By Bobby Tanzilo Senior Editor/Writer Published Jul 27, 2023 at 9:02 AM

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There is perhaps no beer baron’s mansion that offers quite as dramatic an approach as the gorgeous Queen Anne home that Chicago’s Conrad Seipp had built for his family on the shores of Lake Geneva in 1888.

The home – now called Black Point Estate and Gardens –  is one of 12 historic sites and museums managed by the Wisconsin Historical Society, which offers tours daily during from May through October, in conjunction with Lake Geneva Cruise Line.

The exterior has interesting spindle work.
The gardens.

Born in Langen, Germany in 1825, Conrad Seipp was drafted to serve as a bodyguard to the Grand Duchess of Hessen in 1848, but after the failed revolution he left for the U.S.

Landing in Rochester, New York, he married Maria Teutsch and they soon left for Chicago, where Seipp got his first job working in the brewing industry: driving a beer wagon.

Conrad Seipp
Conrad Seipp.

For five years, he ran a hotel on Washington and Wells Streets in what is now The Loop. Selling the hotel, Seipp bought a small brewery on the near south side for $18,000 from Matthias Best (no relation, apparently, to Milwaukee’s Best Brewery, later Pabst).

A year later a fire forced Seipp to almost immediately invest in an entirely new brewing facility, further south, on 27th Street, that included lagering cellars, a malting floor and an apartment for his family. There, he set to brewing 1,000 barrels a year.

In 1858, he partnered with Frederick Lehmann and by about 1870, Seipp & Lehmann and its 50 employees were churning out more than 50 times the amount of beer he started out producing.

Lehmann died in 1872 – a year after the brewery survived the Great Chicago Fire – and in 1876, Seipp bought out his late partner's family and renamed the brewery Conrad Seipp Brewing Company. By then, it was making more than 100,000 barrels a year, good enough to call it the fifth largest brewery in America.

Seipp Brewery
Seipp Brewing Company.

A dozen or so years later, it was brewing  30,000 barrels.

That’s when Seipp tapped architect Adolph Cudell to build his lake house.

Cudell was born in Germany in 1850 and arrived in Chicago 23 years later, where he designed a number of residences for well-to-do Chicagoans, as well as buildings for breweries like Schoenhofen.

Adolph Cudell
Architect Adolph Cudell.

Cudell drew an elegant and gargantuan three-story “summer cottage” perched atop a high promontory on the southern shore of Geneva Lake on an eight-acre plot of land that across the Seipp era grew into a much larger estate.

Perched at the top in the northwest corner of the house is an observation tower that recalls a ship’s crow’s nest. That added height, on top of the prominent position of the home, means that Black Point – which at least one vintage photo in the mansion refers to as “Villa Loreley” – can be seen from many parts of the lake.

Villa Loreley
Villa Loreley.

Alas, Seipp himself only got to enjoy the 20-room place for about a year before he died, leaving it to his wife Catharina Orb Seipp (Maria had died in 1866), who was 21 years his junior, and their children.

The brewery, in the meantime, became part of the huge City of Chicago Brewing and Malting Company, which had also swallowed up the West Side and F. J. Dewes Breweries and the L. C. Huck and George Bullen maltings, though the businesses all continued to operate under their own names.

Dining room
A vintage photo of the dining room. (PHOTO: Wisconsin Historical Society)

Under the arrangement, Seipp Brewing continued to grow and by the dawn of the 20th century, it was producing 240,000 barrels of beer. It was big, though not as big as Pabst, which had passed the 1 million barrels a year mark in 1892.

Over time, Catharina, who died in 1920, carved and sold off pieces of the property and by the time Seipp’s great-grandson, attorney William O. Peterson, donated the house to the State of Wisconsin, there were but a half-dozen acres remaining.

That, however, included 620 feet of lake frontage. These days, lake frontage sells for about $30,000 a linear foot, which in this case equals about $18.6 million.

Master bedroom, with turret.
Staircase landing.

Petersen, who had married late and had no children, wanted the home to become a museum and so he donated everything in it, too. Much of the furniture and artwork has been in the house for many decades, if not since its construction.

This donation, however, was made much to dismay of wealthy neighbors, who feared development and noise, and of local authorities, who likely feared loss of property tax revenue, leading to a decade-long legal battle.

In the end, an agreement was reached which ensured there will be no hotels nearby and no parking lots on site. The museum closes by 7 p.m. and the only means of arrival for guests is by boat.

