John Holly Knapp
John Holly Knapp was born in New York state in 1825 and grew up in Ft. Madison, Iowa, where his father (who founded the town) was a hotel and mill owner.
With $1000 he inherited from his father, Knapp and William Wilson purchase half an interest in a lumber mill on the Red Cedar River in 1846. Seven years later, Henry Stout of Dubuque, Iowa bought an interest in the Black and Knapp mill, and the famous Knapp-Stout Company empire was born. By the1870s, the Knapp, Stout & Co., Company had grown to become the largest lumbering operation in the world.
Although he frequently travelled to Menomonie, Knapp remained in Ft. Madison. A son Henry was born to he and his wife Caroline Field. Caroline died suddenly, and Knapp married Valaria Adams five years later. They had two children, Effie and William.
In 1860, Knapp chose on a site close to his mills high above the Red Cedar River to build a summer home for his family. In 1863 they spent their first summer there. As his business grew, plans to return to Ft. Madison changed. The family remained for 25 years. Four more children were born --- John Holly III, Edgar, Herbert and Rolla.
The Knapps were very active in the Congregational Church, holding many church gatherings at their home. Valaria managed a busy household of lively children and as many as 20 servants: nannies, maids, horseman and cooks. The estate included large vegetable gardens, apple orchards, grape arbors, pig barns, a hennery, an ice house, horse barns, and a greenhouse that supplied fresh flowers for the home year-round.
In 1878 Knapp was elected president of the firm and remained its leader until failing health forced him to resign in 1886. He died in 1888.
After Knapp's death, Valaria and the children continued to live in the home. When she died in 1914, her daughter Effie ran the estate. Financial problems forced Effie to sell the home to her Eau Claire lawyer, Mr. C. Thomas Bundy in the early 1940s.
When Mr. Bundy's wife died, he decided to give the estate to the Episcopal Diocese of Eau Claire in her memory, but before the transaction could be made, he also died. Their children gave the estate to the Eau Claire Diocese in 1949 as a memorial to their parents, with the intention that it be used as a retreat center and conference center for clergy and laity.
Most recently, the estate was used as a conference center, summer camp and retreat center for many groups. The facility was sold in 2013.