Q & A: David Desimone of Black Point Estate

In May 2013, the Wisconsin Historical Society hired David Desimone to be the director of Black Point Estate — a position he says has been the perfect job for him. Desimone, originally from Youngstown, Ohio earned his master’s degree in public history from Kent State University. He started his professional museum career in 1994 at the Mahoning Valley Historical Society and has held leadership positions at Stan Hywet Hall and Gardens, the Cleveland Botanical Garden and the Holden Arboretum. In 2012 he decided he wanted to return to the historic house field, and the rest as they say, is history.

WHAT ARE VISITORS TO BLACK POINT ESTATE MOST IMPRESSED WITH WHEN THEY VISIT THE PROPERTY?

Well, for each visitor, I think “most” impressed is somewhat unique and based upon their own interests, but most people tend to be generally impressed that all the “stuff” is original to the house and that we didn’t have to go out to an antique shop to collect period appropriate antiques. And yes, the Petersen family used these items in the house right up through 2005 when William O. Petersen donated it lock, stock and barrel to the State of Wisconsin.

BLACK POINT IS IN THE MIDST OF A RENOVATION TO REPLACE THE VERANDA. WHAT OTHER TYPES OF RENOVATIONS ARE PLANNED FOR THE SITE AND ARE THEY MANDATED BY THE STATE?

Mandated is too strong a word. The Wisconsin Department of Administration owns the Estate and the veranda restoration was necessary to ensure the structural stability of the veranda for our current use as a building open to the public. The next two projects on the horizon are the installation of a new woodland garden and interior restoration. Both of these projects are to be fully funded by private donations. The veranda was 100 percent funded by the State of Wisconsin.

BLACK POINT HAS ADDED SPECIAL PROGRAMS, INCLUDING ITS VERANDA VIEWS IN PARTNERSHIP WITH HORTICULTURAL HALL. WHAT’S ON THE SCHEDULE FOR 2017?

We continue to expand our programming both on site and off site via community partners as part of our desire to be a community resource in addition to being a tourist destination. In 2017 we will continue our walking tours of Lake Geneva with a new Maple Park lantern tour slated for October and more beer tastings in and around the community, including three with the Lake Geneva Cruise Line. Even though Conrad Seipp was a Chicago brewer, the beer business is historically significant within Wisconsin so we are happy to share our story in that context.

THERE IS A GREAT DEAL OF APPRECIATION FOR HISTORY IN LAKE GENEVA, WHAT DO YOU ATTRIBUTE THAT TO?

This is very true. I’ve lived in four different cities in my life, and none come close to appreciating history like this community. Many factors play into this. There is a significant senior citizen population in the Geneva Lakes region and seniors are typically more interested in history than younger generations. This audience also tends to be well read and well educated. Lastly, I think there is a great deal of appreciation for history because there is such a rich and interesting history here.

WHAT DRIVES YOUR INTEREST IN HISTORY AND ENGAGING OTHERS IN PRESERVATION OF PLACES LIKE BLACK POINT?

My passion for history developed at a young age, probably 3rd or 4th grade. Since then I enjoy having a deep understanding of culture and feel the study of history is critical to understanding the present. Preservation of our collective memory as well as the built environment is really important to me. When talking about a natural environment or ecosystem, we talk about biodiversity. The more diverse an environment or ecosystem the healthier it is. Well, we can apply this concept to our built environment and sense of place. A healthy sense of place is established when our collective history, a diverse built environment, unique natural areas, and an engaged community all come together.

IF YOU COULD COME BACK AS ANY FIGURE IN HISTORY, WHO WOULD IT BE AND WHY?

Me, circa 1999. My hair wasn’t gray and my knees didn’t hurt when it was cold outside.

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