By Robert Simonson
11 May 2004
Joseph Garton, a tenacious Wisconsin restauranteur and theatre enthusiast, single-handedly saved the estate from destruction. He died Aug. 2 at his Madison home, 15 days short of his 57th birthday. He had been battling cancer.
When Garton first encountered Ten Chimneys, the place was still intact, if in a state of neglect. Lunt died in 1977 and Fontanne in 1982. The land and buildings had been left to Alfred's brother-in-law George Bugbee. Joseph Garton first met the aged Bugbee in 1994, prior to a private tour of Ten Chimneys.
The estate haunted Mr. Garton for months, so he wrote Bugbee asking if he could come back. There was no reply to that or a follow-up letter. Alarmed, Mr. Garton asked a friend the Wisconsin Historical Society to look in on Bugbee—immediately. Bugbee had died and his daughter Suzanne Knapp had put Ten Chimneys on the market. Mr. Garton was outbid by a local developer who wanted to break up and sell the land, buildings and contents.
Mr Garton didn't give up easily. He launched a one-man campaign to save the Lunts' home, contacting newspapers and politicians. When the developer let his option on the property pass, Mr. Garton told Mrs. Knapp, "Give me a week." He took out a million dollar loan and bought the property. Three months later, Ten Chimneys Foundation was formed, which eventually purchased the estate back from Mr. Garton. Then began a seven year journey of fundraising and restoration. On May 26, 2003, the Lunts' 81st anniversary, Ten Chimneys opened as a public museum and cultural center.