Source: Lake Geneva Regional News

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Cornue shares family history with society

by Fred Noer

November 07, 2013

WALWORTH — People lingered long after the Historical Society of Walworth and Big Foot Prairie meeting Thursday, Oct. 24 featuring Bonnie Cornue sharing stories about her relatives who owned land in Fontana beginning in the late 19th century. Many in the audience at Golden Years of Walworth were eager to see photos and postcards from Cornue’s collection dating back to the early 1900s. The photos were a glimpse into the past of the current Abbey Springs complex along South Lakeshore Drive. Construction on Abbey Springs began in the 1970s and continued into the next decade. Besides single-family residences, condominiums and townhouses, the complex consists of a golf course, country clubhouse, yacht clubhouse and marina. Most of the Abbey Springs property was farmland at one time. It was owned by Cornue’s great-grandfather, Donald Monson, starting in the 1880s until its sale in the 1920s or ‘30s to the Ayer family. The property was then sold to Doc Congdon, who owned it until Abbey Springs developers bought it. Cornue shared several stories about her relatives. One was about Monson, who bought and sold other land around Geneva Lake. He was introduced to a dressmaker from Ireland named Ella Butler, fell in love with her and intended to marry her. However, Monson’s sisters, May and Pearl, scorned his choice of a bride because they regarded her as a lower class, since the Monsons were a wealthy family. The sisters were snubbed when Monson and Butler eloped, wed by justice of the peace James Millard at his home. Millard resided in a town of Linn house on Lakeville Road east of Linn-Walworth Townline Road. The Monson farm along South Lakeshore Drive had a house and a cottage. The latter was near the lake, and the family lived there during warm months. Once fall and winter arrived, the farmhouse on the south side of the road was used. Cornue showed a photograph showing a tunnel under South Lakeshore Drive constructed with large stones. The tunnel, which still exists, was used by cattle that grazed by the lake and drank its water. Monson, who grew up in New Haven, Conn., graduated from the Yale University as a doctor. He did not practice much because he suffered from migraine headaches, which had afflicted his father Alfred Monson, another doctor. Donald Monson worked as a gardener and carpenter and eventually moved to Chicago and operated a grocery store in addition to dealing in land. He worried little about money because he inherited money from his father, who in turn benefited from his father’s wealth. The Monsons go back several generations to Thomas Monson, born in approximately 1612 in England. He came to the U.S. and settled in Hartford, Conn. He fought in the Pequot War of 1634-38, worked as a carpenter and held public office. Donald Monson had two sisters, May and Pearl. May was married to Charles Offield, who was in business with the Wrigleys in Chicago. The Offields’ summer home was east of Donald’s property on land across from the current entrance to Lake Geneva Yacht Club. The house eventually was donated to the Boy Scouts to use as part of a retreat known as Camp Offield. It closed in the early 1960s. Pearl married Philip K. Wrigley, the chewing gum manufacturer and owner of the Chicago Cubs. A cousin of Cornue’s grandmother, James Offield, married Dorothy Wrigley, Philip’s sister, and they did extensive philanthropic work in Chicago. Cornue’s grandparents were Charles and Bella Hart. Bella’s sister was Natalie, who did not marry until she was 71 years old to an 81-year-old Florida man named Luther, whose first wife died after 50 years of marriage. Charles Hart died in 1934 of a heart attack, leaving his widow and three daughters to manage on their own. They struggled partly due to the injustice of Bella’s sister Natalie cheating Bella out of money from selling Fontana property owned by the sisters’ parents. Natalie’s actions resembled those of May and Pearl a generation earlier. The sisters moved back to the East Coast from Chicago and went after their father’s money, to the exclusion of Donald Monson and another brother, Alfred. “I remember my grandmother saying that the money wasn’t worth fighting over,” Cornue said. “Even though my relatives were well to do and proper, some of them were not very nice people. I love the genealogy, but the stories are what I find interesting.” Cornue’s grandmother, mother and her sisters lived in Chicago in the 1920s and ‘30s. Summers were spent in Fontana in what is now the Brookwood subdivision. Natalie, who lived in Fontana at the time, drove to Harvard, Ill., to pick up the women from the train. “Mom told me they really had to hang on during the ride down Indian Hills Road in Fontana in Natalie’s old Desoto,” Cornue said. “The road was steep and rough.” Cornue said her grandmother went to school in Walworth even though she resided in Fontana, which had a school. In the morning her father took her by boat to the trolley station at the Fontana lakefront. The electric car belonged to the Harvard-Fontana interurban line of the Chicago, Harvard & Geneva Lake Railway Co. Her father picked her up in the afternoon. During the winter she spent the week in Walworth. Cornue, 68, lived in Des Plaines, Ill., until her family moved to Brookwood in the spring of 1962 near the end of her junior year in high school. She graduated from Big Foot High School the following year, and in 1965 she married Dick Cornue, a lifelong Lakeville Road resident of Linn. Besides family photos, Cornue displayed many photos and postcards of Fontana and Geneva Lake, including scenes of the gravel pit, old mill, cottage, tunnel under South Lakeshore Drive, lake ice removal, fish that were caught and Cornue’s grandmother’s grade school class. Society vice president Richard Rasmussen of the town of Walworth and Joyce Pagel of Walworth announced a booklet marking the 175-year history of Walworth, which was celebrated in August 2012, will be published in the next two months and sold at locations in Walworth. The 72-page publication will have articles, photographs and advertisements. The following donations were received for the historical society collection: * A copy of the Purple and Gold Review of Walworth High School from Glenn Schacht of the town of Walworth. * A plat book from Diane Voss of the town of Walworth. She also passed along donations from Jean Wendeberg Dunn of the vest worn by the Kaye Wendeberg when she bowled. The vest is adorned with commemorative patches and pins. Her bowling shirts, trophy and award were presented, too. Voss also donated the late Malcolm Miller’s Walworth Grade School diploma dated May 28, 1948. * A fan from Cooper’s Market and a deck of cards from Walworth Lumber Co. from Ron and Connie Fairchild, former town of Walworth residents. The items were obtained from her parents, Allen and Dorothy Morrison of Sharon Township, who found the items in the couple’s farmhouse, which used to be owned by Floyd Young. The presentation was made by Stan Fairchild. The next society meeting is 7 p.m., Thursday, Jan. 23 at Golden Years. Board members will be elected. All are welcome to share stories and photos. Dues for 2014 may be paid at the meeting.