March 06, 2014
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As a board member of Community Action Inc. of Rock and Walworth Counties in southeastern Wisconsin, I take pride in the dozens of programs we run which are aimed at creating pathways out of poverty.
March 06, 2014
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Don’t tell me men must not cry. I managed to avoid that on a bitter cold but sunny February morning.
While shoveling snow, I noted my neighbor doing the same. As men are wont to do, we began a conversation at 30 paces. Then abruptly he said, “Mike Hinzpeter died yesterday.”
That changed everything. It was news I expected but not quite so soon.
March 06, 2014
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I read with interest John Halverson’s article in the Lake Geneva Regional News edition of Jan. 23, about heavyweight champion Joe Louis being forced to abandon his plans to hold a training camp somewhere in the Lake Geneva area in 1937. The article was a poignant reminder that not every aspect of Lake Geneva’s history has been festooned with seashells and balloons.
Recent Community columnists
Kedzie backs heroin billFebruary 27, 2014
Editor’s note: Stories this week and last week show that heroin is a problem in our area. This commentary by State Sen. Neal Kedzie seems especially timely.
Heroin is an extremely addictive drug, and any family with a loved one who has an addiction knows how difficult it can be to handle.
According to the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence, more than 75 percent of those who try heroin once will use it again, and unfortunately, the brain of a teenager is especially susceptible to addiction.
Heroin is also a very deadly drug. The Wisconsin Department of Health Services notes that the number of drug-related heroin deaths in Wisconsin more than doubled between 2005 and 2010, and the problem is getting worse.
A survey of Wisconsin county coroners found the number of heroin-related deaths nearly doubled in 2012. This growing heroin problem has become a priority for lawmakers seeking to stem the tide and save lives, and a number of bills are moving through the Legislature which may help.
Currently, basic emergency medical technicians (EMTs) are not allowed to carry naloxone, which is a drug used to counter the effects of opiate overdose, including heroin overdose.
Under Assembly Bill 446, all levels of EMT and first responders may be trained to administer the drug. The bill also includes police and fire but uses permissive language, leaving the decision up to the individual community to decide whether to allow other public safety officers the ability to administer naloxone.
Often, abusers of heroin use the drug in groups. Sadly though, if one of the users overdoses, others in the group will often leave the person to die rather than call for help out of fear of being arrested.
In response, the Legislature passed Assembly Bill 447, which provides limited immunity from certain criminal prosecutions for a person who brings another person to an emergency room or other healthcare facility, or who calls 911 for a person having an adverse reaction or overdose from a controlled substance. According to the U.S. Department of Justice, prescription drug abuse is the nation’s fastest growing drug problem.
Prescription drugs often serve as a stepping stone to heroin use and addiction, and can be stolen, misused, or abused when left unmonitored in household medicine cabinets.
Assembly Bill 445, which I have co-sponsored, requires an individual to show identification if they are picking up Schedule II or III controlled substance which is also a narcotic or opiate prescription medication.
By doing so, pharmacies could help law enforcement resolve drug crimes by keeping a record of dispensed drugs and the name of the person who received them. Law enforcement would not have access to the list unless they pursued proper legal channels. All three bills have passed both Houses of the Legislature and are currently awaiting the Governor’s signature.
Disposing of unused and unwanted prescription drugs can be a way to help prevent heroin addiction, and there is a safe, anonymous way to get rid of unused or unwanted prescription drugs.
The National Prescription Drug Take-Back Day on April 26 is a free and anonymous way to drop off expired, unused, or unwanted prescription drugs.
There will be collection sites across Wisconsin between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. that day. For a list of drop off locations, contact your local law enforcement agency or, beginning April 1, 2014, you may search by zip code on the U.S. Department of Justice’s Web site at www.deadiversion.usdoj.gov/drug_disposal/takeback.
If you know someone who may have an addiction, please do not wait to get them the help they need.
The Wisconsin Department of Justice (DOJ) has a number of resources on its website, including information on heroin, resources for addiction assistance, warning signs of addiction, and much more. This information can be found on the DOJ Web site at www.doj.state.wi.us/dci/heroin-awareness/a-dangerous-epidemic, by calling DOJ at 608-266-1221, or from my office anytime.
ABC and 123February 20, 2014
It seems like many media columnists end their educational reports with “just get back to teaching the ABCs”. This is a catch phrase that usually earns a few nods and murmurs of agreement. Unfortunately, a teacher who only taught the ABCs would be quickly fired.
