When John Beggs bought a summer home on Lac La Belle in 1911, he was president of the Milwaukee Electric Railway and Light Company and a 63-year-old widow. His only child, Mary, was married with three children, and her family helped fill the three-story house, which cost about $50,000 (about $1.2 million today).
Beggs was a self-made millionaire, having started life as an orphan in Pennsylvania. He worked at Edison General Electric in Chicago and the St. Louis Interurban before manufacturing his own interurban train cars and moving to Wisconsin. When he died in 1925, Beggs served on the board of directors of more than 50 utility companies and was reportedly the wealthiest man in Wisconsin; he left $50 million in a trust for his grandchildren.
Visitors to the magnate’s Oconomowoc home followed a mile-long driveway, flanked by willow trees, from the old Highway 67 (N. Lake Road) to a lakefront estate replete with tennis courts, a greenhouse, stables, and other outbuildings.
Beggs Island, where the main house was located, was a 6-acre gem off the eastern shore of Lac La Belle. Visitors crossed a wooden bridge over a channel filled with Egyptian lotus flowers to reach the main house, which had 18 rooms, including 12 bedrooms and 9 bathrooms. Two cooks, three maids, two laundresses, ten maintenance men, and three nannies (one for each of his grandchildren) worked there.
Tony Warrath was the property’s caretaker for 46 years, until 1957, when the house and 43 acres were donated equally to the Milwaukee Downer Seminary and Milwaukee Children’s Hospital. Together, the institutions auctioned off rugs, furniture, and furnishings from the home before razing it; the land was subdivided and sold off as residential plats.