Seth Peterson Cottage

Dell Ave., Lake Delton, Wisconsin

880 SqFt cottage on Mirror Lake, designed by Frank Lloyd Wright

Photos 

Entrance

When the cottage is rented, it is closed to public access.

Note the design of the pattern that makes up the gate leaves. (More on that in other photos.)

Photo taken by J.R. Manning June 2019

Enlarge

Map 

Description 

The cottage was designed in 1958 by Frank Lloyd Wright for Seth Peterson. Peterson's untimely death at the age of 24 was before the cottage was completed. New owners finished the cottage. In 1962, the State of Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources acquired nearby land to create Mirror Lake State Park. In 1966, the DNR acquired this property and it became part of the park. There was no use for the cottage and it was boarded up for safety.

In 1989, a group of local residents and FLW enthusiasts founded the Seth Peterson Cottage Conservancy. The Conservancy leased the cottage from Department of Natural Resources to rehabilitate and operate the Cottage.

Badly deteriorated by age and water, a complete restoration began. Almost all of the wood was useless, glass was broken or missing, reports say the only thing left in good condition was stone elements. The flagstone floor was carefully documented (for replacement) and removed so a new concrete slab could be laid, including the radiant heating that FLW had called for but was not installed at the time of construction. Woodwork was restored or replaced, custom windows were added, electrical and plumbing systems were replaced and new heating and air conditioning was installed.

To overcome the remaining debt for the restoration, the conservancy began to rent the cottage, which continues today. You can rent the cottage and experience what living is like in a FLW house.

The cottage is also open for tours, twelve times per year, on the second Sunday of the month.

The Tragic Story of the Seth Peterson Cottage 

Written by J.R. Manning

The Seth Peterson Cottage is nestled in a Wisconsin woodland, overlooking Mirror Lake, as a part of the Mirror Lake State Park. The history of the cottage reads like a Shakespearean tragedy, although it does have a happy conclusion.

Seth Peterson was born in Black Earth, Wisconsin, not far from Frank Lloyd Wright's hometown of Richland Center, Wisconsin. Peterson was a great admirer of FLW, he would even ride the train to Oak Park to walk the streets to study the great man's works. He went so far to apply to Taliesin as an apprentice but there was no room for him.

After a hitch in the army, Peterson became one of the first computer operators for the State of Wisconsin. He bought a plat of land on Mirror Lake and began to bug FLW to design a home for him and his bride. Wright always brushed him off because of workload. Peterson, though, knowing Wright was always short of cash, shrewdly sent him a check for $1,000.00 that Wright immediately cashed. FLW was then obligated to design the house Peterson wanted for his Mirror Lake property.

The cottage reflects FLW's philosophy that a building should be a part of the land. Flagstones lead up to the door and continue into the house as the floor. The flying roof opens a marvelous view of nature and the cottage feels much larger than its 880 square feet.

Wright died before construction of the cottage was completed. Sadly, the untimely death of Seth Peterson, at the age of 24, also occurred before the cottage was completed.

In 1966, the State of Wisconsin bought up land around Mirror Lake for a state park and the cottage was a part of the purchase. With no purpose, the cottage was declared superfluous and boarded up. The years were not kind to the cottage.

In 1989, a group of local enthusiasts formed the Set Peterson Cottage Conservancy in 1989 for the express purpose of preserving the structure. The Conservancy signed a 15-year renewable lease with the Department of Natural Resources, which oversees the state park system.

The Conservancy hired John Eifler to direct the restoration because of his experience in working with Wright designs. The damage to the cottage was extensive. The roof was replaced. The flagstone floor was documented and removed, the concrete slab beneath it was replaced and a radiant heat system was installed. (The radiant heat had been specified by FLW but was not installed as a cost savings.) Forced air was also added for heat and air conditioning to help preserve the structure during Wisconsin's humid summers. All the woodwork was painstakingly restored or replaced if restoration was not possible. Furniture, designed by FLW for the cottage, was finally built. (Wright loved plywood, a relatively new product when he specified it.) Some storage space, not designed by FLW, was added for practical reasons but designed in such a way to pay homage to Wright.

To help defer the cost overruns, and to make the cottage a self-supporting entity, the cottage is available for rent. It is usually fully booked years in advance. It is not a resort or traditional hotel, there is no television, no radio, and no WiFi. You stay there to honor FLW and appreciate his interaction with nature.

The cottage is open to tours, for a nominal fee, on the second Sunday of each month.

National Register information 

Status
Posted to the National Register of Historic Places on November 9, 1981
Reference number
81000059
NR name
Peterson, Seth, Cottage
Architectural style
Modern Movement
Area of significance
Architecture
Level of significance
State
Evaluation criteria
C - Design/Construction
Property type
Building
Historic function
Camp
Period of significance
1950-1974
Significant year
1958

Update Log 

  • July 19, 2019: Essay added by J.R. Manning
  • July 19, 2019: New photos from J.R. Manning
  • June 18, 2019: New photo from J.R. Manning
  • June 18, 2019: Updated by J.R. Manning: Updated Status and Added Description

Sources