Post office memories from the 1950s, 1960sFebruary 20, 2014
I was an employee at the U.S. Post Office in Lake Geneva from 1959 to 1966.
What follows are my memories of working at the post office during these halcyon years — memories that are no doubt shared by present and retired employees of the post office, including Bob Pawlowski, Wayne Vorpagel and Hawk Taylor.
Williams Bay's mystery man revealedFebruary 13, 2014
We thought we knew all about the founder of Williams Bay.
Come to find out, we don’t know him at all.
The sea captain from Connecticut, Capt. Israel Williams, has long been thought to be the founder of the village of Williams Bay. But village historians only have part of the story correct. Even today, misinformation about the captain continues to be found in literature about the village throughout the area.
Capt. Williams was not a sea captain, nor was he from Connecticut. The village of Williams Bay would have been called “Cole’s Bay” had not Capt. Williams “jumped” a claim owned by a Mr. Cole (no first name known). This whole incident lead to the infamous “Battle of Geneva Lake” (more on that later).
Williams was born on Sept. 24, 1789, in Ashfield, Hampshire, Mass. He was the eighth child of “Rich” Ephraim Williams, one of the original settlers of Ashfield, Mass., and his wife, Mercy Daniels. Both were from families of position and wealth. College-educated, deeply religious and civic-minded, Ephraim was wealthy enough to give each of his eight sons a large farm upon their marriage and his two daughters a generous dowry upon their marriages as well.
Williams was commissioned into the Massachusetts militia in the War of 1812. The mistaken notion that he was a sea captain can be attributed to another Israel Williams from Connecticut, some 50 years older and no relation to the Williams from Massachusetts, who was a famous sea captain. Our Williams was elected to the post of captain of the militia in 1825, long after the War of 1812 was over. A clear case of mistaken identity that has lasted until today.
Williams married Lavina Joy born in May of 1808, daughter of Capt. Nehemiah Joy, a teacher, of Cummington, Massachusetts. As a child, Lavina was taught by her father, along with another student, William Cullen Bryant, the soon–to–be famous romantic poet.
To Williams and Lavina were born 11 children, nine sons (two died shortly after birth and are buried in Massachusetts) and two daughters.
Williams worked for many years on his farm of some 300–400 sheep, when in the early 1830s it became apparent that many of the men from the local area were looking westward for new opportunities. Williams was one of them.
In the spring of 1835, he, his wife, her mother and five of his children headed westward, sailing through the Great Lakes to Michigan, where they wintered. Williams sent his oldest son, Moses, that summer to scope out the Wisconsin Territory, where he had heard there was farm land rich, plentiful and already tilled by the local Native Americans.
Moses returned several months later reporting he had found a likely location on the south shore of Wind Lake (Geneva Lake).
The land was rich, the game plentiful and the local tribe, Chief Big Foot’s Potawatomi, were due for removal the next fall. Moses had filed a claim for land on the south shore of the lake and built a small log cabin (just east of where the old Northwestern Military Academy once stood).
Very early in the spring of 1836, Williams and his older sons (the youngest, Festus, was four years old) headed to Wisconsin to prepare a home for the women who would be coming later in early summer, once Williams had found permanent location for their home. Find it he did — across the lake from where Moses’s cabin stood was the second village of Chief Big Foot.
On the western slope, some 80 feet above the summer wigwams of the tribe, was what looked like an abandoned claim — some blazed trees and the remains of a campfire. Partially cleared, it was the ideal location for Williams’ new home, next to the gardens of the Potawatomi.
Word of their arrival had been spreading through the few neighbors that were around the lake. One, a Mr. Cole, newly arrived from the East, where he had wintered, who upon hearing where Williams had made his claim, jumped to his feet and shouted “That’s my claim!” After fortifying himself with some liquid courage, he and a few friends headed over to the Bay to “drive them damned Yankee claim-jumpers out!”
Arriving at the claim site, Cole and his friends found Williams and his boys busily clearing trees and splitting logs for the cabin. Cole demanded that Williams “Git out or else!” to which Williams told him that while Cole may have filed on the claim, he had not completed the process, nor paid the filing fee, thus opening the way for Williams to file for the claim legally.
Obviously too drunk to be responsible, Williams told Cole to clear off and come back to discuss the matter when he (Cole) was sober. Cole replied he’d be back, armed and ready to take his land back by force if necessary!
Cole returned the next day with two friends, armed. Williams and his four boys met them, armed as well. The oldest Williams son, Moses, was 27. The youngest facing Cole and his comrades was Austin, 14.
