Wawbeek is one of the finest and most intact turn-of-the-twentieth-century summer homes remaining in the Wisconsin Dells area. In 1897, Horace and Mary Upham purchased this four-hundred-acre site overlooking the Wisconsin River Valley for their summer home. They named it Wawbeek after the rock that threatened the West Wind in Longfellow’s The Song of Hiawatha. To design their retreat, the Uphams chose Eschweiler, who was then little known but became one of Milwaukee’s most distinguished architects. Construction began in 1899, and the Upham family occupied their new house in the summer of 1900.
The rustic residence rises from a high ridge at the center of the estate. Cedar shingles sheathe the walls, which are sheltered by a broad multigabled roof. The main block rests on a massive foundation of pinkish random-coursed sandstone that was quarried on site. A shed-roofed veranda, supported by massive paired posts, extends across two-thirds of the western elevation and curves around the end of the house to form a broad base for a three-story circular stone tower with crenellations. Here, the Uphams could enjoy a spectacular view extending about forty miles in all directions. The floor plan of Wawbeek is open and informal, reflecting the Uphams’ casual summer lifestyle. A living hall, forty-feet square, was the center of activity. Dominating the room is a large red brick fireplace, flanked by windows with window seats. In 1906, Eschweiler added a wing to the east elevation containing additional bedrooms, a bathroom, an enlarged kitchen, and a dining room.
Wawbeek reflects a turn-of-the-twentieth-century impulse, widespread among well-to-do urbanites like the Uphams, to seek regeneration in the rural landscape. Horace Upham worked as a prominent attorney in Milwaukee, and Mary Upham was an active community volunteer. In the 1930s, the Upham daughters donated the house and a portion of the estate to the Easter Seals for use as a camp for children with disabilities.