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History Behind The Abbey at Otter Creek

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In the early 1800’s, what is now The Abbey at Otter Creek was once a thriving farm owned and operated by “Uncle Billy” and “Aunt Mahalia” Johnson, early settlers of the Sauk Prairie. They raised a large family in their cozy home with its own bluff and were treasured members of the Sumpter community. 


“Because of Uncle Billy’s good humor and judicious manner in settling disputes, he was frequently called upon as an unofficial country lawyer. With his many years of experience and his willingness to undertake any project, his advice was called for in case of sickness; he would act as surgeon in minor cases and pulled many a tooth for his neighbors”. (Only in Sumpter, by Erhart A. Mueller)


After Uncle Billy’s death at the age of 101, the farm was rented out for the next two decades until it was purchased by Governor Emannuel Lorenz Philipp in December 1920. Governor Philipp served as Governor of Wisconsin from 1914 until 1921. 


Governor Philipp was raised in the town of Sumpter and after making his fortune in the railroad industry, he returned to the town of his birth. With a sustaining love for his hometown, he purchased Uncle Billy’s farm and made it his summer home for the duration of his lifetime. It was at that time the ‘Governor’s Mansion’ was added to the main farmhouse. These buildings have been restored and remain on the property.


After Governor Philipp’s death, the property was rented over the next 20 years until it was purchased by Mr. Wilbur Grant and his wife, Josephine. The couple had long admired it while the Governor owned it. 


Wilbur Grant was a World War I veteran and graduated from the University of Wisconsin in 1920. The following year he married Josephine Loret. In 1948 he founded the Wilbur S. Grant Co., a firm of Certified Public Accountants, and became its President”. (Only in Sumpter, by Erhart A. Mueller)


The Grant’s called the property, “Craigellachi, Inc.”, Gaelic for ‘Rocky Hill’. During their residency at the farm, Mrs. Grant entertained various groups in her ‘Tea Room’ and even though it was not necessarily a successful business venture, many groups enjoyed the special events and said it was most certainly ‘ahead of its time’. 


In 1957, the property originally known as ‘Uncle Billy’s Farm’ took on a new mission when it was purchased by six nuns from the monastery of Frauenthal in Switzerland and became known as St. Ida’s Convent. 


The sisters of St. Ida’s lived a monastic life as Cistercian nuns, which consisted of a strictly contemplative Catholic vocation. Their lives for the next 66 years would be one of simple quiet and communal prayer along with work and study. The sisters supported their community by making altar breads which were baked and shipped to parishes in the Madison Diocese as well as all over the country. 


In 1965, the monastery experienced an expansion including a chapel and additional dorm spaces for the nuns living there and at this same time, they renamed their community, Valley of Our Lady Monastery.


The sisters continued to thrive in their community at the base of the bluffs and in June 2018, they began fundraising to build a new monastery located in the beautiful countryside of Hollandale, Wisconsin. In January 2024, the sisters began the move to their new monastery and bid a very fond farewell to their beloved neighbors in the town of Sumpter.


The history continues…In January, 2024, David and Mary Ann Marx and their family purchased the 25 acres containing the historical buildings and renamed the property, The Abbey at Otter Creek preparing this richly historic property for the next chapter of what was once a humble farm, a home to a Governor, and a sacred place for a deeply contemplative group of Cistercian nuns.  

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