With a hat to keep the sun out of his eyes and a long white beard flowing in front of him, Wilfred Durward sat in the tall grass with a book.

He was not far from the shade of a giant oak tree in 1922 when he was photographed in a place where his father spent many afternoons overlooking a spring-fed creek.

Durward's Glen has always been about enjoying nature and revitalizing spirituality. Even when Bernard Durward moved his family here in 1862, the area tucked away in the Baraboo Hills was such a contrast to the cannon and musket fire of the Civil War battlefields.

It was a place where a poet, a painter and a man who found God could raise a family. It was a place for a renaissance man.

While almost 150 years have passed since the Durward family moved to this wooded setting, the purpose of the glen hasn't changed. And a new group of people operating the tranquil place want you to know one thing - Durward's Glen is open and awaiting your visit.

"I think when visitors come and don't see anyone around they think it's closed," said Rose Ann Blau, whose family moved near the glen in 1936 and has played an integral part in its survival.

In May of this year, Durward's Glen Our Lady of the Rosary Group Ltd bought the property for $360,000 and took over operation. Many board members of the nonprofit group have a long history with the glen and want to preserve the original vision of a spiritual place in nature.

"We're kind of getting organized yet. It's a relatively new adventure (running the facility)," said Mike Bessler, board president.

Volunteers have spent time manicuring the property and would like to eventually have Sunday mass again at the glen's church.

Currently there is a Tuesday mass each week by Father Pedro Escribano, who travels to the glen from Sauk City, where he is the priest at Divine Mercy Parish.

"The idea is we would like to find a full-time priest to stay here. Right now there isn't anybody," Bessler said. "We need somebody to monitor what is happening here on a daily basis."

A new chapter

Rose Blau paged through dozens of old photographs while sitting on a hillside in the glen, looking back at how things used to be.

When her family moved near the glen in the '30s it became a big part of her life, with weekly trips down the paths that reveal a small canyon and flowing stream.

It's a place that has withstood the test of time, and if it wasn't for a few cars in the parking lot, the year could be 1900 - with no cell phones going off, no roads in view and no loud tractors off in the distance.

It's quiet, in a way that is uncommon these days.

"I've always had a great love for Durward's Glen," said Blau, whose brothers Luke, Leonard and Charles have helped preserve the glen. "Every time I would go up there I would walk through the glen and up to the Holy Family Shrine (and) the Guardian of the Glen statue."

Blau has the largest photograph collection of the glen that she's aware of, including prints that date back to Wilfred Durward, who was given a camera as a gift in 1911 by his brother, Father John Durward.

"I have one picture of the altar in St. Mary of the Pines chapel taken before the fire in 1923. It is signed by Mary Durward (the youngest of eight Durward children) on the back side. I really treasure this picture," she said.

Blau has put these photos, along with a detailed history of Durward's Glen, into her new book "Queen of the Glen."

The book is an updated version of her first, called "Durward's Glen 2000." But with the glen changing hands a few times in the past decade, and many new pictures, the book now features 140 pages with more than 100 photographs.

The Durwards

Bernard Durward, who was born in Scotland, came to America in the 1840s, arriving in New York and eventually making a home in Milwaukee. He was a painter who would barter for goods with portraits.

By 1845, he sent for his wife Margaret, and his two young children.

His portrait business eventually took off, and in 1852 he was commissioned to paint the portrait of Milwaukee's first bishop, Archbishop John Henni. It was his first encounter with the Catholic faith, which he embraced.

Blau said Bernard discovered the glen while on a boat trip where he met a man running a gristmill.

"It was love at first sight," Blau said.

Bernard and Margaret turned the glen into their spiritual home and eventually had eight children - but only Mary was born at the glen.

"She was born near the Guardian of the Glen statue," Blau said. "They had a little house there."

Bernard and his son Charles were talented painters: Most of their work now sits in New Hampshire at the College of Saint Mary Magdalen.

They also wrote poetry and were early environmentalists. Blau said Bernard often brought back trees from his travels and planted them in the glen, some of which still stand today.

The home the Durward family built on the property burned in 1951. It was on the site where the grotto lies today.

Blau said the current ownership wants to preserve the history of the glen, and of the family who started it all.

"When you go to Durward's Glen, it's not polluted with exhaust from cars," she said. "It has beautiful grass - it's a nature thing. I hope it will always remain (that way)."

Free to roam

The Durward family owned the property until 1932, when Mary, the youngest surviving member of the family, deeded it to the religious Order of St. Camillus.

For seven decades the Order of St. Camillus ran the property and had two to three priests living there for a period of time.

"They always had (at least) one priest there and had daily mass up until the last 15 years (they owned it)," Blau said.

In 2007, the property was put up for sale. Its future was somewhat in doubt, with some fearing it would be bought by developers. But the glen was purchased for $700,000 through local community donations that included $100,000 from the College of Saint Mary Magdalen, a Catholic school in New Hampshire that took over operations.

"What happened was when St. Camillus sold it, we got a bunch of money together and bought it and gave it to Magdalen College," said Bessler, who's part of the new board. "And they were supposed to start a small college here, and that never materialized."

Less than four years later the school put Durward's Glen up for sale.

Jeffrey Karls, president of Magdalen College, said in a Capital Newspapers story last August that the school, with repairs and marketing, had spent $500,000.

"We saw some potential there with the glen, but at the same time, because we rely so heavily on contributions for our nonprofit work here, the turn of the economy right about or shortly after we purchased it really put the squeeze on our operations here," Karls said. "Getting a college program at Durward's Glen would've taken more investment than what we were realizing."

Durward's Glen OLRG then purchased the glen from the college. To help fund the glen, Durward Glen OLRG is looking for ways to expand business - including renting out the retreat area, which can house about 40 people.

"We're also open to things like birthdays, wedding receptions, conventions. Any event where people gather," Bessler said.

The glen stretches across 40 acres with a barn, church and housing on the property, along with statues and a Mary, Mother of God Grotto. The grotto was built with loads of limestone from St. Raphael Cathedral in Madison, which was destroyed by fire in 2005.

Bessler said they have only begun operation of the facility, but they project the operating cost to be $450,000 a year. The nonprofit group is selling memorial bricks to help pay for operation costs and debt.

"We're trying to expand business and look for other ways to bring in revenues into the business and into the organization," he said.

The glen is open all year and is still a place anyone can come for free and wander around to enjoy nature and find spirituality in silence.

And the giant oak tree that Bernard used to sit under, and his son Wilfred used to read under, still stands tall today lending plenty of shade to the hillside.

If You Go

Where: Durward's Glen is located at W11876 McLeisch Road, just off Highway 78 between Merrimac and Portage.

Bricks: To buy a memorial brick, or for more information about using lodging at the glen, e-mail: theglen150@gmail.com. Or go to durwardsglen.com

Open: The glen is open from sunrise to sunset to walk through for free.

Book: "Queen of the Glen" is available for $45, plus $6 shipping and handling. To request a copy of this book, make check payable and send to:

Rose Ann Blau

141 Lone Oak Lane # 5

Hartford, WI 53027

 

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