Williams knew that one or more of his boys were going to be injured or killed if this situation spiraled out of control. Cole, on the other hand could count, and five against three was not good odds. Seeing Cole nervously begin to rock from one foot to the other, Williams tried to resolve the situation before gunfire erupted.
“I understand you feel you’ve been cheated, Cole,” Williams began. “I’ll make it up to you. I don’t have any hard cash, but I’ve got these rifles, an axe or two or the cow,” pointing towards a Holstein tied nearby. “What’ll you take for your claim?” Cole looked at the unflinching posture of the Williams clan with their rifles pointed at him and his friends, who were by now wishing they were anywhere but there, swallowed and said, “I’ll take the cow!”
Bloodshed was avoided, the Williams built a fine log cabin, Cole probably got quite a good price for the fine Holstein cow and the legend of the “Battle of Geneva Lake” was created.
On July 4, 1836, the rest of the Williams family arrived from Michigan. Williams went on to be the first justice of the peace in the area. The first wedding he performed was that of his daughter, Hannah, to Robert Russell in 1838.
School for local children began in 1839 at the Williams home which eventually would become known as the “Buckhorn Tavern,” a popular stop on the stagecoach run from Beloit to Racine that passed through Williams Bay for a number of years. In 1844, Williams became the first postmaster. He was known to be a just and upright man.
In 1845, there was a malaria and cholera outbreak that caused the deaths of Moses and Austin Williams. The following year on Oct. 14, 1846, Williams succumbed to the same maladies at the age of 57. At the time it was believed these diseases were caused by disturbing the leaf mold by too much tilling of the soil.
Today, we know it is due to the transmission of malaria through mosquito bites and unsanitary drinking water due to poor sanitary conditions (think outhouses next to the well) brought on cholera.
So the legend of Williams continues.
You can visit the graves of the Williams Family at the East Delavan Pioneer Old Settlers Cemetery on Theater Road.
The Williams family plot is immediately behind the cemetery sign.
Learn more about the history of Williams Bay, join the Williams Bay Historical Society. Email Soplanda, society president, at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Riches can be the road to an over-abundance of egoFebruary 13, 2014
It was recently reported widely that there is a growing disparity in income between the well-to-do and those who are not. One percent, it is said, own nearly half of the world’s wealth. The rate at which this inequality is increasing seems to be the greatest in the U.S.
There were many dire predictions accompanying these facts. None, however, were as bothersome as this: history has clearly demonstrated that material largesse is commonly attended by an equally sizeable poverty of intellect.
This is, of course, unless you allow for the inflated estimate of themselves that the well-off are all willing to provide. after all, if you make a lot of money, then you must be “unique,” or somehow possessed of special “powers” and abilities. This nonsense was long ago discredited with the dismissal of so-called “Social Darwinism.”
People who are good at making a buck are most often little use at anything else.
Two examples should suffice. In Periclean Greece there was a scruffy-looking gad-about, with unwashed and unkempt appearance, who roamed the streets of the ancient city state in a tattered robe and worn sandals, constantly browbeating his fellow citizens on matters of “right conduct,” justice,” “truth” and other such debates.
He was universally castigated as a nuisance. Finally, he was tried and condemned to death; forced to drink a cup of the poison hemlock. At the same time, there were powerful merchants in the city. Those of renown who were viewed with the greatest esteem for their fortunes and public notoriety.
They held sway in matters that affected the Greek economy, and those who looked to their livelihoods hung on their every word. The dirty, bothersome and hirsute vagabond was a man named Socrates.
He, along with his intellectual progeny, Plato and Aristotle, are largely responsible for founding what we have come to describe as Western Civilization. Not even one name of those who held great power in their wealth is remembered. Not one. Their legacy is naught but dust.
Henry Ford was one of the first billionaires in America and, needless to point out, would have had to be called a “trillionaire” if measured in today’s dollars. Henry was an ignorant tinkerer. Described by Nation magazine this way: “ ... a Yankee mechanic, pure and simple, quite uneducated, with a mind unable to “bite” into any proposition outside of his automobile and tractor business. He has achieved wealth, but not greatness.”
Harry Bennett was kept on Henry’s payroll for one purpose. To employ whatever number of thugs or mobsters might be needed to “punish” those who had the audacity to dispute the “great man’s” will. this included beating or even killing any of his workmen who might try to organize a union.
It is interesting that at the Battle of the Overpass, the carnage was largely complete before any members of law enforcement arrived to restore order.
