WILLIAMS BAY — The Questers are not a high-profile group.
David Desimone, director of Black Point Estate and Gardens, said he has worked at several historic sites, but had never heard of Questers until he came to Black Point on Geneva Lake.
Now, he is glad to know them.
Questers are volunteers and donors who work behind the scenes to restore, repair or replace artifacts and items of historical interest at museums and historical sites.
Williams Bay has two chapters — the Royal Joy Williams Questers, founded in 1996, and the Kishwauketoe Questers, which have been active for the past 50 years.
Neither club numbers more than 30 members. But both keep busy at Black Point Estate and Garden, the Geneva Lake Museum and Horticultural Hall in Lake Geneva.
The chapters have also done restoration projects at the Walworth County Historical Society’s Webster House in Elkhorn and the Blooming Prairie School Building on the Walworth County Fairgrounds.
Questers International, with members in the U.S. and Canada, was founded in 1944 to preserve local history. The group doles out grants of between $600 and $5,000 each to help local chapters complete local project.
The local chapters also hold fundraisers to pay for their projects up front.
Work at Black Point
If the cobbler’s bench at the Lake Geneva Museum draws a visitor’s curiosity, that is the work of Questers who had the bench restored.
If tourists at Black Point feel like they are going back in time when they hear the lakefront summer home’s antique clocks tolling the hour in unison, that is the work of Questers who had the clocks cleaned and repaired.
And one of the sites that has received a lot of attention from Questers is Black Point Estate.
Desimone estimated that the Questers have done $40,000 worth of restoration work on Black Point since it became a historic site.
Gwen Tweter, founder of the Royal Joy Williams Chapter, said a love of history drew her to the Questers. She said she founded the Royal Joy Williams chapter in 1996 for retired couples.
Dolly Schneidwind, past president of the Kishwauketoe chapter, said her chapter has been active for 50 years. Schneidwind has been a member for 16 years.
Tveter, 91, now lives in Walworth. And although she now has some difficulty getting around, she remains active with the chapter in selecting projects.
Many of those projects focus on Black Point.
Since 2005, when Black Point was deeded to the state, projects there included a $6,000 restoration of one of the summer home’s ornate beds and an 18-month restoration of the Black Point doll house now on display on the house’s second floor. Restoration of the bed received a $5,000 grant from the Questers International. Tweter had a personal hand in repairing the doll house, which was done with a private donation.
Tveter said she also had “personal” projects at Black Point that came out of her pocket, including purchasing authentic-looking Victorian style lamp shades for the lamps in the living room.
“I’ve done an awful lot of restoration at Black Point,” Tveter said.
Tveter has known Black Point since she was a child. In 1926, her family bought some land from the Black Point estate and built a summer home there.
Tveter said she and her mother would walk the lake path and admire the stately Queen Anne style summer home.
“The beauty of Black Point is its architecture,” Tveter said. “It’s very ornate.”
In the early 2000s, Tveter and the late Bill Petersen, the last private owner of Black Point, struck up a friendship.
Tveter said she and Petersen collaborated on an illustrated 66-page book that outlines the history of Black Point called “The Black Point Legacy,” published in 2006.
Like Tveter, Schneidwind said she is a history buff.
“I like history,” she said. “I’m from Chicago, and Chicago has a lot of history right here in Lake Geneva.”
And like Tveter, Schneidwind is in love with Black Point Estate.
“Black Point is gorgeous,” she said.
Black Point, W4270 Southland Road, in the Town of Linn, was built by in 1888 by Conrad Seipp, a Chicago beer magnate. The elaborate Queen Anne style summer home is now operated as a museum and historic site by the Wisconsin Historical Society under Desimone’s direction.
Black Point has a budget of $300,000 a year, funded in part by an endowment, private donations, and the state historical society. That $300,000 covers utilities, basic maintenance, and pay for employees.
The Questers focus on the details that budget does not cover, Desimone said.
Most recently the Royal Joy Williams chapter replaced French lace curtains the bedrooms at Black Point and restored the cast iron lantern outside.
Desimone said he was not thinking about drapes at the time.
“Drapes were not on my radar,” he said.
Over the years, private owners replaced the French lace drapes with less expensive cloth curtains. But historical photos showed Black Point with French linen drapes. Tveter and the Royal Joy Williams chapter found a company that could replace them. The drapes were replaced in 2016 and 2017 with the help of almost $3,000 in grants from Questers.
After the new French drapes hung, visitors noticed.
“It’s one of those things, if it’s not done, no one notices. But when it is done, people notice,” Desimone said. “They make for a better presentation, and they fall outside the budget we have.”
Tveter said she is already thinking about next year’s projects for Black Point.
“There’s a wrought iron fence that runs from the bathroom building to the porch,” said Tveter. “It’s not properly installed, and it needs to be painted.”
Schneidwind said the Kishwauketoe Chapter is also seeking out projects for next year.
“We’ll talk to Dave (Desimone) to see if he has anything on his mind,” she said.