Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Ara Glen - A Gem of a House Preserved for Today

by Pamela S. Meyers

Last month we made a stop to rest from our tour of the lakeshore mansions that were built in the late 1800s and early 1900s on Geneva Lake in Wisconsin. Now we’re ready to resume our trip down the north shore of the lake.

Our stop this month is a beautiful home that began life as a billiard hall as part of a large resort called the Pischcotaqua Hotel. The Indian name means sparkling waters. Billed as a temperance resort, the hotel opened in 1880. The property was vast and contained several buildings in addition to the 4-story hotel that contained a dining room large enough to serve 300 people at one
Pischcotaqua Hotel

The hotel was not a financial success and it quickly went through four proprietors before J.S. Cooke, a wealthy entrepreneur who owned a brewery in Chicago, took it over. He started by changing the name to move the hotel away from the rather unsavory reputation it had gained over its early years and turned it into a high-class operation. He even purchased a steam yacht with which to convey the hotel’s guests from the train pier in Williams Bay.

He had great success from the start and soon added more property to what was already a large estate by purchasing a farm directly to the north. The purchase allowed the property to reach all the way to the main road (Now Highway 50) that runs between the town of Lake Geneva and Williams Bay. In anticipation of many more guests to come, perhaps some by horse and buggy, he built a huge barn close to the road. But in December of 1892 the large hotel caught fire and burned to the ground.

Redesigned Billiard Hall that Became a Home
Rather than rebuild the hotel, Mr. Cooke focused on the running of the farm and never returned to the hotel business. He also decided to repurpose the property's billiard hall into a home for his family.  He commissioned an architect to change the outside to reflect the current Victorian style with a bit of whimsy. Most designers of Victorian style homes shied away from the massive use of shingles, but not Mr. Cooke. The outside walls were fully covered in shingles, a very costly endeavor. 

The makeover was completed in 1893, and he renamed the estate Ara Glen in honor of his Irish heritage. In 1896 the home was altered even more when it was placed on cut-stone foundation and a furnace was installed, allowing the home to be used year-round.

Six years after the family moved into the home Mr. Cooke suffered a fatal heart attack. His sons took over the running of the brewery, but legalities tied up the rest of the estate for a long while. In 1925, the lakeshore-frontage property was equally divided among the family members, the plum of the property—the family home—going to the daughter, Mrs. Welch (no first name provided).

The repurposed billiard hall still stands today as one of the lakeshore's most attractive homes.  
Photo by Jessica Franzene-Lake Geneva Regional News 

Later, the western-most part of the property became a lakeshore subdivision called Knollwood, and the eastern portion became a Lutheran church camp called Camp Augustana. The camp has since been closed and a non-denominational church, Chapel on the Hill, occupies the property, which includes a Christian Theater Arts Centre, which I believe is housed in the large barn Mr. Cooke built. 

Lake Geneva Regional News, Welcome Home Section, June 4, 2015, Jessica Franzene
Lake Geneva, Newport of the West, Anne Wolfmeyer & Mary Burns Gage, 1976
Lake Geneva in Vintage Postcards, C.H. Smeltzer & M. Kiefer Cucco

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, which has recently been rereleased on Amazon and her 1933 historical romance, Love Finds You in Lake Geneva, Wisconsin. Love is All We Need (the sequel to Thyme for Love) will release in 2016, and Second Chance Love from Bling!, an imprint of Lighthouse Publishing of the Carolinas, will release in January 2017. 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 enjoy your home tours and find them very interesting.

  2. I love that house. It sure has lots of character. I wish we could see inside.

  3. Love seeing these old homes.How I would love to have a porch like that. I'm like Vickie, I want to see what's inside. :)

  4. My great-great grandfather was John S. Cooke! I stopped by Ara Glen on a roadtrip last June. Tried to peek through the front door windows, but could not see. No one answered my knocks. I was so curious to see the house, but alas. And I was not creepy enough to prowl the property beyond the front door. Maybe someday....