Mr. Ford was not only a billionaire and shrewd moneymaker; he was also one of our nation’s most virulent anti-Semites. Since he was virtually illiterate, he bought the Dearborn Independent and hired a shill to sit with him for hours on end to copy down his vitriol, and then publish it in his “newspaper.” One of his most ardent followers wrote this: “Every year makes them (the Jews) more and more the controlling masters of the producers in a nation of 120 million; only a single Great Man, Ford, to their fury, still maintains full independence.”
The author? Adolph Hitler, writing in Mein Kampf.
When Henry Ford set out to end World War I aboard his “peace ship,” he gathered about him a manifest of self-styled “activists.”The enterprise was a massive failure. He was summarily ignored by European diplomats and heads-of-state. The Rev. Samuel Marquis, who had accompanied Ford on his Quixotic quest, said that Ford “ ... would stand a better chance of achieving his ambitions if he avoided areas where he had no experience.”
The real problem with the extraordinary shift in the distribution of wealth is that the wealthy spend too much time telling each other how valuable and important they are. And actually believing it.
The only thing to fear is their willingness to use their sizable checkbooks to compensate for their egregious lack of credentials for anything but making more dollars.
And their “lawlessness.” This is the capacity to pay for a living style that allows the “rich and famous’ to think they are above the law; that they are somehow exempt from the restraints and conventions that guide more “common” men and women. It permits them the illusion that they move in circle and behave in ways that are not bound by the normative rules of everyday life. All of this combines to remind us of the follies of those like Henry Ford, who could not only conjure his silliness but act on it. Therein lies the real danger.
We are left with more and more people with ever larger and larger checkbooks, who can not only wander down the corridors of their own distorted and shallow imaginings, but actually try to put these rubrics into practice.
Money is its own worst fool.
Wisconsin's surplus should go to taxpayersFebruary 06, 2014
By now you’ve probably heard that Wisconsin’s state budget is facing a sizeable surplus.
I know it’s probably hard to believe, especially with all of the problems we’re seeing in Washington, like record deficits and partisan gridlock. However, the story is much different here in Wisconsin.
Why the difference?
Well, we’ve taken a much different approach in Madison since 2010 when both Gov. Scott Walker and I were first elected. We understand that the government doesn’t create jobs, the private sector does.
That’s why we’ve done what we can to improve the job creation climate and reduce the tax burden. In fact, private sector job creation between April and December 2013 was best since 1994. Also, Wisconsin ranked as the fourth best state in the country for personal income growth from the second quarter to the third quarter in 2013.
The Legislative Fiscal Bureau (LFB) just announced Wisconsin is facing a $976 million surplus. It is important to point out that the surplus is the result of taxpayers paying too much — not that the government has spent too little.
LFB said this is one of the largest mid-budget surpluses in recent memory and it means our budgeting reforms are working.
As you may know, Gov. Walker has come out with his plan for the surplus, which he is calling the Blueprint for Prosperity. The plan returns the surplus money to the taxpayers in a fiscally responsible way, which I fully support.
Simply put, I believe we need to get your money out of Madison, because there are plenty of people in Madison that want to spend it.
Specifically, the plan has two major components that will benefit taxpayers. The first is tax relief. The plan will increase the state’s share of funding the tech colleges, thereby reducing the portion that homeowners pay on their property tax bills.
German immigrants, railroad helped LG growFebruary 06, 2014
Editor’s note: This is the second in a two-part series by Lake Geneva historian Patrick Quinn.
Despite the recession of 1873, Geneva continued to grow.
In 1882 the U.S. Post Office acknowledged that Geneva had become significant enough to be confused with Geneva, Ill., and changed Geneva’s name to Lake Geneva. And in 1886 leading citizens of Lake Geneva, also aware of Lake Geneva’s growing stature, led a successful effort to upgrade the village to the status of a city.
By this time, wealthy Chicagoans owned impressive steam yachts that traversed the lake and docked at the piers where the Riviera is today. In 1893 the development of the Columbian subdivision reflected the growth of the city.
Yerkes Observatory was completed in 1896.
The railroad had been extended from Lake Geneva to Williams Bay in 1888 and it served the needs of the Yerkes staff. It was during the last quarter of the 19th century that most of the commercial buildings that comprise Lake Geneva’s downtown business district were constructed and most of the homes in the Maple Park Historic District were built for a growing and prosperous middle class.
During and after the Franco-Prussian War and the consolidation of Germany as a nation state in 1871, there occurred a mass migration of Germans to the United States.
