In 1874, Captain Thomas Parker purchased 235 acres on the northeast shore of Oconomowoc Lake that he named Spring Bank.
Born in England, Parker was a lumber-schooner captain who had settled in Chicago. From there, he commanded a fleet of cargo ships and founded the Chicago Board of Trade. With his wife, Clara, Parker built the three-story, 20-bedroom brick mansion in Okauchee for $200,000, roughly $4 million today.
The extravagant home had seven marble fireplaces, Tiffany light fixtures, red carpets and a greenhouse. A newspaper article reported, “It was furnished with every evidence of taste and elegance which culture, travel, and wealth could command.”
A guesthouse and casino were attached to the main house by a tunnel through the wine cellar. The ballroom could hold 200 people, and the Parkers entertained often. In 1880, to accommodate guests, they built a train depot in Okauchee along the nearby tracks.
In 1883, Parker had a stroke and was buried at Nashotah House. Clara remarried, but the relationship was short lived. The house changed hands a few times in the following years, eventually becoming a 200-room resort. In 1908, the property was leased to the Roman Catholic Church, which used it for retreats.
In 1928, the property was sold to the Cistercian Order, which removed many of the outbuildings and converted the house into a monastery, Our Lady of Spring Bank. Monks came from Europe to live there, raise cattle and crops, and make cheese, which they sold to the community. During lean years, they sold off chandeliers and other valuables from the mansion.
In 1985, they sold the remaining 77 acres, including 1,000 feet of shoreline, to a developer for $1 million and moved to Sparta. The house and casino were razed, and the land was subdivided into 12 lots.