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Right place, right time: Meet the owners of Lake Geneva's unique Maxwell Mansion
Right place, right time: Meet the owners of Lake Geneva's unique Maxwell Mansion
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Right place, right time: Meet the owners of Lake Geneva's unique Maxwell Mansion

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In 1856, a Chicago surgeon built The Oaks, an estate which back then was considered on the shore of Geneva Lake.

Today, the property is known as Maxwell Mansion, named after its original owner, Dr. Phillip Maxwell. Guests of note over the years include Ulysses S. Grant and Nancy Davis, before she married Ronald Reagan.

At an open house Thursday, June 17, guests can learn more about the mansion and its new owners, Luke and Monica Pfeifer, who discussed in the following Q&A what drew them to the property as well as how good business has been and what’s in store at Maxwell this summer.

Note: The following has been edited for length and clarity.

Resorter: Why did you purchase Maxwell Mansion?

Luke Pfeifer: Owning a hotel has long been a dream of ours. I have been entrepreneurial-spirited since I was a kid. Starting with website design in the mid-1990s, my mom and I founded an internet service provider in Sheboygan County. I ended up in hospitality by chance after we sold the business in 1999, and I never looked back, always striving to own a hotel. Monica and I met at Lakeland College, just outside Sheboygan, and we both graduated with degrees in hospitality management. Working together at various properties, we shared a life goal of owning a property, and we waited for the right property to become available at the right time. Last year, we saw the perfect opportunity to acquire a property. Having saved up the last 20 years, we believed this was the time to invest our money into our lifelong goal. We looked at various properties, and when we walked into Maxwell Mansion, we knew this place was special and was an excellent fit. In addition, it allowed us to move back to our home state of Wisconsin and to be closer to our family with our daughter.

Resorter: Why is Maxwell so unique?

Monica Pfeifer: The two things you cannot recreate about Maxwell are the rich history of the property and its location. In addition, the furnishings, style, and design of the property make it even more special for all of our guests, whether staying overnight or stopping in for a drink —alcoholic or non. Located within two hours of major metropolitan areas, Lake Geneva is the perfect getaway for families, couples, and businesses. Maxwell is located only two blocks from Geneva Lake and downtown Lake Geneva, making it the ideal place to stay overnight or step away from the buzzing downtown to relax and have a great time.

Luke Pfeifer: The Mansion and gardens at the property are meticulously maintained with exquisite character and charm. The setting is ideal for relaxation, live music, weddings, social events, corporate retreats/meetings, and to enjoy the remarkable history of the Maxwell estate. The Apothecary Bar and Speakeasy are like transforming back into history with the breathtaking décor and ambiance of the spaces. Both are open to the public, except during private events. The Apothecary this summer is open seven days a week, beginning at 11 a.m. We added one night to our Speakeasy hours this year. It is now open Thursday through Saturday night, beginning at 9 p.m. For guests staying overnight, we have a wide assortment of luxury rooms — from the historic charm of the rooms in the Mansion, to urban barn-themed rooms with steam showers in the stables, to rustic Wisconsin-themed whirlpool rooms in the Carriage House.

Resorter: It has been about six months since you purchased the Mansion. How has everything been going so far?

Luke Pfeifer: Business has been strong at Maxwell Mansion this year and we have been pleased with the results. January through May were record months, compared to the records we have for prior years. This is the result of various factors, including:

The exceptional service and relationships built by the team we retained from prior ownership, which has grown since our acquisition.

Our hands-on involvement with the property, bringing in our combined experience of 35+ years in hospitality working at various types of properties.

Couples that were driven by COVID to realize the need for a getaway. They could keep it a short trip, that is drivable.

Social media marketing that is creative and intriguing, done by a member of our team.

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Updating of our branding to focus on bringing awareness to local residents and couples driving from Wisconsin and Northern Illinois.

Resorter: Any surprises with the Mansion since you took over?

Monica Pfeifer: It has been amazing how much “stuff” there has been throughout the property, and it has been fun finding various items from old teacups to vintage postcards to guest books. The constant flow of information and learning about the property is phenomenal. We wish there was more time in the day for us to spend researching and learning more about Maxwell Mansion.

Resorter: What has been your favorite event at Maxwell so far?

Monica Pfeifer: Our favorite event at Maxwell almost requires a coin toss, as there are many events we have loved. New Year’s Eve stands out the most to us as it was just a week after we took over ownership and was our first event. It was great to meet so many people having a great time who were visiting the area or local residents. Many of the guests that came for the evening we have seen back at Maxwell through 2021, and we love hearing the stories of the great time they have at Maxwell and the Lake Geneva area.

Resorter: Why do an open house?

Monica Pfeifer: Our initial plans were to have an open house shortly after we acquired the property. Due to COVID, we decided it was best to postpone this until a vaccine was out and the country began to return to levels of prior normalcy.

Luke Pfeifer: We wanted to do the open house for two primary reasons. First, to thank all the various businesses and individuals that helped us along the way in pursuit of our acquisition. Second, to invite the community to meet us and see Maxwell Mansion. We are constantly amazed at how many residents don’t know that we are open to the public for our cocktail lounges and bars, and we wanted to extend an unintimidating way to see the property. Having both grown up in small communities — Monica in Hancock, with under 500 residents; and myself in Plymouth, just outside Sheboygan, with around 7,000 residents —we have long appreciated the connection residents and businesses have in small communities. We have missed these connections dearly as we moved throughout the U.S. and lived in larger metropolitan areas.

Resorter: With summer around the corner, what future Maxwell events are you most excited about?

Monica Pfeifer: This summer, we are filled with events, both private and public. Our private events primarily are weddings, but we are also focusing on corporate groups to fill weekday business. For our public events, we are excited for our summer live music series that kicked off this past weekend. Almost every week through Labor Day, we will feature live music at least one night a week. There isn’t a better place to enjoy great music and a drink than the back terrace of the Mansion at Maxwell. Talking to guests, everyone was having a great time conversing with their significant other or friends while enjoying craft cocktails, craft mocktails — non-alcoholic — beer, wine, and cider. We are excited about all these events and hope for good weather so all may enjoy the ambiance of music, the gardens, and the terrace and Maxwell.

Visit staymaxwellcom for more about Maxwell Mansion.

For information on events, select Social Calendar from the top menu bar. The calendar also includes information on when hours of operation are modified for private events.

People can also call 262-248-9711 or find Maxwell Mansion on Facebook and Instagram.

Maxwell Mansion is located at 304 S. Wells St., Lake Geneva.

EDITOR'S NOTE: The year in which the mansion was completed was corrected June 11, 2021. 

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