The boat to Black Point Estate and Gardens.

Which is just fine, if you ask me.

Is there any better way to pass a beautiful late spring, summer or early autumn day in the area than out on a boat on Geneva Lake?

If you opt to take the 3.5-hour Beer Barons tour, –which occurs a couple times a year (the next one is slated for Aug. 12) and includes the visit to Black Point – it’s even better.

music room
The music room.
The second floor corridor.

The tour guides point out beer-related homes around the lake (there are more than you might think), while the boat captain shares other lake lore.

 “Lake Geneva, regarded as the Newport of the Midwest during the turn of the century, attracted some very notable beer barons including the Blatz and Schlitz family,” says David Desimone, site director of Black Point Estate and Gardens.

There are beer samples on the boat and on the veranda of the house, where you’ll also get some light snacks, and a bottle of beer to take home.

When I took the tour, Tim Sullivan of Burlington's Low Daily Beer was on board to share samples of his Country Casual golden ale.

Samples on the boat on the Beer Barons Cruise.

The Beer Barons tours are ages 21 and up only, for obvious reasons. Standard tours are also 3.5 hours, but are open to all ages (although recommended for ages 12 and up).

The home and gardens are gorgeous, of course. In the latter is an old engraved stone from the Seipp & Lehmann Brewery lagering cellars.

Lagering cellar cornerstone.
Ceramic tile on one of the fireplaces.

Inside, there are period furnishings, incredible ceramic tile adorning each of the fireplaces, stained glass windows – always bearing the initials C.S. – family portraits and more.

I especially love the objects that speak to the family itself. On the walls are some prints of sites in Germany that surely had personal meaning to the Seipps. In one bedroom a dresser has some grooming tools and a variety of intimate family photos.

stained glass
Stained glass.
dresser topX

In the back, near the entrance to the gift shop (check out the two sets of original Seipp bottles on display in here) is a small table with an old telephone and hand-written directions – with a hand-drawn map – to the estate from Chicago.

Interestingly, in the dining room, Catharina hired an artist to decorate the walls but opted for grapevines instead of hope bines.

Directions to the estate.

Unfortunately, there’s no going up to the crow’s nest, because, a tour guide tells me, to access the spiral staircase up to it, you have to climbe through a scuttle hatch, which is perhaps too much for most visitors – and WHS' insurance company – to handle.

(This is the point at which I should alert you to the fact that there are 120 steps between the boat landing and the house, an no elevator.)

seipp mug
Seipp's mug.

The samples you’ll taste on the veranda are rooted in this place.

Although Seipp closed in 1933 – after having survived Prohibition brewing near beer and soda – and its buildings torn down for Michael Reese Hospital, which itself has since been razed, Conrad Seipp’s  great-great-great-granddaughter, Laurin Mack brought the brand back to life in 2020.

main floor
The entry hall on the main floor.

Mack contract brews the modern Seipp beers – a pre-Prohibition style pilsner, the Columbia Special Release bock-style brew and Seipp’s Extra Pale Ale – with Chicago’s respected Metropolitan Brewing.

For more information on tours or to book tickets, call (262) 248-6206 or visit Lake Geneva Cruise Line.

Bobby Tanzilo Senior Editor/Writer

Born in Brooklyn, N.Y., where he lived until he was 17, Bobby received his BA-Mass Communications from UWM in 1989 and has lived in Walker's Point, Bay View, Enderis Park, South Milwaukee and on the East Side.

He has published three non-fiction books in Italy – including one about an event in Milwaukee history, which was published in the U.S. in autumn 2010. Four more books, all about Milwaukee, have been published by The History Press.

With his most recent band, The Yell Leaders, Bobby released four LPs and had a songs featured in episodes of TV's "Party of Five" and "Dawson's Creek," and films in Japan, South America and the U.S. The Yell Leaders were named the best unsigned band in their region by VH-1 as part of its Rock Across America 1998 Tour. Most recently, the band contributed tracks to a UK vinyl/CD tribute to the Redskins and collaborated on a track with Italian novelist Enrico Remmert.

He's produced three installments of the "OMCD" series of local music compilations for and in 2007 produced a CD of Italian music and poetry.

In 2005, he was awarded the City of Asti's (Italy) Journalism Prize for his work focusing on that area. He has also won awards from the Milwaukee Press Club.

He has be heard on 88Nine Radio Milwaukee talking about his "Urban Spelunking" series of stories, in that station's most popular podcast.