By Tasha Downing | Photos by Shanna Wolf
Situated just northwest of downtown Lake Geneva lies the charming Maple Park neighborhood. Attracting both architecture and history buffs, the district contains approximately 15 square blocks of rare, vintage homes, the earliest dating back to the late 1840s and early 1850s. “Exploring the Maple Park Historic District is a history buff ’s opportunity to see representative examples of structures and styles dating from pre-Civil War days through the Victorian period, side-by-side with vernacular houses all within easy walking distance of each other,” says Christine Brookes, outreach coordinator for Black Point Estate and Gardens.
The majority of homes in the Maple Park neighborhood were built between 1870 and 1920, often by prominent architects. (Look for bronze plaques on the front of many of the homes, which identify the year they were built.) This late 19th-century building boom led to an elegant architectural cohesiveness that helped elevate Maple Park’s status as one of Wisconsin’s most prestigious residential neighborhoods. The earliest homes were constructed in Greek Revival and Italianate styles, among others, and many remain remarkably well preserved today.
The neighborhood is named for the large green space around which it is situation: Maple Park. The park is bound by majestic trees and serves as the playground for the adjacent Central-Denison Elementary School, the original portion of which dates to 1904. One might imagine the park looks quite similar today as it did to a resident strolling through the neighborhood in the early 20th century. Nearby, Lake Geneva’s Pioneer Cemetery, established in the late 1830s, is part of the Maple Park neighborhood as well. Many of the city’s early homeowners and pioneers are buried beneath the attractive, historic headstones dotting the cemetery’s simple landscape.
Visitors looking to get a sense of historic Lake Geneva might start with a self-guided walking tour of the neighborhood, which is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The following six properties are cited as contributing structures to the Maple Park Historic District, and have been maintained to exude the grandeur that originally earned Maple Park its distinguished reputation. For more information about guided tours of the neighborhood, visit blackpointestate.wisconsinhistory.org.
The John Holt House
This home, known as the John Holt house, dates to the 1850s, making it one of only a handful of homes from that early decade still standing in Lake Geneva. It was constructed in a classic, Greek Revival style. This neoclassical form of architecture is known for a tall main section with smaller wings flanking the center of the home. “The gable front gives the appearance of a Greek temple,” Brookes explains, noting that the home is so old that “there is still a cast-iron pump in the backyard.” The Holt house is finished in stucco and was designed with symmetrical, six-over-six windows with custom shutters. The home also features bold but simple moldings, another example of Greek Revival detail. The main entrance is located through the open front porch. While the home mostly maintains its historic appearance, the bay window is a later addition.
Farrington – Redfearn
The Farrington-Redfearn House was once owned by famous Lake Geneva railroad conductor Albert Redfearn, who purchased it in 1893. Redfearn worked on the Chicago & Northwestern’s Chicago-to-Williams Bay route, which was heavily used by many of the wealthy Chicagoans who owned houses around the lake. As a result, the train was nicknamed the “Millionaire’s Special.” The two-story, Italianate-style frame house that Redfearn called home is defined by a low-pitched roof and wide bracketed eaves. “There are numerous Italianate homes in Maple Park identified by bracketed eaves, a low-pitched roof, and central gables,” says Brookes. Other architectural highlights of this home include the triangular pediment formed by the eaves, tall first-floor windows and two- over-two, double-hung sash windows.
The Davis House
Another two-story, Italianate-style gem, the Davis House is named for its original owner, Lake Geneva shopkeeper William Davis, part namesake of the dry-goods emporium Davis & Slade’s. “This home is considered a ‘painted lady’ because it features three or more colors on the exterior,” says Brookes, referencing a Victorian-era trend in which homeowners favored contrasting and brightly painted exteriors. “It has a hip roof, arched hood moldings to throw off rainwater, and cornice returns.” Wooden double doors serve to create a dramatic main entrance, and the clapboard exterior sits atop a fieldstone foundation, balancing the tall windows. Wide, bracketed eaves set into a gabled roof lend character to the home’s overall effect. The home’s original, single-story garage is still a part of the property.
The Stewart House
The large, two-story home known as the Stewart house demonstrates the late Italianate style of architecture. First owner Frank Stewart worked as the engineer of the original Lady of the Lake and other steam yachts on the lake. When he died in 1899, he was described as a man who “always had a kind word for those with whom he came in contact, and never lost an opportunity to do a good turn when it was in his power.” Brookes notes that later, her own grandmother lived in this home, which, like the Davis house, is also considered a “painted lady.” “This variation of the Italianate style uses Craftsman elements,” she says. “It has paired brackets under the roofline, plus an open porch and a matching smaller porch.” Later renovations to the home in the early 20th century included new, flared posts to help support the roof, as well as the addition of French doors at the main entrance on the south side.
The French House
The French House is one of many fashionable, Queen Anne-style homes built in Maple Park. It is named for original owner, Charles French, one of Lake Geneva’s most prominent citizens at the time. French was an attorney who served as Lake Geneva’s mayor and postmaster, and founded the city’s electric light service. Queen Anne-style homes are known for their two-story, irregular form with a complex roof style. The Charles French house follows in this tradition, featuring a steep roof with intersecting gables that incorporate chimneys, towers, turrets and balconies. “The Queen Anne style dominates in Maple Park,” says Brookes. “It encouraged freedom of expression and creativity, it’s hard to find two homes that are exactly alike.” This property also includes a stick-style carriage house, which matches the residence.
The Buckbee House
The Buckbee House is a two-and-a-half-story home designed in the Late Second Empire style by architect Charles O. LaSalle. The sizable home would have been considered a mansion in its era. Its first owner, Judge Francis A. Buckbee, served two terms in the Wisconsin State Legislature in 1867 and 1874, after which time he was elected Justice of the Peace in Lake Geneva, a position he would hold for more than 30 years. “This home was identified as one of the three most architecturally significant houses in Lake Geneva in the Geneva Lake Area Intensive Survey of August 1985,” Brookes says. “A signature of the home’s Late Second Empire architecture is the mansard roof and central tower with dormers.” In addition to these details, the home features recessed porches on the second story and a wood-shingle roof with protruding round-arched dormers. On the first floor, tall windows in the style of French doors flank the main entrance. The front porch spans the length of the main entrance and features a projecting central gable with a distinctive sunburst decoration.