In southeastern Wisconsin, many German immigrants settled in Lyons and Bloomfield townships and purchased the farms of the original settlers from Vermont and upstate New York. The arrival of the German immigrants in the area would eventually significantly alter the ethnic composition of Lake Geneva’s population.
The development of Lake Geneva as a substantial community during the last three decades of the 19th century was culturally evidenced by the opening of the YMCA, the public library and the opera house (originally called Centennial Hall because it was built in 1876). The beginnings of Lake Geneva as a premiere “resort city” was foreshadowed by the opening of the Whiting House hotel on lower Broad Street, overlooking the lake’s outlet, and the opening of Kaye’s Park (an amusement park) on Geneva Lake’s south shore, both in 1873.
The first 16 years of the 20th century were essentially an extension of the last quarter of the 19th century. The end of World War I, however, marked the beginning of the second transformation of Lake Geneva. The prosperous 1920s saw the emergence of Lake Geneva as a summer resort city. Thousands of middle class and working class Chicagoans began flocking to the city, primarily on the train, during the summers.
The construction of the Riviera in 1932 marked the culmination of Lake Geneva’s first decade as a resort city.
Although there was significant unemployment in Lake Geneva during the Great Depression that had begun in 1929 and lasted until the U.S. entered World War II, Lake Geneva’s role as a summer resort city continued to expand.
The end of World War II brought the beginning of yet another transformation of the city. Summer tourists continued to arrive in Lake Geneva on the train and on buses, but more and more Chicagoans had become sufficiently prosperous to own cars and drive to Lake Geneva on the weekends. During the summers, however, many trains still arrived in Lake Geneva filled with tourists.
On Sunday evenings “white flag” special trains lined up at the railroad station waiting to take tourists back to Chicago.
The bus depot on the west side of lower Broad Street usually had five or six Greyhound buses an hour arriving or departing during the summers. Residents still served the needs of wealthy Chicagoans who lived in their lakeshore mansions. Most graduates of the high school, however, had no choice but to leave Lake Geneva following their graduation and seek employment in Chicago or elsewhere.
An important exception was that jobs were available at the Nash (later American Motors) plant in Kenosha and the GMC plant in Janesville, both of which were only 30 miles from Lake Geneva.
By the 1950s, many of the children of German-born farmers in Lyons and Bloomfield townships had moved to Lake Geneva and many of the males had become tradesmen.
During the 1960s, 1970s, 1980s and 1990s, another transformation in Lake Geneva occurred. A number of the large estates on the lake’s shore had been subdivided earlier and homes were built on them. This process continued. The railroad to Chicago stopped running and its tracks were torn up. Buses stopped coming to Lake Geneva. Summer tourists come to Lake Geneva, not so much from the city of Chicago as from its suburbs. More and more people from the Chicago suburbs moved to Lake Geneva, although many still worked in Illinois.
Summer tourists, who in the 1950s had been children of Italian, Polish and Jewish immigrants who had come to Chicago from Europe, were being replaced by people of South Asian (Indian) descent. Many of the children of Lake Geneva 20th-century residents were building new homes outside of the city’s limits. A considerable portion of the housing stock in Lake Geneva became rental units. The grandchildren of German immigrants were filling the pews of the two largest Lutheran churches in the city. Immigrants from Mexico were moving to Lake Geneva at an accelerated pace.
Construction of the new four-lane Highway 12, which bypassed the city on the north and east, attracted “big box” stores, which drew business away from the downtown stores. The Taggart Lumber Co. closed, marking the end of an era.
The opening of Badger High School in 1958 removed from the center of the city what had been, during the first half of the 20th century, a bee hive of activity. When most of the downtown stores that had served the residents of the city for decades, including the Schultz Brothers dime store, the Ben Franklin dime store, Montgomery Wards, the two drugstores, the bakery, several clothing stores and two hardware stores closed, the downtown business district became transformed.
The bowling alley beneath the Landmark building closed and the two leading auto dealerships moved to the city’s periphery. The YMCA moved into a former supermarket on Wells Street and the old Victorian YMCA building at Cook and Main streets was demolished.
Automobile travel had replaced walking in the city. The Geneva Theater, long a bright beacon in the downtown area, closed. The opening of Starbucks and Caribou coffee houses fortunately provided new social centers in the city.
Change, for certain, is inevitable and Lake Geneva surely has undergone change. Perhaps one indication of the change is a substantial increase in the number of Chicago Bears fans in what had once been a Green Bay Packers stronghold.
