Wisconsin Natural Resources magazine

Wisconsin Natural Resources magazine

Seth Peterson Cottage at Mirror Lake

Balanced on the edge of a wooded bluff overlooking picturesque Mirror Lake, the 1958-designed Seth Peterson Cottage was one of Wright’s last commissions.

December 2014

Wisconsin Traveler

Get cozy at the Seth Peterson Cottage at Mirror Lake State Park.

Story and photos by Paul A. Biedrzycki

A brief 2–day retreat for my wife Mindy and me at the Seth Peterson Cottage at scenic Mirror Lake State Park last January was blissful. The solitude and rich reflection provided the necessary respite we both craved after a hectic holiday season with family, friends and coworkers, replete with parties and the usual overabundance of gifts, food and, of course, requisite good cheer.

Learn more about Mirror Lake State Park

To learn more about camping at Mirror Lake State Park, Visit dnr.wi.gov and search keywords "Mirror Lake."

Overnight rentals of the Seth Peterson Cottage can be arranged through the Sand County Service Company in Lake Delton. Call (608) 254–6551 or visit sandcounty.com Sand County Service Company.

The cottage is also open for public tours the second Sunday of each month from 1 to 4 p.m. Admission is $4 per person. Tours of 10 or more should call (608) 254–6051. If you are unable to attend an open house day, a video is available for viewing at the Mirror Lake State Park office during business hours. Visit sethpeterson.org The Seth Peterson Cottage Conservancy, Inc. for more information.

The Seth Peterson Cottage, perched high on a wooded bluff overlooking an arm of Mirror Lake, represents one of the last commissioned designs of world–renowned architect and Wisconsin native son Frank Lloyd Wright. Although he died before its construction was completed, the cottage is considered a prime example of Usonian design — Wright’s vision of affordable and functional housing for the post–Depression middle class. As such, it exudes a simplicity and beauty evident in its clean construction lines, strategic window placement, attention to natural lighting and use of locally available building materials such as sandstone.

The cottage was originally commissioned by Seth Peterson, a young, aspiring architect enamored with Wright who vigorously pursued an apprenticeship at Wright’s studio–school at Taliesin.

Tragically, Peterson died prior to seeing completion of the cottage and it was sold after his death. The state acquired the property in the mid–1960s after it sat neglected for almost two decades, and it is currently managed by the nonprofit Seth Peterson Cottage Conservancy. While it has undergone major repairs, it retains the original architectural vision, both interior and exterior, in virtually every respect.

At a little less than 900 square feet, its efficient use of space across entryway, kitchen, dining area and living room, along with an impressive two–story ceiling and vaulted overhang, enhance the cottage’s feeling of spaciousness. A large, centrally–located fireplace serves as centerpiece to the floor plan and was heartily engaged during both our evening stays. The bedroom, (albeit small by today’s standards) was quite adequate, as was the small utilitarian bathroom directly adjoining, complete with a well–functioning shower stall.

The experience of staying in this historic residence was both humbling and awe–inspiring. It represented the antithesis of modern living in typical urban and suburban settings today where family rooms approach the size of small gymnasiums and 70–inch LED flat–screen televisions and synthetic trim dominate the interior landscape and décor.

In contrast, the compact design of the cottage along with generous use of natural wood and stone, while not luxurious, was aesthetically pleasing and generated a feeling of warmth and comfort that authentically spoke of home. In many ways, our exposure to the cottage redefined our thinking of contemporary residential housing necessity and quality of life.

Interior of Seth Peterson Cottage at Mirror Lake
This elegant, yet simple and habitable work of art, is an embodiment of Wright’s design principles of being open to nature and of making small spaces appear larger.

We could see the surrounding winter landscape unobstructed from several vantage points throughout the cottage during daylight and nighttime hours. The scene was equally relaxing, inviting reverie under varying lighting scenarios.

Of particular entertainment was the variety of native birds that endlessly visited a feeder located a few yards from the front of the cottage, along with a scavenging black squirrel that stood in stark contrast to the white blanket of snow cover.

The Seth Peterson Cottage is conveniently located in close proximity to cross–country skiing and hiking trails that my wife and I availed ourselves of on both days, given optimal snow and weather conditions during our visit.

Rental canoes and kayaks are available through Mirror Lake Rentals at the Mirror Lake State Park boat launch.

The availability of these types of outdoor recreational activities, along with a truly transformational stay at this landmark, cemented our conviction to plan another visit in the near future. It also fundamentally underscored, as well as validated, once again for us the sheer beauty that is Wisconsin’s natural resources regardless of the season.

Paul A. Biedrzycki writes from Milwaukee, Wis.

What's cooking?

CRANBERRY CREAM CHEESE BARS (PAST WISCONSIN STATE FAIR WINNER)


Ingredients:

  • 1 cup butter, softened
  • 1 cup firmly packed brown sugar
  • 2 cups all–purpose flour
  • 1 ½ cups quick oats
  • 1 cup chopped almonds
  • ½ cup dried chopped cranberries
  • 1 can whole cranberry sauce (14 to 16 ounces)
  • 2 tablespoons sugar
  • 1 tablespoon cornstarch
  • 1 teaspoon almond extract
  • 1 package (8 ounces) cream cheese, softened
  • 1 can sweetened condensed milk

Drizzle (optional):

  • ½ cup powdered sugar
  • 1 tablespoon milk

Directions:

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease a 9–inch by 13–inch pan. In a small sauce pan, cook the cranberry sauce, 2 tablespoons of sugar and cornstarch over medium heat. Bring to a boil and boil for one minute. Remove from heat. Stir in almond extract and cool.

Beat butter and brown sugar together. Gradually beat in flour and oats. Stir in cranberries and almonds. Put two cups of the mixture to the side. Press remaining mix into the pan and bake for 15 minutes. Cool slightly.

In a small bowl, beat the cream cheese and milk until smooth. Pour over the hot crust. Swirl the cranberry mixture over the cream cheese. Sprinkle with the remaining crumb mixture.

Return to the oven and bake for 25 to 30 minutes longer. Cool completely on a metal rack and then cut into bars. If you wish, drizzle with melted chocolate or the powdered sugar drizzle to decorate. To make the drizzle, combine the powdered sugar and milk. Whisk and then drizzle.

This recipe is from the Wisconsin State Cranberry Growers Association. Visit wiscran.org Wisconsin Cranberries for more information and to find additional recipes to satisfy your cranberry cravings at the holidays.