Preserving a refuge

2018 GREEN LAKE Conference Center volunteers stand outside one of the buildings on the property.  submitted photo

by Ariana Hones

It was summer 1888.

A sudden storm forced Jessie Lawson onto the shores of Lone Tree Point. Seeking refuge in a small shack, she waited out the rains.

When the winds subsided, Jesse found herself surrounded by the scenic tranquility of Green Lake.

In that moment, she decided to build another refuge.

This time as an escape from urban life.

Before this fateful day, Jessie and her husband, Victor, had taken to vacationing on Green Lake to escape the hectic pressures of their city life in Chicago, where Victor ran a publishing business.

Starting with 10 acres, the Lawsons developed the property into a working farm of more than 1,000 acres.

Though the property has not been in the Lawson family since 1925, their legacy runs deep throughout the estate.

All it takes is a short drive through the grounds to see the impact the Lawsons left.

“Just inside the front gates stands the Combination Barn, designed by the Lawson’s architect William Merigold and built in 1913. Its roof was re-shingled this year with Alaskan Yellow Cedar shingles,” Green Lake Conference Center Communications Director Jean Cornelius said. “Its Palladian doors, weighing over 1,000 pounds each, were carefully removed by the conference center’s staff and restored by Green Lake craftsman Nolan Wallenfang.”

She added lumber from the conference center grounds was used to rebuild worn sections. Three other barns near the Combination Barn received the same treatment.

The work was made possible by a donor whose priority was to preserve and protect the historic buildings.

There are no current plans for how the barns will be used in the future.

Donors also provided funds for the removal, repair, re-coating and reinstallation of the black wrought iron gates and fences at the main entrance.

Once through the gates and near the edge of Green Lake stands the Boathouse, another piece of Lawson days gone by.

Built in 1910, it was inspired by Swiss architecture and constructed with tiles imported from Italy.

Just down the road from the Boathouse is Jessie’s greenhouse, which was built in 1916. Green Lake Conference Center gardeners still start their flowers there each year.

While beauty continues to bud on the exterior of the conference center due to well-curated flora, the conference center has worked diligently to transforms the interior as well.

Staughton Hall, found on the lower level of Pillsbury Hall, is the conference’s largest lake-view meeting room.

It offers eye-level views of the lake and its new patio is a space for breaks and gatherings.

Renovations also continue at Roger Williams Inn as financial gifts are received. This summer, floor-to-ceiling windows measuring12 feet tall were installed in the lobby.

As improvements continue to be made, Green Lake Conference Center will celebrate 75 years in 2019. Its first conference was a youth conference in the summer of 1944.

With updated meeting rooms, a dining room with lake views, lodging facilities and a staff and volunteer program 100-plus strong, Green Lake Conference Center is poised to continue hosting groups of all sizes.

Whether that be a collection of 10 or 1,000.

Open to all “who come to find God’s better version of themselves and their world,” Cornelius said.

A refuge well preserved. Just as Jessie would have liked it.

Preserving the historic structures is an ongoing process.

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