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Sunnyside Farm, Greenlake, WI (@1900)
from an old sepia-tone print
courtesy of Jody L. Filipi
from materials saved by Anne C. (Spellman) Leahy

Sunnyside Farm

[This history of the farm is taken from A Heritage History of Beautiful Green Lake, Wisconsin, pp. 199-204. The manuscript was sent by Lawrence D. Behlen, in response to a query sent by Anne C. Leahy. Behlen's letter precedes the history.]

November 10, 1982

Anne C. Leahy 5716 Seward Omaha, Nebraska 68104

Dear Anne:

We received your letter regarding information on Leonard and Anna Trimborn. Unfortunately, we will need a bit more information before we can do any research. Could you provide some approximate dates (within ten years) of the time the Leonard Trimborn family lived in Green Lake? Also, do you have any idea if they lived in the village of Green Lake or the surrounding area? Our primary source of very early settlers in this area is the census records.

Unfortunately, the address of 16th and Grand Avenue you refer to in your letter is not in this area and did not mention what City that was.1

I am sending you copies of the history of Sunnyside, included in a book entitled A Heritage History of Beautiful Green Lake, Wisconsin by Robert W.and Emma B. Heiple. [Ripon, WI: McMillan Printing, 1976.]

Sorry I could not be of more help.


Lawrence D. Behlen Curator

P.S. We do have several photos of Sunnyside Farm; however, we do have a $4.00 per copy charge to cover our expenses in reproduction.


Dartford's Scandal of the 1870's

The story of Sunnyside Stock Farm, as it was originally called, would well bear two inscriptions on its monument. On the one side could be written "Wealth and Enterprise" and on the other side "Folly and Ruin."

The story of its builder and owner, John McDonald, contains enough material and intrigue to write a novel. It is said that during the early 1870's, Dartford contained three outstanding attractions--Oakwood Hotel, Lucus' Sandstone, and McDonald's Sunnyside. Oakwood was Dartford's best advertising. Sandstone was boted in the South as an elaborate and beautiful summer home. Sunnyside was noted for it's owner, John McDonald.

McDonald originally lived in St. Louis where he operated a livery stable. When the Civil War broke out, McDonald it was said he had about $150,000. Immediately, he organized a regiment of 1,000 men and equipped them at his own expense. As an army colonel, McDonald worked with Prentis, Freemont and, later, with Ulysses S. Grant.

While working with Grant, McDonald became Grant's very close friend. He was Grant's aide and was given the title of General. He helped Grant out of several bad scrapes, one of which might have cost Grant his commission were it not for McDonald's personal acquaintance with Lincoln. Then, after the war, Grant and McDonald went their separate ways for a while, until Grant's inauguration as President of the United States in 1869, when McDonald went to Washington, D. C. It was then that Grant appointed him claim agent for the government, and shortly afterward, to the position of Supervisor of Internal Revenue for the St. Louis area. He was to act as the head of a political machine for Grant's interest.

McDonald ran the machine all right--wide open! He became associated with the notorious "Whiskey Ring," which became the scandal of Grant's administration.

(To refresh one's memory of American history, THE WHISKEY RING refers to "a group of distillers and public officials who defrauded the federal government of liquor taxes. Soon after the Civil War, these raxes were raised very high, in some cases to eight times the price of the liquor. Large distillers, chiefly in St. Louis, Milwaukee, and Chicago, bribed government officials in order to retain the tax proceeds. The Whiskey Ring was a public scandal, but it was considered impregnable because of its strong political connections. U. S. Secretary of the Treasury, Benjamine H. Bristow, resolved to break the conspiracy. To avoid warning the suspects, he assigned secret investigators from outside the Treasury Department to collect evidence. Striking suddenly iin May, 1875, he arrested the persons and seized the distilleries involved. Over $3 million in taxes was recovered, and of 238 persons indicted, 110 were convicted. Although President Grant's secretary, Orville E. Babcock, was acquitted through the personal intervention of the President, many persons believed that the Whiskey Ring was part of a plot to finance the Republican party by fraud."--from John MacDonald, Secrets of the Great Whiskey Ring, 1880, reprinted 1969)

When this was accomplished, the Ring continued its operations and devoted money to its personal use.

All the underhanded dealing was taken care of by Grant's private secretary, Babcock. Althopugh Grant's name never entered any of the negotiations, he most certainly was aware of what was going on.

