Our Story

What’s in a name?  A lot. 

  • “White Oak” captures White Oak Savanna’s flora: the land is populated with old growth white oak, burr oak, black oak, cherry and shag bark hickory trees. 
  • A “Savanna” is a plant community (currently endangered) where trees are the component but where their density is “… so low that it allows grasses and other herbaceous vegetation to become the actual dominants of the community.” (Curtis, The Vegetation of Wisconsin)
  • “Events”, White Oak Savanna does them all from weddings to corporate retreats to live music. 
  • “Farm”, yes White Oak Savanna is a working, certified organic farm. 
  • “Sanctuary”–a place of refuge, a nature reserve, a sacred place.

Maybe, just maybe, this land was always destined to be shared, to be a home for joyous weddings, meaningful business retreats, transcendent live music and a sanctuary for native flora and fauna. But, in the beginning….

White Oak Savanna was settled as a family farm in the early 1900s by Charles Lloyd Jones, Frank Lloyd Wright’s first cousin. Charles Lloyd Jones was a progressive, award-winning farmer who built the existing barn, now renovated and named the Lloyd Jones Barn Pavilion in his honor. Charles Lloyd Jones also built the original farmhouse, which has been renovated and named the Norwegian Hollow Farmhouse.

Originally, the farm consisted of approximately 100 acres. Over the years, the farm changed hands several times and was subdivided.  In 2006, Paul and Audrey Gaynor purchased the “back 40 acres” of the original farm and began restoring the oak savanna prairie. (They had previously owned 15 acres nearby that they purchased in 1995.) 

In 2014, the Gaynors purchased the adjacent 26-acre farm, reuniting 66 acres of the original farm. In 2018, an additional 21 acres of the original farm will be added so that White Oak Savanna will be 87 acres of the original 100.

The Gaynors have worked with a team of dedicated and innovative specialists to organically regenerate the soil (which is now certified organic), clear out invasive species, restore indigenous flowers, plants and grasses, renovate the historic buildings and add new buildings. One of White Oak Savanna’s primary goals is to be a community-gathering place that cultivates economic development within, and broader appreciation for, the extraordinary Driftless Area.

Paul attended the University of Wisconsin—Madison and was introduced to the Driftless Area in 1981. He has been a member of the American Players Theatre Board of Directors for over 15 years.  Audrey, a double University of Michigan grad (Go Blue!), has become an honorary Badger and developed a deep appreciation for and commitment to the Driftless Area.

Paul and Audrey divide their time between Chicago and White Oak Savanna, where they spend as much time as possible biking, hiking, paddling, eating well, seeing theatre, hanging out at Arcadia Books and managing White Oak Savanna. They have shared their love of the Driftless Area with family and friends for decades.

White Oak Savanna is fully accessible and ADA compliant.

For additional information, please click here to send us an email inquiry or feel free to telephone White Oak Savanna at 608-636-5776.