Victor and Jessie Lawson founded and developed the estate now known as Green Lake Conference Center (GLCC) in the late 1800s and early 1900s as a farm. Much of their European-inspired architecture remains today. The farm became a luxurious country club in the 1920s. In 1943, Northern Baptists purchased the estate for training and conferences.
Today, GLCC has 60,000 square feet of meeting space and accommodations for 1,000 in hotel rooms, suites, lakefront and forest houses, dorms, cabins, and campsites. In addition to hosting retreats, workshops, and conferences, GLCC offers programs for adults, youth, families, and ministry leaders.
One of the most iconic buildings at GLCC is Roger Williams Inn. Originally named Lawsonia Country Club Hotel, it was constructed by the H.O. Stone Development Company of Chicago in 1930. Because of its prominent location on the lake, it’s a landmark for both the Conference Center and the community.
The five-story hotel has lake views on three sides, and the exterior is faced with brick painted white with green trim. Almost all of its 81 guest rooms face the lake, and it has a gorgeous lobby. The jewel of their development, the building served as both hotel and clubhouse for the 18-hole Lawsonia Links Golf Course.
The Northern Baptists renamed the hotel Roger Williams Inn, after the English Protestant theologian (c. 1603–1683), an early proponent of religious freedom and the separation of church and state. Williams started the first Baptist church in America: First Baptist Church of Providence, Rhode Island.
Roger Williams Inn continued to be a favorite place to stay for decades. Memories abound of hymn sings in the lobby, swimming in the outdoor pool and off the island, boat rides on the Captain Bickel, and family-style dinners in the Crystal Dining Room. Baptist leaders, such as J.L. Kraft (founder of Kraft Foods), gathered at the Inn. It was the social center and focal point of many pictures and postcards.
The Inn is in the midst of a major renovation. Damaged bricks on the exterior have been replaced and repainted. Terrace walls have been repaired and rebuilt. The lakeside patio has been repoured. Many guest rooms have been refurbished. The website, RogerWilliamsInn.com, features a video about the vision for a rejuvenated Inn, as well as history, old photos, and restoration plan. Renovations ensure that this classic hotel will continue to be a wonderful place to renew guests for decades to come!
For more information about Green Lake Conference Center, go to glcc.org .
Jean Cornelius is the Communications Director at Green Lake Conference Center.