By Pamela S. Meyers
It’s already November and we are in the last stretch of our journey around Geneva Lake in Wisconsin where I grew up. We’ve been stopping along the way at some of the old mansions that were built there during the late 19th and early 20th Centuries. So many have become victims of the wrecking ball and much of their colorful histories are being lost in the process.
|Swinghurst as it originally appeared|
Today we’ll stop at Swinghurst, which has a rather unique history involving it’s original owner. This home is still occupied as a private home and, thanks to its owners over the years, has been beautifully maintained.
The residence was built by Professor David Swing on land along the lake’s south shore that he’d purchased from J.S. Rumsey, a gentleman whose home we’ll visit soon. According to authors Ann Wolfmeyer and Mary Burns Gage, the home was "plain, but substantial." Despite the simplicity of the exterior design of the Queen Anne, the interior had some unique features, including a pair of staircases that flanked a large fireplace and led to a balcony that overlooked the living room. In addition to being a professor, Swing, was also a Presbyterian minister, and it’s reported that he would use the balcony like a pulpit and preach to an audience sitting in the room below.
The Reverend Swing had a charismatic personality and way of speaking. Overtime, he gained a notable following despite his holding to some controversial interpretations of scripture. In time he was forced to resign from his ministry at a Chicago church under charges of heresy, but many of his followers stood by him. He was acquitted of the charges and went on to preach from the stage at McVickers Theater, then later at another venue in the city, always drawing large crowds. It was at this time that he built his Lake Geneva home for a place of solitude. He named the home Six Oaks and enjoyed many respites there.
He passed away in 1894 and, even in death, he was in the middle of a disagreement. This time, as to where he should be buried and what was to become of the property. The matters were resolved in court and Swing’s daughter and her husband, Mason B. Starring, took over the property. They changed the name of the estate to Swinghurst. The vast property stayed in the Starring family until 1934 when it was subdivided. As stated earlier, the original home has stayed intact and still exists today (pictured below), the only change being the addition of a tower and the interior updated.
The property was recently on the market and a virtual tour of both the grounds and the interior is still online. Certain aspects of the original design remain including the living room balcony from which Swing preached to his visitors. This is seen in the picture below. The ceiling appears to have been lowered, but the balcony railing is still visible.
|Balcony as it appears today|
Have you ever lived in a home with a unique past?
Check back next month to learn about a home called Gypsy Lodge that later became a supper club.
Lake Geneva, Newport of the West; Ann Wolfmeyer & Betsy Burns Gage, 1976.
Current photo of home and interior photo: https://www.zillow.com/homedetails/W2866-Swinghurst-Ln-Lake-Geneva-WI-53147/40742083_zpid/
Photo of original home: Wisconsin Historical Society, Wisconsin Architecture and History Inventory, Six Oaks, Linn Township, Walworth County, Wisconsin; Reference Number 68540
Picture of David Swing: Wikipedia, public domain
Pamela S. Meyers lives in northern Illinois with her two rescue cats. Her novels include Thyme for Love, Love Finds You in Lake Geneva, Wisconsin, Second Chance Love, and Surprised by Love in Lake Geneva, Wisconsin (a reissue of Love Finds You in Lake Geneva). Her novellas include: What Lies Ahead, in The Bucket List Dare collection, and If These Walls Could Talk, in Coming Home: A Tiny House Collection. When she isn’t at her laptop writing her latest novel, she can often be found nosing around Midwestern spots for new story ideas.