This extraordinarily stylish barn was once part of the 1,100-acre Lone Tree Farm. Jessie Bradley Lawson developed this land on the north shore of Green Lake, where she had vacationed as a child. The lake is Wisconsin’s deepest spring-fed glacial lake, and the state’s oldest resort community arose along its banks between 1867 and the early 1890s. In the late 1880s, Lawson and her husband, Victor, began to develop this estate, transforming lake frontage, woodlands, fields, and pastures into a bucolic paradise, complete with thirty swans and a nine-hole golf course. Several structures remain, including the greenhouse (1906), boathouse (1910), tea house (1910), stone walls along roadways, and a large water tower (1908) with an observation platform that commands a dramatic view of the Lawsons’ country retreat.
Victor Lawson, publisher of the Chicago Daily News and cofounder of the Associated Press, believed the estate should pay for itself through farming and dairying, especially after Jessie died in 1914. Two years later, needing a place to house his Guernsey cows, Victor had this handsome two-story basement barn built on the north end of the farm. The estate’s general manager and construction superintendent, Merigold, is credited with the design, but he drew on the ideas being promoted by the Agricultural Experiment Station at the University of Wisconsin in Madison. This barn configuration became known as the “Wisconsin dairy barn.” To guarantee good ventilation and sunshine, Merigold placed hipped dormers along the sides of the barn’s roof and lined the roof ridge with large ventilators, and he rhythmically pierced the clapboard side walls with pairs of small rectangular windows, marking the cattle stalls inside. The gambrel roof—which allowed for greater hayloft capacity than did a gabled roof—also adhered to the university’s advice. Merigold, however, added unusually fashionable details. He filled the dormers with diamond-pane sashes, and to provide access to the haymow, he installed an elegant pair of French doors with a fanlight in an arched surround.
In 1925, the H. O. Stone Company of Chicago purchased the estate and turned it into a country club residential community named Lawsonia in honor of its original developers. Many of the buildings on the grounds today date from the Stone Company’s ownership. The enterprise went bankrupt during the Great Depression. The American Baptist Assembly acquired the property in 1943 and operates it as a religious conference center.