John McDonald, it is said, moved to GreenLake (then Dartford) sometime after he and other tax men in the "Whiskey Ring" had allegedly swindled between three and four million dollars from the Federal Government, and here he built Sunnyside Farm as an elaborate hideout in 1870. His wife, Mary, liked this elevated spot situated on high ground overlooking the broad expanse of inlet lake water, just west of Spaulding Bridge where Silver Creek widens out to make its entrance to the lake. John and Mary McDonald purchased 609 acres of land here, one mile east of the village of Dartford. The shoreline of their land extended from what is now known as Derings Inn to the Inlet of Green Lake and east to Spaulding Bridge. In the next year or two, McDold built his elaborate home, which became a topic of conversation for miles around. Some say it cost $425,000 at the time, but John McDonald valued the home at $150,000 in his 1875 property claim, which was a great amount in the 1870's.

There is nothing to compare to this elegant home. It was a two-story frame house with a hip-style roof, facing to the north, and L extending to the south, and surrounded by a beautiful lawn of trees. In the construction of the huge home and all of the other farm buildings on the estate, which made Sunnyside look like a village, teamsters were hired to haul lumber from the mill on the Fox River at Eureka. Others hauled the famous old white brick by wagon from Watertown where the kiln was located, and expensive fixtures were brought in from the cities. Many exquisite furnishings were imported, and the interior was finished in black walnut. Every piece of material used was the very best. Sunnyside became a showplace of the midwest.

Built upon a three-foot thick foundation, the house had 16 rooms, with eight bedrooms upstairs. A white picket fence surrounded the yard. The steps leading to the veranda were flanked by two life-sized bronzed metal lions. These lions reportedly came from the St. Louis Post Office when Sunnyside was being built by General McDonald. One entered the house through a stained-glass front door and walked into a thickly carpeted vestibule with coat racks for wraps. The long, carpeted stairs with its black walnut staircase, leading to the second floor, was equipped with a beautiful jeweled lamp.

The drawing room had elegant, richly colored velvet carpet. Crimson silk damask cushions lay on the sofas, and luxurious easy chairs were scattered about the room. The windows were draped with lace and crimson labbrequins, Most noticeable in several rooms in the house were the huge plate glass built in mirrors imported from France, some twelve feet high. Also outstanding were the oil paintings in gilt frames on the walls, and hanging above inlaid tables were two large and lovely chandeliers.

In addition to the drawing room on the first floor, there were also a very large ballroom, a dining room in the south wing, a library and study, a parlor, two dressing rooms, and a large kitchen. There were two stairways that led up to the second floor, the one in the front of the house, and the other one from the kitchen. All the woodwork was walnut, and much of the floor was hardwood. Built before the days of electric lights, Sunnyside boasted an acetyline gas system that furnished all the gas lighting. An elaborate chandelier hung from an ornate ceiling in the ballroom (also the billiard room). It measured six feet in length. The copper fixture supported six globes of hand-made, paper thin, ruby red imported Bohemian glass, with hand cut designs on the side. The windows above the doors were also Bohemian glass, and the red pane above the front door was monogrammed, cut with initials "McD" in the center. The ballroom also had a white marble fireplace with a six-foot French mirror above the mantel. In the study stood a twleve-foot high, built-in secretary.

A long, easy climb led to the second floor of McDonald's Sunnyside home. At the top of the stairs was a bright, airy master bedroom with windows on two sides, and a huge marble fireplace with a six-foot square imported mirror above it. On its black Walnut frame inlaid with a lighter colored wood were carved the initials "J. McD." This was General John McDonald's room, and it was here that President Grant slept whenever he was a guest at Sunnyside. Many years later, tenants covered the beautiful woodwork of Sunnyside with paint, and covered the original designs of the walls with wallpaper as well as almost all of the solid gold leaf along the top of the wall in this master bedroom.

The first bathroom in the state of Wisconsin with solid white marble fixtures was located down the hall from the master bedroom. Pipes led down from the water tank on the roof. There were other bedrooms and guest rooms and a parlor upstairs also.

The huge basement, too, had twelve-foot ceilings. It had another kitchen, a dining room for employees, the large gas plant, a big fruit celler, a laundry, a storeroom and, later, a furnace room. The floor was of brick. The basement had fancy iron bars to keep out prowlers. Three porches provided entrances to the house, one in front, one in back, and one on the side leading to the elaborate pump house. It is said that Sunnyside was one of the northern stations for slaves escaping by way of the "Underground Railroad," and that some had been concealed here on their way to freedom.

