Looking north on Walworth Avenue. Photo courtesy of Jill Westberg
PEOPLE, PLACES, & ORGANIZATIONS
More Local History
~ Conference Point Camp’s Oak Lawn Scheduled for Demolition ~
Once the Summer Cottage of William and Joan Pinkerton Chalmers
Sadly, another grand old summer cottage on Geneva Lake is scheduled to be demolished this fall. The three-story wood frame cottage was built by William J. and Joan Pinkerton Chalmers in 1888 on property purchased from George Bullock. The Chalmers named their estate after a region of Scotland and in honor of the couples shared Scottish heritage. During the approximately 30 years the Chalmers summered at their Williams Bay cottage, it underwent several changes and additions. In 1905 William Chalmers hired renowned landscape designer Jens Jensen to re-design the grounds of his estate. About this same time a basement and wine cellar was added to the cottage.
William and Joan Chalmers entertained the movers and shakers of the day at their Chicago residence as well as at their summer cottage on Geneva Lake. From the likes of President Theodore Roosevelt’s Secretary of the Treasury to the Scottish-born grand diva of Paris and Chicago opera Mary Garden, the great and near great were guests of the Chalmers.
The Chalmers left Geneva Lake and sold their beloved Dronley to Conference Point Camp which bordered their estate to the south in 1919. The purchase of Dronley expanded the camp to 30 acres with one-half mile of shoreline frontage. The Camp renamed the cottage Oak Lawn.
Over the years a rumor spread, that continues to this day, that the Chalmers left their cottage after their daughter Joan drown in Geneva Lake. This rumor is false. Though it is true that both Mr. and Mrs. Chalmers outlived both of their children by many years neither of their children died before Dronley was sold. The Chalmers lost their son and daughter within eight days in 1923.
Regrettably, time and events have not been kind to the old mansion. During a recent tour of Conference Point Camp Christiaan Snedeker, Advancement Director at Conference Point said “When the Lake Geneva Foundation took over the camp in 2010, we inherited past property decisions that had nothing to do with preserving Oak Lawn. They turned this beautiful mansion into a bunkhouse. The real tragedy of Oak Lawn is that it could have been preserved.” Snedeker continued, “When we [CPC] reached out to donors [and various preservation foundations] to preserve the old building, there was almost no response.”
According to Snedeker, structural studies indicated the building’s foundation would need at least $1 million in repairs and another $1 million would be needed to bring the remainder of the building in compliance with ADA regulations and to correct changes made to the building in the past.
Oak Lawn is scheduled to be demolished soon and a new two-story 27 room residence and meeting center built in its place. The design of new building will keep the historical ambiance of the property but will have modern amenities and be ADA accessible, something Oak Lawn does not have. Snedeker said they hope to salvage some of the interior and exterior features from Oak Lawn and incorporated them in the new building.
More can be learned about the William and Joan Pinkerton Chalmers in the links below
Past Stories, Click on a link below to read.