romance, Love Finds You in Lake Geneva, Wisconsin. When she isn’t at her laptop writing her latest novel, she can often be found nosing around Wisconsin and other Midwestern spots for new story ideas.


  1. I'm really enjoying your site especially this entry. Fascinating place!

  2. Oh!!! I went to Camp Augustana on Lake Geneva every year! I loved seeing all the mansions. One year my dad (our pastor) got permission to walk the path by the lake and we (about 70 middle schoolers/adults) walked into Lake Geneva by the lake!!! What a special place. I loved the Swedish shop and the pizza place. We (our church) would take over the pizza place (2nd floor of a building) and have a worship time, coffee house style . . . back in the early '70's! Thanks so much for sharing. Oh, the Dog in Suds!!! Yum! The only bad thing that happened was once when I came out of a movie and the Hell's Angels were rolling through town . . . scared me to death. The camp is no longer there but I believe the chapel is still there still. Gosh, thanks for the memories.

  3. My goodness ... I had no idea such mansions existed at Lake Geneva--nor did I know about the connection to the Chicago Fire. I loved it when I taught at a women's church conference at a former estate in Lake Geneva one fall (the family donated the grounds for such events). How I wish I'd known about Wadsworth Hall. What a wonderful thing to do with wealth--preserving history. Sometimes when I tour elegant homes I think of the mansion God promises in heaven and I like to think He's showing me a preview. As for this earth below, I'd be the maid in the tiny room in the garret ... which was my mother's first job when she was left on a streetcorner and wished a good life by her father, who then drove away. She was fifteen. At any rate ... THANK YOU for the look at a glorious home. It makes me want to go back to Lake Geneva for the history.

  4. Chris B. So many people have fond memories of Geneva Lake and the town of Lake Geneva. I find it so much fun to connect with people like you, which I have done often since writing my book set there. (see my bio below for details). Yes, Camp Augustana is gone, The property is now owned by Chapel on the Hill Church. I can't visualize the pizza place you mention. So many restaurants come and go and that was during a time I was living on the west coast and not visiting the LG area much. I'm so glad my post brought back great memories for you. You would have walked past this estate if you walked from Camp Augustana to town.

  5. Stephanie, it's great fun to hear from people who have a connection to Lake Geneva, even if it was only for a weekend or a summer or a season in life that person was there. I'd be curious to know what mansion you had that conference in! Lake Geneva has a rich history, dating back to the 1850s when the area began being populated, and before that when Native Americans were the sole residents. If you look in the archives of this blog you will find other historical articles by me about the lake and town that you might find of interest!

  6. I loved the boat ride around the lake. It was such fun and really a beautiful place to live!

  7. I have always loved old homes and dreamed of purchasing an old Victorian and restoring it. God never opened the doors for us to do that, but I still love seeing the restorations done on historical homes. Touring old homes is one of our favorite things to do on vacation. Thanks for your post.

  8. All new information to me. I have visited Lake Geneva, WI but do not remember hearing about this mansion. Thanks very much. Sm wileygreen1(at)yahoo(dot)com

  9. Thanks for this site! My Dad spent summers here playing golf with his friend Wally Fackler. I was a counseler at Camp Augustana in '65, then whole summer waitress in '67, and pastor Melvin baptised me in Chicago in '49 and was my boss at camp.