Change has made Lake Geneva a mecca for homes of airline pilots and flight attendants who value its relatively close proximity to O’Hare Airport. Change has also led to Lake Geneva becoming a retirement venue both for people who had grown up in the city but had spent their working lives elsewhere, as well as for individuals from throughout the country who had become aware of the city’s charms.
Perhaps future change will see the restoration of a rail connection with Chicago and its suburbs, which would be an enormous asset. A restored connection would probably have to parallel Highway 120 to the former Milwaukee Road tracks just north of the Illinois state line and Hebron, and it would terminate at Chicago’s Union Station rather than at the Oglesby Transportation Center where it had terminated for a century when it was part of the Chicago and Northwestern system.
Hopefully another positive change will be the reopening of the Geneva Theater as a movie theater and cultural and performing arts center.
During its 179-year-history, Lake Geneva evolved through numerous changes. The fact that it is located on one of the most beautiful lakes in the world and that it is but a short distance from one of the world’s greatest metropolises ensures that future changes will continue to be positive.
An analysis of Lake Geneva’s early historyJanuary 30, 2014
For the past three years, the articles that I have written on Lake Geneva’s history for the Regional News have, in the main, recounted historical facts about Lake Geneva or have been based upon my personal memories of what Lake Geneva was like in the 1940s, 1950s and early 1960s.
This article will attempt to analyze Lake Geneva’s history.
The first questions that need to be answered include why Lake Geneva was originally settled by whites in the 1830s and 1840s and why these initial settlers mainly came from Vermont and upstate New York.
After Lake Geneva was first “discovered” by whites in the early 1830s, its initial settlement was due to a combination of factors. The most important of these factors was the establishment in 1833 of a small settlement adjacent to the U.S. military fort — Fort Dearborn — where the Chicago River enters Lake Michigan. The tiny new village of Chicago stimulated the settlement of the “northwest.”
The area that later became known as the midwest was the northwest section of the United States before the Louisiana Purchase in 1803. Wisconsin had not yet become a territory, let alone a state. It would become a territory in 1836 and a state in 1848.
The area that eventually became Lake Geneva was then in Michigan Territory. The settlement of Geneva began only two decades after the end of the War of 1812 (three veterans of the War of 1812 are buried in the Pioneer Cemetery) while Andrew Jackson was president.
The U.S. Army and state militias defeated the Sac and Fox Native American leader Black Hawk in 1832.
The U.S. Army had chased Black Hawk and his band up the Rock River from where it enters the Mississippi to its northern reaches and then west to the Mississippi at Bad Axe (south of La Crosse), where it massacred many of the women and children in Black Hawk’s band. The chief of the Potawatomi in the Geneva Lake area, Big Foot, had refused to support Black Hawk.
Ironically, the U.S. government rewarded Big Foot for his refusal to support Black Hawk by exiling him and his entire tribe to eastern Kansas where his descendents now live on a reservation near St. Mary’s. Native American ownership of the land surrounding Geneva Lake was extinguished.
In 1835, three years after the defeat of Black Hawk, John Brink surveyed the land where Lake Geneva is now located for the U.S. government.
He named the beautiful lake in the area that he surveyed after his home town, Geneva, in upstate New York on the shore of Seneca Lake, one of the Finger Lakes.
The U.S. government established a land office in Milwaukee, which sold the former Potawatomi lands to whites. In 1837 a major recession hit the United States, a recession much more severe than the Great Recession of 2008.
The recession forced many people to move from settled eastern portions of the United States, including Vermont and upstate New York, to the newly opened “northwest,” where cheap land was available upon which they could establish farms, escape the ravages of the recession and start their lives anew.
Why did so many of those who originally settled the Lake Geneva area come from Vermont and upstate New York?
The answer is two-fold. Vermont had only become a state in 1791. It was not one of the original 13 states. One of the reasons for its late settlement was that much of its soil was very rocky.
After Vermont became a state, it had quickly become “overpopulated,” given the lack of land suitable for farming. The prevailing legal concept of “primogeniture” meant that only the eldest son could inherit a farm or other property.
The second, third, fourth and other younger sons were compelled to move elsewhere if they were to make their living by farming. They had no choice, therefore, but to move to the northwest frontier where land was available, including the area surrounding Geneva Lake.
The modes of transportation extant during the 1830s and 1840s also determined where the economic refugees from Vermont and upstate New York could go.
The Erie Canal, which ran from Albany to Buffalo, N.Y., had been opened in 1825. It was the interstate highway of its time. A network of railroads did not yet exist.
