Dam would have put property under water
You probably have driven past a sign for the Pallotti Retreat Center on Bowers Road many times and wanted to know more about it. The center is located in the town of LaFayette at N6409 Bowers Road.
The center has been a private residence, a Jewish children's camp, a dude ranch and a retreat center. It survived a proposed dam, which would have flooded the property to create a lake. Early on, the property changed hands frequently.
According to the 1857 plat map this property was owned by J.W. Peek. In the 1873 and 1891 books the owner was listed as S. R. Edgerton. The next owner was L.R. Whitmore in 1900 and 1907 books. The 1921 plat book lists Raymond Hubbard as the owner. Then in the 1930 plat book, H.C. Whitmore is shown as the owner.
Pallotine Fathers Inc. purchased the property in 1962. At first the property was used as a novitiate. There were three priests, a brother and three to five novices, or students, on the property.
The original house that serves as the retreat center was built in 1928 by the owner at that time?— Fabrisee. He was an inventor who devised a foil liner for beer bottle caps. Prior to that time there was just a cork liner in the caps and when the cork dried, air would enter the bottle and the beer would deteriorate.
According to Father Greg, after Fabrisee died, the property became a camp for Jewish children — Kipper Camp. The priests discovered that name and a Star of David on a board in one of the buildings. They also found dinnerware embellished with the Star of David.
After that it became a dude ranch, the Lazy M Ranch. During that time a large outdoor swimming pool was installed. Later that was removed and a basketball court and fire pit put in that area.
During the early years of the Pallotine ownership, the School Sisters of St. Francis would spend their summers there. They needed a retreat place to redo their community rules and guidelines. While there, they helped to refurnish the house. They sewed curtains and did other projects to make the place homey. They spent about four summers doing these retreats. They also assisted when there were girls' retreats.
Soon after the Pallotine fathers took ownership, there were some tentative thoughts of erecting a 40-foot dam on Sugar Creek to form a 2,300-acre Sugar Creek Lake to be part of a 7,500-acre state park. Most of the Pallotine property would have been under water. Those plans never were carried out. This was at the time of the construction of the old Wisconsin Highway 15, which is now Interstate 43.
Later in the 1960s, the fathers moved their novitiate to Phelps, Wis., and the property became a retreat center for Pius High School students from Milwaukee. At that time the priests were managing that school. The center was formally dedicated on Sept. 27, 1967, with Archbishop William E. Cousins officiating. Father Greg served as director of retreat from 1993 until 2000.
In some of the early years, college students and mission people would live at the center for a year. They would help with the maintenance of the property.
In 1967-'68 additions were made to the house to accommodate more people. The center now can sleep up to 48.
Soon the retreat center was open to various Catholic groups. Then it was available to any religious group, which led to it opening up to nonprofit groups. It is now open to any groups or individuals who want to make use of a quiet, reflective place in a wooded setting. It has been the setting for company picnics. The 150-acre property is filled with walking paths and has about a five-acre lawn.
Until 2000, priests lived at the retreat center, working with retreat groups and assisting local parish priests. For the last five years, the Pallotine fathers have been coming out from Milwaukee each summer Sunday to say Mass at Lake Wandawega.
Since 2002, the directors are Kris and Muffy Rhyner, who live on the grounds in what was once the caretaker's house. Muffy told me that she was preparing the center for a weekend wedding. The wedding party, family and guests would be staying at the center.