Story by Rhonda Mix | Photography by Holly Leitner
Some people may come across Twin Pines, an elegant Queen Anne Victorian residence located on Geneva Lake’s south shore, and admire its beauty, but pass by without giving it a second thought.
Other people may pause and see within the home’s windows a glimmer of the past, for they know the colorful history that surrounds the property and the secrets that lie within.
One of its biggest secrets?
The house is the only original building left from Kaye’s Park Resort, a premiere 19th-century Midwest resort for the wealthy.
To appreciate Twin Pines — named for the two pine trees that grace the front lawn — it is important to go back to the beginning of Kaye’s Park Resort, to understand how it came into existence, what amenities it offered its guests and how its presence greatly impacted the south shore of Geneva Lake.
Kaye’s Park was a dream brought to life by Arthur Kaye and his wife, Anna. Kaye was born in 1831 in England. With his parents and four siblings, he moved to America in 1842. The family lived in Baltimore and Philadelphia before settling in Wisconsin in 1848, where they became farmers.
Kaye married Anna Cullen in 1854. Together, they had eight children and ran a general store in Linton (between Fontana and Lake Geneva) for many years.
A RESORT FOR THE WEALTHY EMERGES
Starting in 1870 when a number of wealthy Chicagoans flocked to the city and the Lake Geneva area experienced massive growth, Kaye saw the population boom as an opportunity to create a business. He began purchasing property along Geneva Lake’s southern shore. In 1871, due to railroad expansion and the devastation of the Great Chicago Fire, the area experienced an additional growth surge, and Kaye decided to capitalize on this phenomenon by opening a health and recreational resort. He purchased 300 acres of shoreline on the south shore west of Black Point and opened Kaye’s Park Resort in 1873. The resort initially consisted of just one small building, but over the next several years, the collection of smaller buildings eventually gave way to a large, thriving and prosperous retreat for the wealthy.
The grounds of Kaye’s Park Resort featured eight rental cottages offering between two and 10 rooms each. Rental rates ranged from $10 to $20 per person, per week.
The grounds also boasted an Italianate dining hall, a racetrack, horse stables, a museum of curios, a zoo, a dairy and vegetable gardens. Activities such as boating, fishing, horseback riding, billiards and moonlight yacht rides — Kaye also owned his own steamer, the Arthur Kaye — were popular among guests, as were romantic strolls through the park’s shady and inviting trees.
A big draw of the Geneva Lake area at the time was fresh air, which was considered “cool and bracing and free from malarial influences” which were a scourge in the city.
Geneva Lake also was known for its enchanting beauty and crystal clear, springfed waters, which were rumored to hold healing properties.
Kaye’s Park Resort welcomed visitors from June through September, with many guests enjoying themselves so much that they stayed on through the summer and into the fall. During the resort’s heyday, it was known as a hub for the festive and social gatherings of the wealthy.
Unfortunately, after two decades as a successful resort owner, Kaye became ill and died in 1893. After his death, his family members tried their best to hold on to the resort, but soon the costs required to maintain and modernize the property and all its buildings became too demanding.
THE BEGINNING OF THE END
Where gas lamps had once been commonplace and acceptable, electricity was taking over. Chamber pots, wash bowls and communal toilets were no longer wanted — people sought out the comforts of modern plumbing.
The guest list began to dwindle as more comfortable, plush and modern hotels began popping up throughout the area.
The resort finally closed its doors in 1900 and, one by one, its buildings disappeared as parcels of land were sold off. A large part of the property became the Northwestern Military and Naval Academy in 1911, a facility which operated until 1996.
However, two resort cottages remained. Three of Arthur Kaye’s daughters wanted to live in the cottages, so they decided to move them a half-mile down the shore, to the west end of the property.
The two cottages were moved across the frozen lake during winter, pulled with chains by teams of horses. Unfortunately, one of the cottages crashed through the ice and was completely destroyed. The remaining cottage — what is now known as Twin Pines — survived the journey.
TWIN PINES’ ENDURING LEGACY
The three-story Victorian cottage was originally built in 1880 and the Kaye sisters lived in one section of the home and rented out the rest of the house during the summer months. The women also ran a maple syrup business on the property. After one of the sisters died, the other two lived in the home year-round.
The cottage passed on to new owners in 1951. The Russell Hedberg family had new plans for the building, and the old Victorian cottage was altered dramatically: the third floor was removed, a sun room was added and, stylistically, the home was altered from a Victorian to a Colonial.
Mike Guarise, a subsequent owner who acquired the home in 1971, felt it should be restored to its original Victorian splendor. Enlisting the help of Lake Geneva architect Ken Etten, Guarise performed extensive research to turn back the clock and remodel the home using authentic Victorian details.
The last remaining Kaye’s Park building underwent massive reconstruction, coming full circle from a Victorian style home, to a Colonial and back to a Victorian.
“It was literally taken down to the studs,” says current owner Martha Cucco.
Twin Pines tripled in size during the renovation while also remaining true to the architectural styles of its time. Guarise replaced the lost third story and added a two-story tower as well as an enclosed lake porch and sun room.
The restoration was able to preserve several elements from the original house, including the staircase with its newel posts and balusters, a marble sink placed in the hallway bathroom and a great room fireplace adorned on both sides with swans.
Additionally, the original, unique maple- and walnut-striped flooring from Kaye’s Park Resort’s dining hall can be found throughout the home.
Cucco and her husband Rich moved into Twin Pines 14 years ago. A Chicago native, Cucco says she grew up spending many weekends and summers visiting the Geneva Lake area with her father, who was a passionate sailor.
“Part of me was never able to forget the area,” she says, sharing why she ended up relocating to Wisconsin from Chicago. She says she initially moved with her husband and children to a smaller house near Twin Pines, but when the property became available for purchase, she and her husband fell in love with it. They moved in shortly thereafter.
Cucco says she has collected several pieces of Kaye’s Park memorabilia over the years, including an extensive history scrapbook — which she says will remain with the property even if it passes into new hands — photographs, dining chairs, glassware and several pieces of bedside furniture from the resort’s guest rooms.
She says she believes the house is important to the area and the community because it carries a blend of Lake Geneva history.
“Kaye’s Park was here for a long time, as was the Northwestern Military Academy,” she reflects. “This area has a lot of memories for a lot of people and has always been an important landmark for Geneva Lake and the south shore … It is a very special stretch of the lake [and] it is the only remaining part of Kaye’s Park.”