Fort Eagle – Home of “Homeless Homer” Galpin
Homer K. Galpin, a notoriously colorful Chicago area Republican leader, loved visiting the Phelps area in the late 1800s and early 1900’s so much so that he decided to lay down roots on Big Sand Lake. He named his stunning estate Fort Eagle, for even the eagles recognized the beauty of the land and were frequently seen flying and nesting on the property. Fort Eagle, once the vacation retreat and hideout of “Homeless Homer”, is now one of several Phelps properties listed on the National Registry of Historical Places.
Galpin began work on what would become Fort Eagle in 1916, after purchasing 700 acres on the southeast shore of Big Sand Lake. In 1919, the vacation home was a simple log cabin with a stunning view. By 1927, Galpin had turned his Northwoods retreat into an immense mansion, complete with 16 outbuildings spread about the property. From 1928 to 1930, Galpin used the property to hide out from a Chicago area subpoena regarding illegal campaign funds he allegedly accepted from gamblers, bootleggers, and mobsters.
The main house of Fort Eagle is 9000 square feet and 3 stories tall, with white clapboard siding, a full-length terrace, and lakefront French doors. The Colonial Revival style of the house stood out in its time, much different from the traditional log buildings of the area. It was said the mansion would have fit in perfectly on a Southern plantation. The beautiful French doors opening into a large living area, 31×31 feet with a 9 ½ foot ceiling, complete with a grand staircase and large stone fireplace. The home was designed on such a large scale to suit Galpin and his wife’s entertaining desires, as they frequently received visitors and guests from the Chicago area.
The property included a single-story boathouse with three slips, as Galpin was an avid boater and guests frequently arrived over the water from the Big Sand Lake Club. An enclosed gazebo overlooking the lake frequently served as a tea house for Mrs. Galpin’s guests, and a small cottage was home to the year-round caretakers. The estate also consisted of a honeymoon cottage, six stall garage, greenhouse and sauna.
Fort Eagle has since passed through the hands of ten different owners after Galpin’s death in 1941, and is now privately owned. The property was beautifully featured in “Wisconsin’s Own – Twenty Remarkable Homes”, after being added to the National Registry of Historic Places in 1998. Fort Eagle remains a colorful piece of local history, reminding residents to appreciate the natural beauty and serenity of the Phelps area that long-ago visitors like Homeless Homer recognized and sought to escape to.