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Geneva Lake boating 60 years ago



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March 26, 2013 | 03:10 PM
During the summer of 2013, tourists will find many large excursion boats tied up at the Riviera piers in the morning before the mail boat, the Walworth II, departs to make its rounds on the lake.

In addition, tourists will find tied up at the piers the Lady of the Lake, the Grand Belle of the Lake, the Duchess, the Geneva, the Polaris and the Louise.

Sixty years ago, in 1953, tourists would see only the Louise and the Polaris among the excursion boats tied up at the Riviera piers. The Louise had been the steam yacht of John J. Mitchell, who owned Ceylon Court on what became later known as Maytag Point, named after Frederick Maytag, the washing machine magnate, who owned Ceylon Court after John and Louise Mitchell were killed in a car crash in Illinois, returning from Lake Geneva to Chicago.

Their steam yacht, the Louise, was named after Mrs. Mitchell. The Polaris had been the steam yacht of Otto Young, a Chicago real estate tycoon, who built Stone Manor, the largest mansion on the lake.

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Besides the Louise and the Polaris, tourists in 1953 would find tied to the Riviera piers the original Walworth, the predecessor of today's Walworth II and which, like its successor, was the mail boat; the Marietta and the Tilford S. The Tilford S. was named after Tilford Stuyvesant, who owned the boatyard then located between Baker and Campbell streets and Lake (Wrigley Drive) and Willow (South Lake Shore Drive) streets.

The Stuyvesant boatyard built many of the large boats that graced the lake. Also tied to the Riviera piers was the large steam yacht, the Tula, which looked much like the Louise and the Polaris, and two smaller, narrower launches, the Jackie and the Billie.

The tourists would chat with old Bill Kowalk, who presided over the smaller piers on the east side of the Riviera as he had done for years, renting row boats and small fishing boats.

The company that owned the large excursion boats on Geneva Lake in 1953 was the Wisconsin Transportation Co., the predecessor of the Gage Marine Co.. The Bill Gages, father and son, deserve a great deal of credit for preserving and renovating the Louise and the Polaris, thereby ensuring the historical continuity of the legendary excursion boats that plied the waters of Geneva Lake.

Only a few other historic steam yachts have survived the passage of time on Geneva Lake, including the Ada, owned by the Wrigley family, and the Normandy, owned by Larry Larkin.

Tourists and Lake Geneva residents alike delight in seeing all of these large boats decked out in colored lights as they pass the lake's shore in the boat parade on Venetian Night in August.

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