A World Atlas of 1875 pictures vividly the entire lay-out of Sunnyside farm at that time. There were numerous other buildings on this estateof Hohn McDonald's in addition to the house. These included stock barns, a creamery, granaries, stables, a large carriage house for the beautiful carriages, saddles and equipment, and several tenant houses. There were also shed, stys, cribs, a fully equipped blacksmith shop, a smokehouse, and other buildings.

But, with all of this, General John McDonald's story was not yet finished. His Sunnyside was a display of fabulous wealth and lavish parties. He was a very likeable man, made friends easily, and had a wonderful sense of humor. . His social position, power, money, a lovely home, and a devoted wife and daughter added to his popularity.

Now came the time when the "Whiskey Ring" was finally exposed, and McDonald and others sentenced to the Missouri Penitentiary. After a few months, President Grant pardoned the two men (Joyce and Avery) who were instrumental in forming the Whiskey Ring, but Grant was in a poor position to aid McDonald. After McDonald served a year and a half in the prison, he demanded a release by threatening to expose the complete Ring. Since this would have uncovered Grant's interest in it, the president was forced to pardon McDonald.

Naturally, McDonald's part in the Whiskey Ring scandal created quite a sensation in Dartford, but a greater scandal was yet to come. During the time of the Whiskey Ring events, MdDonald's family lived at Sunnyside, but he spent a great share of his time in St. Louis at his business. And, of course, at times, he was lonely.

Now, there was a Mrs. Mary F. LaMonte, whose husband had died as a result of a riverboat accident, and she filled the gap quite nicely. John McDonald had succeeded in collecting a claim for her which amounted to several thousand dollars and, in appreciation, Mrs. LaMonte offered him financial assistance whenever he needed it. During the course of events, he needed money, and not only did he take Mrs. LaMonte's money, but he took the woman, too.

She visited him in prison, spending long hours with hjim. Then, when he was released from prison, he took her to Washington, where they lived for a time. Finally, he returned to Sunnyside Farm at Dartford, bringing Mrs. LaMonte with him and placing her as housekeeper there, a position superior to his wife. Naturally, McDonald's wife and daughter objected to this arrangement, especially since he lavished so much attention upon the housekeeper in their presence. One day, the housekeeper was angry at Mrs. McDonald and in her hostility attacked her, cuffed her, and locked her in her room. Mrs. McDonald climbed out of a window and went into Dartford, where sheswore out a warrant on Mrs. LaMonte for assault. The trial was held in Dartford. Mrs. LaMonte was fined $10.00, which John McDonald paid for the woman who had beaten his wife.

Mrs. McDonald immediately sued for divorce. Chicago and St. Louis newspapers carried all the hearings, and local Wisconsin papers ridiculed McDonald. After the court action invalidated the power of attorney which McDonald held over his wife, she dropped the divorce action, and she and her husband separated. Mrs. McDonald and her daughter went to live in Ripon. At her death, Mrs. McDonald was buried in Ripon, Wisconsin.

John McDonald left Sunnyside abruptly, taking no personal belongings, and leaving his beautiful home completely furnished. He lived in Chicago until his death. No more was heard of Mrs. LaMonte.

McDonald published a book in 1889 entitled Secrets if the Great Whiskey Ring. One of the last two editions of this booj written by General John McDonald was presented by the author to Dr. Victor Kutchin, founder of the Maplewood Hetel at Green Lake. At the beginning if the first chapter is written in the General's own handwriting:

John McDonald had sold his farm some time before his death in Chicago on January 20, 1912. He lived to be 80 years of age, having been born on February 22, 1832. It was Dr. Victor Kutchin who conducted the funeral service, which John McDonald had requested before his death. He was buried in the Dartford Cemetery, where his monument stands today in the sourth section of the cemetery, nor far from the east gate on that side. The Dartford Cemetery was established in 1858, and many pioneers, as well as Indian Chief Highknocker are buried there. Next to General McDonald's grave are monuments of other relatives--perhaps parents and a grandparent.

