Friday, November 4, 2016

Railroad Tie Maker, Collector, and Gentleman Farmer - Meet Edward E. Ayer, owner of The Oaks

Edward E. Ayer
This month, we have to pass the very western end of Geneva Lake and the village of Fontana to begin our journey back toward the town of Lake Geneva by following the south shore of the lake. We first pass the Harvard Club, a settlement we will return to later, then come to the Oaks, home of Edward E. Ayer and his wife, Emma Burbank Ayer.

Mr. Ayer lived a colorful and adventurous life from the time he was born in Kenosha, WI in 1841, when the state was still only a territory. His father owned a general store and blacksmith shop, but was also somewhat of a speculator and had the ingenuity to purchase land near where a train depot was to be built and constructed a hotel there. He also had a hand in planning the new village of Harvard, IL, just over the state border from Geneva Lake. Edward was educated in the first school in Harvard which he is noted as saying that books were scarce and he only recalled learning from reading the Bible and the works of Josephus.

Once grown, he headed west, first to Nevada where he worked in a quartz mine and then to California to join the First California Cavalry Volunteers.

The Oaks--the somewhat modest home of millionaire E. E. Ayer
At the end of his service he returned to Harvard to join up with his father’s business of supplying railroad ties to the railroad companies. Shortly after returning to Harvard he met and married Emma Burbank and they eventually moved to Chicago. By then he was an avid collector of art and books, and became involved with the Newberry Library and the Art Institute in Chicago.

A rustic bridge at the shoreline of the Ayer estate. That could be E.T. Ayer himself standing on the bridge.
In 1875, Mr. and Mrs. Ayer acquired a very large plot of land next to the Harvard Club and built a modest summer residence. Over the years, additions were made to the home, but never was it as opulent as some of the others on the lakeshore. The land attached to the home was massive and it wasn’t long before the Ayer Farms were well known for being the best developed in Walworth County.

Edward Ayer died in 1927, but his wife Emma returned to the estate every summer for the next five years until she passed away. Their daughter kept the home until 1941 when it was sold to a church group. Today the Abbey Springs subdivision sits on the site. However, if you drive along Lake Shore Drive next to the property, you will see the stone wall that was built around the land when Ayer first built his home there.
Abbey Springs Subdivision on the land that was once The Oaks

If you are interested in learning more about Edward E. Ayer and his unique background, you can find several articles and a detailed biography by searching his name on Google.

Lake Geneva Newport of the West; Ann Wolfmeyer & Mary Burns Gage, 1976
The Live of Edward E. Ayer, Frank Lockwood, 1929
Wikipedia. Org
Lake Geneva in Vintage Postcards; Carolyn Hope Smeltzer & Martha Kiefer Cucco, Arcadia Publishing, 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 her 1933 historical romance, Love Finds You in Lake Geneva, Wisconsin. Love is All We Need (the sequel to Thyme for Love) will release soon Her novella What Lies Ahead is part of a novella collection, The Bucket List Dare, which is now available on line in both print and eBook formats. 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.

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