The Wrigley families--both Phillip K. Wrigley and William Wrigley—owned a total of six properties along Geneva Lake.
Before Wrigley, Hillcroft estate’s owners included two separate Chicago high-society couples—one of whom donated land to Yerkes Observatory--and a noted Chicago architect who initially constructed a hunting lodge on the property back in the 1880s, according to Walworth County historian Ginny Hall.
Wrigley’s family owned the Hillcroft estate until 1980, when it was sold to the current owner Roger O’Neill. He had its brick home torn down to build an 11,000-square foot mansion in 1984 that, according to a Keefe Real Estate press release on the property, “still incorporates many of the original architectural features.”
Jay Hicks, Keefe Real Estate’s listing agent for the property, said O’Neill has preserved many of the original ancillary buildings, including a gatehouse, which serves as a two-bedroom guest house; an 8-bay garage that once held carriages; a full greenhouse; a maintenance building where the current caretaker stores his equipment; and even an old ice house that was once used to store frozen blocks of ice during the days before refrigeration.
“There also is a little playhouse on the property,” Hicks said. “Mrs. Wrigley took the grandchildren down there and would teach them how to cook in the pretend kitchen.
“And alongside the carriage house there’s still a hydraulic lift where Mr. Wrigley used to work on his cars, doing things like changing the oil. He’d have the radio rolled out into the bay to listen to the Cubs games.”
There are touches of the Wrigleys even in the newer 11,000-square foot mansion.
“Some of the bricks of the old home were used in the sunroom and one of the bathtubs upstairs is original—a big, heavy-duty claw-foot fixture,” Hicks said.
“The house stands on a 20-acre estate with 415 feet of lakefront—very large for Lake Geneva,” he said. “The views from every room are spectacular, especially the sunroom. The great room has barn beams and big, tall cathedral ceilings. There’s just a very comfortable feeling to the house.”
O’Neill isn’t the first owner to renovate. An Aug. 4, 1940 Chicago Tribune article described the Wrigley’s decorating style and features in the house at Hillcroft.
“Comfort is seemingly the ultimate aim,” the story read. “While mat white predominates in walls, high ceiling, Venetian blinds, and even much of the furniture, spring colors, soft greens, and vivid yellows in sofa and chair cushions and window hangings lend ample contrast In the living room, living and dining porches. The latter actually are much more than porches, being, in fact, year round heated, air conditioned, glazed and screened rooms.”
The house praised for its style in 1940 was replaced by the brick house Wrigley built in 1965. The latter was torn down by O’Neill in 1980, Hall said.
“One of the nice things about (Hillcroft) is they tore down the original house but they put up another large house that had some features of the original,” Hall said. “It wasn’t like some of the houses that are being torn down now and subdivided.”
“It’s in a coveted area of estates that are seldom up for sale,” Hicks said. “Green Gables was the last property sold. Most of these stay within the families.”