The archives of the Register of Deeds ofiice in Green Lake Court House at Green Lake, Wisconsin reveals that there were many different parcels of land that later became Sunnyside. These parcels changed hands frequently before John and Mary McDonald acquired the large area that became Sunnyside Stock Farm. As far back as 1855, David A. and Mary Woodman of Marquette county sold $300 worth of land to Reuben Brown, in 1856 Amos Mussey and his wife sold 40 acres to Lyman K. Walker, and George and Annie Walker sold 80acres to John E. Hamilton for $1500 in 1859.

It was John Hamilton who in 1864 sold the first parcels of lane of 160 acres to John McDonald of St. Louis for $3,500. From that time on, until Sunnyside was built, John and Mary McDonald continued purchasing parcels of land, accumulating the acreage of their beautiful home and stock farm. For around ten years they were to enjoy this site with its beautiful view. Not only Mary and John, when he could get home from his business, but also their daughter, and the grandparents enjoyed these years at Sunnyside along with visitors and friends. Old stereoscopic pictures found at Sunnyside showed the family enjoyed leisure hours on the porches and in the yard.

In 1918, the Sunnyside property was sold to local residents Frank and Mary Formiller and Anton Formiller.2 Then in 1932, Frank sold his share to Anton. Now Anton and Clara Formiller had the property until 1948, when they sold it to Richard Formiller.

On February 6, 1952, Richard Formiller sold Sunnyside to A. C. Carver, Jr. (Gus Clewell). While Gus and Jill Zeratsky Carver had the place, it was rented by various tenants, also. Over the years, as the estate passed from one owner or tenant to another, each took what he wanted from the furnishings.3 In time, Sunnyside house and buildings were stripped and neglected and became greatly deteriorated. It is said that today some of the lovely things may be found in Green Lake, Wisconsin, in Indian, Illinois, Michigan and California homes. The Carvers preserved the two large bronzed iron lions that had guarded the front steps of General John McDonald's home. Then Gus Carver began the razing of this deteriorated place.

On April 9, 1957, Gus Carver, Jr. sold the Sunnyside property to Kopplin and Kinas, who with Carl Diedrich, formed the Wisconsin Realty Development Corporation for the purpose of developing Sunnyside. Today, Sunnyside farm is platted into building lots, some with new homes on them. The entire area is a subdivision called Sunnyside Acres, On the south end, canals have been dug for boats so that residents there have access to the inlet of Green Lake.

Sunndyside, along with other precious Green Lake pioneer buildings, were historical landmarks worthy of preservation. It takes community interest and cooperation to preserve legacies. Reflecting an era of local American history. The Dartford Historical Society, through historian Lloyd Thrasher, contacted the state for aid in restoring Sunnyside, but state funds would be available only if there were matching local funds. There was not sufficient interest from the community at the time to carry out the preservation of Green Lake historical sites. Now old Sunnyside is gone and history is made.


1Anne C. Leahy was probably referring to the Leonard Trimborn house in Milwaukee (north of 16th Street on Wisconsin Avenue).

2As the pictures at the top and bottom of this page show, Leonard Trimborn was considered the owner of Sunnyside in @1900. The records verifying his ownership have not been recovered at this time.

3In a handwritten note about a set of China now owned by Jody L. Filipi of Omaha, NE, Anne C. Leahy said,

"The set of Rosenthal dishes were made in the Rosenthal Factory in Munich and was sent to the US to be exhibited at the Centennial Celebration in 1876. It was a service for 24 guests and after the Centennial was purchased by a group of politicians, friends of President Grant, for Sunnyside Farm, a hideout for President Grant and his friends."
"My grandfather (Leonard Trimborn) and grand uncle August Trimborn purchased Sunnyside Farm and Leonard Trimborn and his family lived there from 18?? To 1884, when Leonard moved back to Milwaukee. He took half of the set of dishes, a service for 12 people. These dishes were used by my grandmother. The dishes were handed down to my mother, Helen Trimborn Spellman and finally to me, Anna Spellman Leahy in 1933 when my mother died. The set is complete, except for 4 teacups, which were broken over the years."
These same dishes were then given to James J. Leahy, and the dishes now belong to Jody L. Filipi.

Sunnyside Farm, Greenlake, WI (@1900)
from an old sepia-tone print
courtesy of Jody L. Filip
from materials saved by Anne C. Spellman Leahy

(pictured from far left to right) Peter Trimborn, Mrs. Leonard (Anna Knuth) Trimborn,
Miss Philomine Knuth, Joseph Trimborn, Helen Trimborn,
Mr. Leonard Trimborn, and Conrad Trimborn
(not pictured: August Trimborn).