What would Lake Geneva be like without the railroad?
July 28, 2010 | 07:29 AM
In 1871, the Chicago & North West Railway line reached Lake Geneva.
With it mainly came people to the city from the Chicago area, passenger cars full of them, creating the tourist and vacation destination many of us now call home.
More than 139 years later, much of that railroad history is gone. Rail service to the city ended in 1975 and the Lake Geneva depot, located near the current Dunn Lumber business, was the last of the visual history to go when it was razed about 30 years ago.
All that's left today is a sign located at the start of the concrete arch bridge over the White River providing some information as to the significance of the railroad in Lake Geneva. The bridge is located just off of Main Street next to the Lake Geneva Utility Department. The trail then proceeds over the bridge and through woods. There's the sledding hill and a former lookout over the city-owned property that formerly was part of the Hillmoor Golf Course.
While those areas are easy to see and obvious, there's a piece that takes some imagination.
Somewhere in the area between Sage Street and the sledding hill is the location where the old C&NW railway line had a turntable, engine house, well and water tower. It's a piece of property that former alderman and current Historic Preservation Committee member Ed Yaeger believes should be recognized as an important historical site.
Yaeger, a fan of model trains and the railroads, is so adamant about creating a railroad park in that area and ensuring it is on the city's Park Plan that he has spent hours reading, discovering the history and recreating a scale model diorama of what the turntable and engine house may have looked like in the 1870s.
Since 2007, Yaeger has been vocal about this project. Prior to that, there was talk at the council level about using the bridge area as the location of a Geneva Street connector to relieve traffic on Main Street heading west into the city. The idea was for a street to go in the area where the bridge is and come out on Geneva Street in front of City Hall. That would guide people away from driving into the downtown retail area and send them to nearby parking or for locals to use as a bypass.
Back then, I supported the Geneva Street connector idea. Yaeger was a proponent of saving the bridge at that time, too, and spoke strongly against any destruction of the old bridge.
Now, after visiting Yaeger in his garage where he showed me his diorama and taking a more careful walk along what used to be the railway and the turntable area, I have changed my mind. Although the Geneva Street connector idea seemed to disappear with others a few years ago, we need to do something about the historical significance of this railroad area.
It's green space now, but there is nothing there that pinpoints the location and significance of the turntable. Who knows, with a little investigation and some digging, there may be remnants left of the turntable or something else from the railroad. Wouldn't that be something?
So many times we have lost history on Geneva Lake in the name of progress. Old homes have been razed in favor of new ones. While still beautiful and impressive, there's something about the old mansions such as Stone Manor and Black Point that remind us all of what Lake Geneva used to be so long ago.
This railroad turntable and engine house history may not seem like a big deal to some, but the railroad is one of the main reasons Lake Geneva became the tourist and summer vacation spot it now is. It's time to do a little more digging, both literally and figuratively, into this railroad area. Let's find out if there is history buried under the brush, bushes, trees and grass. Let's find out the exact location of the turntable and the engine house and create a sign or other monument to signify its importance to the city of Lake Geneva. If it weren't for the railroad, Lake Geneva may not exist as it does today.
Seiser is the editor of the Regional News.