People who had been living in upstate New York boarded boats on the Erie Canal, which took them to Buffalo, where they transferred to lake schooners that sailed through lakes Erie, Huron and Michigan to the new towns of Milwaukee and Southport (the original name of Kenosha).
They then walked or rode wagons southwest 45 miles or due west 30 miles to the Geneva Lake area. People from Vermont boarded boats on Lake Champlain and sailed to the southern end of the lake, where they transferred to boats on the recently dug canal that connected Lake Champlain to the Hudson River.
They took boats south on the Hudson River to Albany, where they boarded boats on the Erie Canal, which carried them to Buffalo, where they transferred to lake schooners which took them to Milwaukee or Southport.
The settlers of what would become the southern counties of Wisconsin, who came from upstate New York, brought with them the names of the towns.
A glance at today’s map of upstate New York reveals their origins. Among the towns in upstate New York, one finds not only Geneva, but also Walworth, Delavan, Darien, Sharon, Clinton, Genoa, Palmyra, Eagle, Rochester, Bristol and Silver Lake, among others.
They also brought to the Geneva area their values, which included a commitment to temperance, which eschewed the use of intoxicating liquor, and a staunch opposition to slavery.
So too did they bring their religious predilections, including those of the Congregational Church. Although the first Congregational Church in Geneva was originally a Presbyterian Church, most of its members were Congregationalists.
Upstate New York was then known as the “burned-over district” because of the fervent religiosity of its inhabitants. Among the original settlers of Geneva there were, in addition to Congregationalists and Presbyterians, Methodists and Baptists, who also quickly established churches in Geneva. The “burned-over district” saw the birth of the Church of Jesus Christ of the Latter-day Saints (the Mormon Church), the Advent Christian Church and the Seventh Day Adventists.
The Catholic church in Geneva, which eventually became St. Francis de Sales, while established in 1847, did not experience significant growth until the arrival of large numbers of Irish laborers, who built the railroad from Chicago to Geneva in 1856.
The seven founders of Geneva, Dr. Philip Maxwell, his brother, Col. James Maxwell, Robert Wells Warren and his brother, Greenleaf Warren, Andrew Ferguson and his brother-in-law, Lewis B. Goodsell, and his business partner, George Campbell, were all from Vermont or upstate New York, but they had initially come to the new, rapidly growing village of Chicago, where they had made their fortunes speculating in real estate.
It was with such funds that they purchased the land upon which Lake Geneva is now situated. Charles M. Baker, the first attorney in Geneva, also came here from Vermont, as did a young person that he trained in the law, James Simmons.
The Civil War would transform Geneva from an ordinary village on the edge of the northwest frontier into a rather special place. The impetus for this transformation came from the large city 72 miles to the southeast.
Chicago had grown substantially during the Civil War and the decade preceding it from a small village into a burgeoning metropolis of 300,000 residents.
During the Civil War, many merchants in Chicago, some of whom had initially made their fortunes in real estate speculation, made even more money providing the Union Army with salt, meat, uniforms and many other necessities.
A substantial class of very wealthy Chicagoans had emerged during the war. Over the six years that followed the end of the war, several had “discovered” the beautiful lake 72 miles northwest of the metropolis, purchased land for estates on the shores of the lake and built large homes on those estates to which they would repair during the summers to escape the oppressive heat, congestion and noise of Chicago. The beautiful lake, of course, was Geneva Lake.
It was indeed a beautiful lake, one of the most beautiful lakes in the United States, but strangely enough, it had not been the beauty of the lake that had initially attracted many of the settlers from Vermont and upstate New York to Geneva; it had been the lake’s outlet, the White River, that had drawn them. In the days before electricity and the extensive use of steam power, the lake’s outlet, by virtue of its falling water, generated power — power to grind grain and saw logs into lumber.
The grain mill erected at the lake’s outlet, where the Geneva Lake Museum is located today, ground wheat grain into flour — grain grown by farmers living within a 30-mile radius of Geneva.
Wealthy Chicagoans’ “discovery” of the beauty of Geneva Lake during the half-decade that followed the Civil War would transform the village of Geneva, as some observers have said, into a feudal, medieval village whose inhabitants served the needs of the wealthy Chicagoans who had built stately summer homes on the shores of Geneva Lake. Carpenters, masons and other tradesmen moved to Geneva to build the lakeshore summer homes of the wealthy Chicagoans. Other residents served them as cooks, nannies, maids, gardeners and coachmen.
