The current manor house and property were part of a 600-acre farm developed by Allis-Chalmers heir Frank Allis in the 1890s. The house was the first year-round residence on Lake Monona, and the farm was a serious enterprise, consisting of over 100 head of Holstein cattle, 32 horses and other livestock, and various other lines of agriculture. But Allis was not rolling up his sleeves! Today we would call him a “gentleman farmer”– someone who hired others to do the actual labor on his property. Boasting a chauffeur, valet, and other service staff, his neighbors identified him as “the aristocratic type.” His home served as a local epicenter of hospitality, with its sizable ballroom, 14 rooms for family and guests, and 7 fireplaces.
Nearly a year after Allis’s death in 1915, the entire farm was sold to former Madison Mayor Adolf Kayser. A year after that, just the house and its ten acres were sold to Dr. Herman Gilbert, Chief of Staff at St. Mary’s Hospital. In 1924, Gilbert sold the house and property to sisters Josephine and Margaret Mahoney – for just $35,000.
The Mahoney sisters were widely known for their philanthropy, and in particular, for their donations to many Catholic churches and charities both in and around Madison. One of these churches was run by Norbertine priests, and in November 1929, Josephine and Margaret offered the house and property to the Norbertines for “$1.00 and other good and valuable considerations.” Following this change of hands, the property was referred to as the Norbertine Novitiate.