This week’s featured member is the ever charming Historic Steppingstone home in downtown Lake Geneva. Not only is this home full of intrigue, it’s also filled with incredible local history. I had the chance to meet with Charlene Klein, the owner of this lovely private estate, and was delighted by the luxurious style and historic beauty of this home that was built in the late 1800s. This tour is where modern day life meets a bygone way of living, complimented by stunning historical architecture. The stories that Charlene shares are simply icing on the cake!
WCVB: Please tell us a little about the Historic Steppingstone House.
CK: Steppingstone was built in 1875 by Phillip Moore, owner of the Moore Hardware Store in Lake Geneva, Wisconsin. Italianate in style, it is typical of a “Lake Geneva” house of that time, painted white with dark green shutters.
WCVB: How did you come to acquire Steppingstone?
CK: I decided to move to Lake Geneva in 2003, and found Steppingstone after an extensive search for a family home. I believe that I was meant to live in this charming home and become it’s guardian for as long as possible.
WCVB: What makes Steppingstone unique?
CK: Steppingstone stands as a testament to the hard working full time citizens who made Lake Geneva a center of commerce and culture. After Mr. Moore sold the home to the town barber, generations of the Chapman family lived in the home until the early 1990’s. I am only the fourth owner of Steppingstone in 141 years!
WCVB: Your brochure states that Steppingstone has been “saved from the wrecking ball.” Would you please elaborate?
CK: After Margaret Chapman’s passing, the home had fallen into disrepair. Scheduled for demolition in 1995, a Lake Geneva craftsman, Ronald Weber, purchased the home and lived in it for 7 years while lovingly restoring it. He replaced and upgraded the electrical, heating and plumbing systems, while retaining all of the original architectural elements. The wavy glass windows, the curved banister, wood trim, exterior shutters, and transom windows are all original to 1875.
Then, as recently as four years ago, the home was threatened once again when the city devised a plan to demolish all of the homes on the north side of Wisconsin Street to erect a parking garage. I, along with several area residents, mounted a fierce protest and after many hours and months of phone calls and meetings with city officials, saved this and the other homes.
WCVB: What is your favorite story that has followed Steppingstone over the years?
CK: I very much like to think about the people that have lived and visited here. I can picture the early days with carriages making their way to the town square just at the end of the block, and pilgrimages down to the lakeside for picnics, and friends and neighbors gathering here. In later years, resident Margaret Chapman was a singer with the Florentine Opera, and I imagine she and her beautiful baby grand piano filling the house with operatic melodies.
Very recently, though, I had a visitor, Mrs. Vorpagel, who had rented an upstairs room from the Chapmans in the 1940’s. She related to me that being of short stature, she had to stand on the second or third step to give her suitor a goodnight kiss!
WCVB: Do you have a favorite room in the house? If so which room, and why?
CK: Each room has a different character, so that is a difficult choice! I do like to hear the giggles of my grandchildren in the playroom upstairs while they spy through the window at the people on the screened in porch. And that porch is where I take my morning coffee and has been the location of many “girl talks”, buffet dinners for my family and other gatherings. Of course, when I invite friends and family at Christmastime and Santa himself pays a visit, the parlor becomes the center of attention. I can’t omit the wine cellar – cool on hot summer days!
WCVB: What do you like most about owning a property in downtown Lake Geneva?
CK: I love being able to walk to everything and reduce my “carbon footprint”!
WCVB: Why did you choose to open Steppingstone up to the public for tours?
CK: Since 2004 I have opened the home to charitable organizations as well as the AAUW and the like, and everyone always has suggested to me that I do this on a regular basis and give others the opportunity to see the home and hear its story.
WCVB: Can Steppingstone be rented for small gatherings?
CK: Yes! It’s perfect for ladies groups, cocktail parties, off-site meeting groups, etc. The pergola and terrace can also be configured to accommodate an intimate wedding.
WCVB: What does a tour of Steppingstone cost?
CK: $10.00 per individual
WCVB: When is Steppingstone open for tours?
CK: Sundays at 11am, 1,3, and 5 pm. Free parking is available for tour guests.
WCVB: Are there any restrictions or limitations that visitors should know about prior to scheduling a tour?
CK: Steppingstone is not handicap accessible, as there are stairs and uneven terrace surfaces. No beverages or food is allowed on the tour. No smoking on the premises.
WCVB: How can people schedule a tour at Steppingstone?
CK: Best way is to phone or text me at 847-867-8684, but a reservation is not generally necessary. Weekday tours for groups can be scheduled with advance notice. Parking is available for small motorcoach vehicles.
WCVB: Where is Steppingstone located?
CK: 817 Wisconsin Street, Lake Geneva, WI. 3 blocks north of the lake, and two blocks north from Main Street (Rte. 50). ¼ block west of the intersection of Broad and Wisconsin Streets.
To learn more about the Historic Steppingstone home and to see more pictures, visit their Facebook page.