The wealthy Chicagoans, constituting the vanguard of a post-Civil War “nouveau bourgeoisie,” were anxious to emulate their eastern counterparts who had built massive summer homes on the oceanfront in places like Newport, R.I. Geneva Lake, and especially its pristine northern and eastern shores, seemed to them to ideally replicate Newport.
An examination of the 1870 census listing the residents of Geneva and their occupations illustrates the transformation of Geneva. A very large number of carpenters, masons, laborers and servants are listed, most of whom had not been born in either Vermont or upstate New York. Geneva had indeed been transformed by the economic consequences of the Civil War.
Not only had the composition of the village’s population changed dramatically, but the village was effectively transformed into two villages, not geographically, but seasonally.
During the summers, which roughly stretched from early May until mid- to late October, there was plenty of work available for residents of Geneva, but during the late fall, winter and early spring, Geneva reverted to its status as a small, midwestern village that served as an economic center for surrounding farmers. In 1871, however, two events occurred that would even further accelerate the village’s transformation. The first was the resumption of rail service from Geneva to Chicago.
The railroad from Chicago had first reached Geneva in 1856, but had been discontinued in 1860 because of bad track. The railroad served as the umbilical cord tying Geneva to Chicago and firmly placed Geneva within Chicago’s economic, social and cultural sphere of influence for the ensuing century.
The second event occurred on Oct. 8, 1871 — the great Chicago fire, which destroyed most of Chicago’s central business district and near north side. The devastation caused by the Chicago fire induced many more wealthy Chicagoans to build summer homes on the shores of Geneva Lake.
The reopening of the railroad in 1871 allowed them to travel to Geneva quickly and easily, many of them in their luxurious personal Pullman rail cars. The stage was set for the growth of the village of Geneva that would occur during the last three decades of the 19th century — a growth that will be addressed in Part II of this article which will appear in a subsequent issue of the Regional News.
Patrick Quinn is a Lake Geneva native who is University Archivist Emeritus at Northwestern University.
Historical group 'adamantly' opposed to demolishing homeJanuary 23, 2014
Dear Mayor Connors and council members,
The Lake Geneva Historic Preservation Commission wishes to go on record as being adamantly opposed to the city of Lake Geneva’s recent proposal to purchase four homes on the north side of the 800 block of Wisconsin Street, demolish the homes and build a parking structure on the site.
First, the four homes are contributing structures within the Maple Park National and State Historic District that was officially established on June 17, 2005. One of the houses in particular (817 Wisconsin St.) is acknowledged as being a historically significant 19th century architectural gem. To demolish these houses would constitute an egregious assault on Lake Geneva’s historic homes.
Secondly, there are a number of other more suitable sites upon which to build a parking structure. The firm that analyzed Lake Geneva’s parking needs recommended that the city build a parking structure on the present surface parking lot immediately west of the Geneva Theater. A parking structure in that location would be much closer to the city’s downtown businesses and the lakefront than the proposed site in the 800 block of Wisconsin Street and property is already owned by the city.
In addition, it would be only one block from Central-Denison School and could therefore provide parking space for the teachers. Another suitable site for a parking structure would be the present surface parking lot immediately south of Eastview School. The city and/or the school district own the land and would not have to purchase any houses or property as it would have to do with the 800 Wisconsin St. site.
One of the great attractions of Lake Geneva is that it is an historic city. The Maple Park National and State Historic District encompasses a wealth of architecturally significant homes and architectural styles that are emblematic of Lake Geneva’s 19th century history and development.
To diminish the historic significance of the Maple Park National and State Historic District by demolishing four houses in that district to build a parking structure would be a historical and architectural travesty of the first magnitude.
Accordingly, the Lake Geneva Historic Preservation Commission respectfully requests that the city of Lake Geneva remove the option of demolishing four historic homes in the 800 block of Wisconsin Street from consideration as a potential site of a new municipal parking structure.
Thank you for your consideration.
Kenneth L. Etten, AIA,
chairman Lake Geneva
Ellyn Kehoe, Patrick Quinn, Louise Rayppy, Mary Tanner, Dee Bark Fiske, Jackie Getzen,
‘Contrarian’ paints historic picture of local preservationJanuary 23, 2014
It’s a new year. The traditional holidays with the joy of family fellowship laced with love, laughter, storytelling and even occasional tears, is behind us.
It seems like a proper time for a contrarian report and evaluation of the past year. But first a little background information...
Our beloved and perceptive editor by recognizing and naming our group has improved our status within our community. That is appreciated.