Friday, September 4, 2015

Built Under a Circus Tent- House in the Woods Was Worth the Effort.

The home after it was completed in 1905
This month’s spotlight on the historical mansions that were built on the shores of Geneva Lake in Wisconsin shines on a home that still stands today. Called “House in the Woods,” the mansion has a very unique backstory in that it was built under a circus tent.

Working under the tent.
The winter of 1905 promised to live up to most winters in southeastern Wisconsin--cold and snowy. If A.C. Barlett, a noted philanthropist, wanted to have the magnificent home finished by his wife’s birthday the next spring, he had to do something drastic and innovative. The P.T. Barnum Circus wintered in nearby Delavan, Wisconsin, and they agreed to loan Barlett one of their large tents to protect the construction site. The construction continued through the winter and finished on time!

The tent nestled in the trees.

The pictures are fuzzy, but you can see the way it looked both inside and outside the tent.

I would have loved to have been there to watch the tent go up over the partially constructed home, and I’m sure the sight of a large tent on the snowy grounds must have piqued the 
curiosity of those traversing the frozen lake with horse and sleigh. Perhaps many mocked the crazy idea, but Mrs. Barlett received one of the most unique gifts ever on her birthday--an exquisite country home.

Beyond the one-of-a-kind means of completing the home on a tight deadline, the mansion caught the attention of many for it’s beauty and design. The Ladies Home Journal featured it in 1909, calling it one of America’s most beautiful country homes, and another magazine named it one of the “Best 12 Country Homes” in the United States.

The U-shaped design created a courtyard on the north side of the building (the one that did not face the lake and likely where the men posed for the picture above). For a time, the outside walls surrounding the courtyard featured a mural painted by Barlett’s son. Frederick Clay Barlett, who was a noted artist of the time.

The home as it appears today (taken by Pamela Meyers)
Although the home has had several owners over the years, it has always been well maintained and is still a private residence today.

On a personal note, when I started writing my mystery-romance, Thyme for Love, which takes place in a fictional mansion on a fictional Wisconsin lake, “House in the Woods was the inspiration for the mansion in my book.

Have you heard of other unique means taken to complete construction of a home or commercial building? Please share!

Sources for this post:

Lake Geneva Newport of the West, Volume 1, Ann Wolfmeyers & Mary Burns Gage, 1976

Lake Geneva in Vintage Postcards, Carolyn Hope Smeltzer & Martha Kiefer Cucco, 2005.

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.


  1. That's really interesting, Pam. How did they keep the snow from collapsing the tent? That must have been a HUGE tent.

    1. I have no idea, Vickie. In all the stories I've heard about the tent that fact has never been addressed. Hmmmmm. The house is quite large so the tent had to be big. I'm thinking maybe the slant of the tent roof prevented the snow from piling up in the same way a pitched roof on a house works.????

  2. Very interesting bit about Lake Geneva again. You always come up with fantastic tidbits of history from that great city.

  3. Love those mansions around Lake Geneva! Great stories. sm wileygreen1(at)yahoo(dot)com