Saturday, July 4, 2015

Alta Vista - An Historical Mansion Still Commands the Waters of Lake Geneva

By Pamela S. Meyers

This month I continue my series on the historical mansions of Lake Geneva, Wisconsin, my hometown. Many 19th Century mansions were built on the lakeshore after the Great Chicago Fire by displaced wealthy industrialists and bankers. Other well-to-do people soon followed and built their own fancy homes on the shores of the pristine waters of Geneva Lake.

Since I was a child I’ve been fascinated by these mansions that I viewed from either a boat or the public access shore path that circles the lake. Structures so different from the humble home I lived in in the small town of Lake Geneva.

Potter's home, so new it lacked landscaping

Alta Vista was built by Orrin Potter, one of the founders of Union Steel, in 1881. Potter is credited with having an influential role in moving the center of the iron and steel industry from the East Coast to the Midwest.  

In 1908, he sold the 74-acre estate to Frederick Countiss, who made few
Taken in 1906 with landscaping and climbing ivy. 
changes to the home, but made improvements on the farming operation. When I came across the postcard of the home (pictured here), 
I fell in love with the Victorian and wondered why I didn’t remember seeing it before. I later learned that, like so many of the wooden homes of the time, it burned to the ground in 1919.

Just prior to the fire, Willaim Pelouze of the Pelouze Scale and Balance Company purchased the property and quickly replaced the destroyed home with another—a total departure from the Victorian home that had burned. The new Italian style white-stucco villa with a red tile roof has stood out on the shoreline ever since.
Current day photo of Alta Vista, taken by me.
In 1954, the land surrounding the mansion was subdivided, as has happened with many of the estates on the lake, but the large single-dwelling home still stands, reminding us of a time long lost in today’s world.

The Vick family of Vick’s Pharmaceuticals is listed as a recent owner of the property. You may have used Vick’s Vapor Rub a time or two during a bad cold.

Alta Vista means "high view." I can see how the name was chosen because the mansion sits up high and seems to command the waters. I’ve walked the lakeshore path in front of this home, and it truly is magnificent up close and personal. The hill is very steep and the steps leading up to the mansion must give the current owners and their guests a good workout!  It has it’s own private beach as well as a dock. At the end of the beach on the right of the picture, blocked from view by trees, is a steep cement walk that goes up at a very steep angle, then switches back and climbs more until it reaches the shore path. That also is a good workout that I can personally attest to!

Check it out for yourself if you are in the area. There are so many beautiful homes to view up close and personal. If you want more information about the shore path or excursion boat rides that are a little less strenuous, leave a comment and I'll be happy to send you information.

A native of Lake Geneva, Wisconsin, author Pamela S. Meyers lives in suburban Chicago with her two rescue cats. 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. If you happen to be in the Lake Geneva area on July 11th, you can meet Pamela and purchase her book set in historical Lake Geneva at the first annual Authorfest located in Library Park next to the beach. 


  1. We certainly grew up using Vicks Vapor Rub on our chests, under our noses, and in vaporizers. What a memory!
    Love the new house on Lake Geneva. I like the white house with red tile roof. I think it's red tile and I may be wrong there. I collect the Love Finds You..... series and would enjoy this one also. sm wileygreen1(at)yahoo(dot)com

  2. Hi Pamela. Love this post. All I can do about lake Geneva is listen to your talk about it. I never have gotten to travel much unless visiting my parents and a few family reunions. I live in Texas and have seen very little of it except what I could see from the roads. I love the pictures. Would sure love to visit there. BUT, if I did, I would need a wheel chair and someone to push it part time. No, I'm not in a wheelchair yet, but just can't walk very far without my hips hurting. Are you still living in Chicago? Maxie > mac262(at)me(dot)com <

    1. Hi Maxie. I live in the northwest burbs of Chicago and about an hour south of Lake Geneva. I loved growing up there. It's different now, but not in a bad way. A lot of the homes are gone now. But many still remain.

  3. Pamela, I enjoy your architectural posts. I have to say that although I like looking at the Victorian homes, I can see how the Italian styling would bring in much more light.

  4. I would love to see these magnificent homes! Thank you for a great post, Pamela!

    texaggs2000 at gmail dot com

  5. I'm researching a Chicago architect named Jules Wegman, who may have designed a villa for John R. Wilson close to the home of his brother, Charles, at the northeast corner of Main and Madison. The family owned the Chicago Daily Journal. I wonder if there are any photographs of this home, and if it still stands.

  6. The home that is on that corner is a Tudor style two-story home. Dr. Charles Brady and family lived in it in the 1950s and 1960s. I'm not aware of who lives there now. I do have photos of the home because I'm placing the characters of my current work in progress in the home. I hesitate to post a picture here, but if you contact me at psm106 at yahoo dot com with an email address I'd be happy to send you a picture of the house.