Some Milwaukee Road History

 

 

"Lake Country on the Move"

Thursday, September 3, 1998

PAST DRAWS NEW OWNERS

Builder played important part in History and Society

 

By Bettsy Terlinden, Staff Writer

Lake Country Reporter--Hartland, WI

 

More than 100 years ago, meat packing magnate Philip Armour offered 20 acres adjoining his land on Oconomowoc Lake to Albert Earling.

He told Earling, the future president of the Milwaukee Road, that he wanted him as a neighbor. Earling gave him a dollar to seal the offer.

The house that Earling built still stands. Beginning as a casual cottage with fieldstone fireplaces, rustic stairs, and a screened porch, it served as a summer residence for Albert, his wife Maggie, and their daughter Hattie. It was Hattie who named it Brae Head from Sir Walter Scott's ballad, The Lady of the Lake.

The style of the house made a dramatic change when Maggie returned from the Columbian Exposition in 1893. As the buildings were dismantled at the close of the event, she bought the columns from the house that represented the state of Virginia and had them shipped to the Oconomowoc Lake home.

The addition of the columns to the portico of the Earling home marked the change to a formal home, reminiscent of the colonial mansions of the South.

Fieldstone fireplace mantels were changed to rich mahogany. A formal staircase replaced the rustic stairs. A ballroom was added. Hand-painted oil murals graced the library walls. Six fireplaces in the house took the chill off cool summer evenings.

A railroad siding brought Earling's personal coach to the estate. Enclosed tennis courts, a water tower, generator plant, guest cottages and caretakers cottages stood on the land.

As the Milwaukee Road moved west, tunnels were blasted into the Rocky Mountains. Crew loaded the pink granite onto flatcars for transport to Oconomowoc where it was used on the portico of the Earling home as well as a wall that edged the estate. The granite was also used in the Oconomowoc railway depot.

With Earling's continued success, the family gained further social prominence. The home was the scene of elegant parties and balls.

Guests in the home ranged from Armour, who came over every morning to hear the news on the telegraph, to Liliuokalani, who ultimately became the last reigning monarch of Hawaii.

In its heyday, a staff of 21 servants, summoned by buzzers in the floor, served the Earlings and their guests.

The house was home to several generations. Hattie's grandson, John Fitch raised his family on the estate. He was the last of the family to live there. This property was subdivided in the 1970's.

 

LAKE HOME HAS COLORFUL HISTORY

The activities of the house where the Chicago Symphony once played "Aloha Oe" for Hawaiian royalty, bow revolve around the interests of a family of the '90's.

The telegraph that brought news of the world to the Earlings has been replaced by modern electronics. Activities with the children are more inclined to revolve around sports events and dance lessons, rather than preparing a daughter for presentation to European royalty.

It is home to Paul and Peggy Bielik and their children, Buck, 11, and Ruby, 9. The Bieliks were drawn to the home by a love of architecturally significant buildings and the quiet residential neighborhood that now surrounds it.

The Bieliks have made few changes. Those that have been made, update it for living in the present time. A wall separating the servants' quarters from the kitchen was removed to expand the kitchen area. A built-in icebox was upgraded for modern use with the addition of a compressor. An indoor pool was added.

None of the Earling's furniture was left with the house. All were sold at an auction and went out of the family. An organ stool and a fireplace grate are the only original furnishings that were recovered.

 

HOUSE WAS HOME TO RAILROAD GIANT

The Bieliks were luckier than most when it came to seeking information on the house.

"We didn't realize all this information would be available," Peggy said.

The family had donated items, including family photographs and Hattie's ball gowns to the Waukesha County Museum. Other information included landscaping plans and the original blueprints for the home, including some that were not used.

Many old-timers shared reminiscences with the couple, including Fitch.

"We had some nice conversations with him," Paul said.

Others recalled sit-down dinners with 100 guests in the formal dining room.

No longer a formal dining room, it is a family room, a favorite spot where the Bieliks may gather to converse or watch television.

The home that once was known as Brae Head serves a duel role. It is once again a family home as well as a tribute to the role that Earling and the Milwaukee Road played in the growth of the nation.