Prominent Chicago leaders and one gambler lived here

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Ginny Hall | July 11, 2014

This is yet another house which can only be seen by walking the public path around Geneva Lake or by taking a boat ride on that lake. Some people know this house as the Swift house, but Edward F. Swift named it Villa Hortensia to honor his wife, Hortense.

This house was built in 1906 with Howard Van Dorn Shaw as the architect.  Edward Swift was one of seven sons of Gustavus Franklin Swift, founder of Swift and Co. That company is now known as Swift-Hunt-Wesson Foods. G.F. Swift also had two daughters. Edward was the only one of that family to have a home on Geneva Lake.

This Mediterranean-style mansion has a 10-car garage and well-kept grounds.  By 1911 the estate had three greenhouses.   Bird houses around the estate match the house. In 1911 the gardener on this estate was Robert Sampson.  In 1930 the foreman was Emil Faber. 

Swift was very interested in horticulture. He looked into ways of preserving trees by eliminating dead branches and brought in experts from Ohio. He gave his gardeners and foremen free rein to experiment in the vegetable gardens and flowerbeds. He wanted his estate to receive the top prizes at the fairs.

Swift sold the property in 1922 to Silas J. Llewellyn who changed the estate name to Pen-Y-Bryn. He became the president of Interstate Iron and Steel and Chicago Malleable Castings.

In 1929 the owner was John J. Lynch, a Chicago gambler, who named the estate Edgewood. Reports indicate that he did share his winnings with friends and charities. One newspaper report indicated that he was a “known horse race devotee.”  That same article told about his kidnapping. It was believed to have occurred on Aug. 20 (year not stated), on Highway 12 near the White Pigeon School. The kidnappers demanded $250,000 for his safe return, but, according to the article, $50,000 was offered.  The article went on to say that he was released in Kankakee, Illinois. He hurried to Chicago and had a friend drive him to his Geneva Lake home. 

Lynch sold the estate to Davis P. Shupe.  In 1948 the new owner was George Getz, Jr. He changed the estate's name to Vista sul Lago. Getz  brought his “Hall of Flame” collection of firefighting equipment to Lake Geneva in July, 1963. He started the museum in Kenosha; the collection is now in Scottsdale, Arizona.

Thomas Gelderman was the next owner.  When the current owners purchased the property it was called Edgewood once again.
Ginny Hall, a historian from Delavan, is author of the “Walking around ...” and “Meandering ... ” books, which highlight the history of Walworth County communities.

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