Public walking path takes you back in time

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Ginny Hall | May 23, 2014

You can see the Alta Vista house if you walk the public path around Geneva Lake or enjoy a boat ride on the lake. Sometime in the late fall to early spring you can see the house from a distance as you travel Snake Road in the town of Linn.

The original wood home was built in 1880 for Orrin W. Potter, president of the Chicago Rolling Mills. It was then sold to Frederick Countiss around 1908. During his tenure, newspaper articles tell of lavish entertainment, a refreshment tent with roof strung with grape vines in fruit and ice cream molded as fully rigged yachts.

In 1919, after Countiss had purchased Loramoor, the Moore property on the south shore of Geneva Lake, he sold the 90-acre estate to Col. William Nelson Pelouze.

Mrs. Pelouze was the sister of Chicago mayor Big Bill Thompson. Soon after the purchase, the home burned. The fire started on the third floor and quickly engulfed the roof. Volunteers helped remove the furniture, rugs, tapestries and other contents of the house.  Mrs. Pelouze was carried from the house in her wheelchair.  She was ill at the time with depression. The excitement of the fire seemed to revive her and her health improved.

The Colonel hired Howard Van Doren Shaw to design a new home, resembling an Italian villa. The current exterior is cream plaster; originally it was cool gray. The Pelouze family owned the property until 1954, when the property was subdivided.

A news article in the historic reference file at the Lake Geneva Public Library tells about Mr. Pelouze's farm foreman experiment to get rid of quack grass in his corn field. The year before the corn crop was almost worthless because of this pest. The 10-acre field was covered in manure in the fall. Later, just before frost set in, the field was plowed. After the ground was frozen it was again covered with manure. In spring it was plowed again. That year it produced one of the heaviest crops of corn in the area. The year was 1931.

The Pelouze farm was a dairy farm with 15 Guernsey cows. It provided milk for the Women's Athletic Club of Chicago, the Palmer House and the Belden Stratford Hotel on a daily basis.

In 1971 a description of the house was given as follows:  Home of James McMahons.  Mrs. McMahons is the former Phyllis Vick. She is a descendent of the founder of Vicksburg and heiress to Vick Pharma-ceutical Company. Mr. McMahons is in the fumigating business in Oak Park.

In the 1990s the house suffered some neglect. A couple of years ago the house was restored and again is a fine-looking mansion on the lake.
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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