Northcote comes with 150 years of history
The Northcote home has seen its fair share of history, transforming in the past century and a half from a humble, 225-square-foot cabin used for fur trading to a sprawling, 14.8-acre estate stretching from the shores of North Lake to the edges of Highway 83.
The home is now up for sale by its current owners, Tom and Gwen Carroll, with an asking price of $2.9 million, roughly $4.60 per square foot. But every inch of the estate has priceless history.
At various times a political fortress and a vineyard, The Northcote is composed of a 12-room main house, a separate guest house (with full kitchen, two fireplaces and a sunroom) and a chauffeur's quarters in the garage.
"The wood for the floors is actually cut from the trees on the property," said Tom Carroll.
Northcote was nothing more than a humble fur-trading cabin in 1847. According to the deed, Charles A. Balkman was the original owner, when the home was only 225 square feet of floor and a fireplace. In November 1911, the property came into possession of the Reuss family. Henry S. Reuss (1912-2002) served as the Democratic congressman for Milwaukee's North Side for 28 years, from 1955-83. According to a New York Times obituary, Reuss was "a leading liberal in Congress on issues from interest rates to pollution, to Watergate to aid for New York City …"
Ruess' wife, Margaret, was also a well-known figure in the nation's capital. She taught at the Federal City College - which became the University of District of Columbia in 1977 - and worked closely with former Washington, D.C., Mayor Marion Barry on a number of community projects.
"We still meet people who knew the Reuss family," Gwen said.
It was under the Reuss family's dominion that Northcote as we know it today began to take shape, extending from a single room into the estate. The house's distinctive German design is a reflection of the Reuss' heritage, the snow-capped roofs and windmill complementing the home's yellow, stucco exterior walls with burgundy trim.
The greeting room, formerly the trading cabin, is cavernous, the smoldering fireplace and dim wall fixtures provide glowing warmth. The walls are a dark peach color, and the trim is a dark mahogany offset by the lighter-colored wooden floors.
This room extends out into the living room and the rec room, called the "bear chair" room because of an imposing bear-skinned chair that sits beside the fireplace. Above the bay window in the room is the German phrase, "Was wir haben sind Gottes Gaben." In English: "What we have are gifts from God."
Tom and Gwen Carroll said Reuss would often entertain political guests at the estate, including John F. Kennedy and his brothers Robert and Ted Kennedy.
California native Richard Weening, a speechwriter for Reuss, bought the estate from the Reuss family in 1979, in hopes of starting a vineyard on the property. He added several murals throughout the various rooms that depict the vineyards and estate, Tom and Gwen said, including a large mural on one of the back porch walls.
In a 1988 Associated Press article, Weening groused about the stigma Wisconsin wine had.
"Everyone's predisposition to a Wisconsin wine is that it is going to taste terrible," Weening said. "Our wine doesn't taste terrible. The difference between the expectation and reality treats us very favorably."
Northcote Vineyards produced four tons of grapes in 1987, about 200 half-bottles, the article read.
The vineyards have not produced much lately, Tom Carroll said. A strain of mildew wiped out the crops in 2011, and there has not been enough rain this season.
With the sale of the estate by the Carroll family, another occupant will have the chance to add to the history of The Northcote, or, at least, try their hand at winemaking.
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