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Form Wealth Management

Lake Geneva was once a 'walking city'

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January 22, 2013 | 02:57 PM
Until the beginning of the 1960s, Lake Geneva was a "walking city."

Most citizens walked everywhere — especially to the center of the city's life, the "downtown."

If one wanted to go to Chicago, one walked to the railroad depot on North Street just west of Broad Street.

If one wanted to bowl, one walked to the bowling alley in the basement of today's "Landmark" building. Children walked to Central School, Third Ward School (today's American Legion Hall) and (after they were built) to Eastview School and St. Francis de Sales School.

Protestants who walked to Sunday services at the Congregational, Methodist, Baptist, Episcopalian and Christian Science churches and to the two Lutheran churches (at Park Row and Warren streets and on Walworth Street) felt that they were more fortunate than their fellow residents who had to trudge up "Catholic Hill" to St. Francis de Sales. The YMCA at the corner of Main and Lake (now Wrigley Drive) streets and the public library on Main Street were within easy walking distance of most homes in the city.

If one wanted a cream horn or a long john, one walked to Bittner's Bakery on Main Street. A night at the movies required only a short walk to the Geneva Theater on Broad Street with, perhaps, a stop at Frediani's, just to the north, for an ice cream soda before the movie began.

For those who wished to imbibe a shot and a beer or two, O'Brien's Tavern or the Terrace Gardens on Main Street, Glenn "Smitty" Smith's Anchor Inn on Broad Street, Basil Rafter's Broadway Tavern in the 500 block of Broad Street, and Joe Payne's tavern on Center Street across from the post office were but a short walk from most residents' doorsteps.

However the walk back home from those taverns was perhaps a bit more problematic. In the morning, many residents walked to Hanny's White House Restaurant at the northeast corner of Broad and Dodge streets, where the Medussa Restaurant is today, for a cup of (watery) coffee.

Need a haircut? No problem, one made the short walk to Adolph Kaempfer's barbershop on lower Broad Street, Del Shaude's barbershop on the west side of Center Street, just south of Main Street, "Chappie" Chapman's barbershop beneath Arnold's Drugstore on Main Street, or Ken Week's barbershop on the east side of Broad Street, just south of Dodge Street.

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Need to pay monthly utility bills? A short stroll would suffice. Most people paid their bills in cash.

One would begin his or her bill-paying stroll at the Wisconsin Southern Gas Company on the east side of Broad Street across from the Geneva Theater, walk a block south to the Wisconsin Power and Light building at the northeast corner of Broad and Main streets, walk two blocks east to the Wisconsin Telephone Company and then walk two blocks further east to the Water and Light office on Main Street to pay one's water bill.

On the way home one could stop at the post office to buy some three-cent stamps and perhaps nip across the street to the First National Bank to withdraw a few bucks from one's saving account to spend at John Brandley's Schultz Brothers "dime store" on the south side of Main Street, the Walmart of its day.

If one wanted to send a telegram, one could walk to the Western Union office in Claude Foster's and George Weisner's stationery story across Broad Street from the Geneva Theater. To get one's shoes resoled, one had to go to Joe Macuba's shoe repair store on Cook Street across from Central School.

Need groceries? Not a problem. There were many grocery stores within easy walking distance of most homes. Kroger's, the National and the A & P were located on the north side of the 700 block of Main Street as later were Frank Janowak's and John Power's grocery stores.

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Other smaller grocery stores were located in various parts of the city's neighborhoods, including Dumann's on Center Street and Ruchti's on upper Broad Street. Want some sweets? One had only to walk to Patsy DeMarco's candy store on Broad Street, where Ken's Animal House is today, for a fix of root beer barrels and other penny candy.

On Friday evenings in the fall, one could walk to the high school football games at Dunn Field at the foot of Dodge Street or on cold, snowy winter evenings, one could walk to the high school auditorium at Wisconsin and Madison streets, just north of Maple Park, and watch the Lake Geneva High School basketball team trounce teams from Elkhorn, Delavan and Burlington.

Even the advent of winter facilitated walking. Everyone,

including the owners of "downtown" businesses, shoveled their sidewalks and the frozen lake allowed people to walk out to the colony of ice-fishing shanties in the "Fourth Ward" (Lake Geneva had only three wards in those days) and do a little ice fishing.

In summer, the beach was only a short walk from most homes as were the softball and baseball games at Dunn Field. One walked to the lake shore to watch the lighted boat parade on "Venetian Night." Many people who worked at the estates on Geneva Lake's shore walked along the lake to work, and many others walked to work at Trostel's.

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With the opening of the Dairy Queen on Wells Street in the mid-1950s, the opening of Badger High School in 1958 and the development of the Sturwood subdivision, combined with the fact that more and more people were driving cars, Lake Geneva became less of a "walking city."

Tourists, of course, still walk the city's streets today, but few venture more than a few blocks from the lake.

And the residents today who walk to Walmart, Home Depot, Target, Best Buy or the Showboat Cineplex are indeed rare.

But a half-century ago, walking was a major mode of transportation in Lake Geneva.

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