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Lake Geneva: What it might have become



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February 26, 2013 | 01:34 PM
Many residents of Lake Geneva are aware that not too long ago there was a military academy located on Geneva Lake's south shore, not far from Fontana. The Northwestern Military and Naval Academy was, for many years, located where the massive Academy Estates homes are today. Before the academy moved from Highland Park, Ill., to this location in 1915, the site was Ayers Park, a popular resort in the 19th century. But the Northwestern Military Academy is gone, having merged in 1995 with St. John's Military Academy in Delafield.

But probably fewer residents are aware that Lake Geneva almost had two military academies located on Geneva Lake's south shore. And if the second military academy had been established there, Lake Geneva would most likely be a very different city than it is today.

This past autumn, for example, it might have been possible to see football powerhouses like Michigan, Ohio State, Notre Dame and Wisconsin, and football teams like Army and Navy come to Lake Geneva to play football in a large stadium on Geneva Lake's south shore. The other military academy that came very close to being built on the south shore was the Air Force Academy.

The year was 1954. Prior to 1947, the Air Force, then called the Air Corps, was part of the Department of the Army. In 1947 the U.S. government established a separate Department of the Air Force. Just as the Department of the Army had West Point (the U.S. Military Academy) to train its officers and the Department of the Navy had Annapolis (the U.S. Naval Academy) to train its officers, the newly established Department of the Air Force needed an academy to train its officers. The Department of the Air Force set about finding a suitable location for its proposed Air Force Academy. By early 1954 it had developed a short list of three potential locations — Colorado Springs, Colorado, Alton, Ill. (near St. Louis), and Lake Geneva.

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When news of Lake Geneva's selection as a finalist broke, excitement swept the city. Word quickly spread throughout the city that the Air Force had already selected Lake Geneva as the location for the new academy. Among the most exciting aspects of the news that the Air Force Academy was going to be built on the south shore was the revelation that the academy complex would include a large football stadium, one that would draw big name college teams to Lake Geneva to play there.

But not all of the residents of Lake Geneva were excited about the prospects of the Air Force Academy being built on Geneva Lake's south shore. One person who was not in the slightest enthused about the prospect was State Sen. William F. Trinke, a Lake Geneva lawyer and real estate promoter, who was also the Wisconsin State Commander of the American Legion. Trinke owned a considerable amount of property on the lake's south shore, and had developed several subdivisions on the shores of the lake, including Trinke Estates. Some people speculated that Trinke was fearful that the U.S. government would confiscate the land that he owned by using the legal procedure of eminent domain. Trinke and others launched a campaign to dissuade the U.S. government from locating the Air Force Academy on Geneva Lake's south shore. They quickly enlisted the support of farmers in Linn Township and people who owned residences on that shore.

The proposal to locate the Air Force Academy in Lake Geneva was hotly debated and the residents were sharply divided on the question, although the majority of the city's residents probably favored locating the Air Force Academy here. But in the end the campaign by Trinke and his allies proved successful. The Air Force decided to locate the Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs. 1954 was a watershed year for Lake Geneva. What might have been did not transpire. Residents of Lake Geneva in 2013 will never know how the city might have been transformed if it had become the home of the U.S. Air Force Academy. And residents will never be able to watch a big time college football game in Lake Geneva except on their television screens.

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