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Sunshine Week sheds light on open government

March 13, 2014

March 16 marks the official start of Sunshine Week.
While we could all use a break from the frigid temperatures, unfortunately, Sunshine Week has nothing to do with weather. With the motto “open government is good government,” the week is a nationwide effort to focus on transparency at all levels of government.
In Wisconsin, two major safeguards ensure that the actions of local governments are open to public scrutiny. They are the open meetings and public records laws.
During each Sunshine Week, I try to write about some aspect of open government. Last year I focused on a couple of Wisconsin Supreme Court decisions interpreting the public records law, so I chose the open meetings law for this year’s column.
With limited exceptions, state law requires that “meetings” of “governmental bodies” be open to the public. The first step in achieving compliance with the law is to determine what constitutes a governmental body. In the case of county boards, common councils and school boards, the answer is obvious.
Elected governing bodies are covered by the law. What is not widely known, however, is that many other groups can be subject to the law, as well. Any board, commission, committee or similar group established by statute, ordinance, rule or order can constitute a governmental body under the law. Therefore, while the town board fits the definition, so, too, can the citizens’ advisory group appointed by the village president.
The next step in the analysis is to determine what constitutes a meeting under the law. We would all agree that the monthly county board meeting fits this definition.
To prevent “unofficial” meetings from taking place before noticed meetings and similar behind-the-scenes decision-making, the law defines the term “meeting” broadly. A meeting takes place under the law whenever members of a governmental body convene for the purpose of exercising responsibilities, authority, power or duties vested in the body.
Because it can be difficult to prove exactly what was being discussed outside of the public’s view, the law shifts the burden of proof. Whenever one half or more of the members of a governmental body are present, a rebuttable presumption is created that a meeting is taking place.
Once it is determined that a governmental body is meeting, a number of steps must be taken to comply with the law. Notice must be given at least 24 hours in advance of the meeting, unless, for a good cause, it is impossible or impractical to provide. Then, at least two hours’ notice must be given. I have never recommended convening a meeting with less than 24-hour notice.
While I’m sure that some dire circumstance could occur that would warrant holding a meeting on such short notice, I have yet to see one. The vast majority of business that local government needs to conduct can wait for one day until adequate notice has been provided. Meeting notices are typically posted in one or more public places and provided to the media. In addition to listing obvious items, such as the time, date and place of the meeting, the notice must describe the subjects that will be discussed in such form as is reasonably likely to apprise members of the public and the news media thereof.
With changing technology, many governmental bodies are posting meeting notices on their websites. While this may be good practice, the law does not yet allow online posting as a substitute for other statutorily prescribed methods of providing notice.
There are exceptions to the open meetings law.
Collective bargaining is excluded from the statute; however, final ratification of union contracts must take place in open session. Additionally, the statutes provide other circumstances when the public can lawfully be excluded from a meeting. One example is to confer “with legal counsel for the governmental body, who is rendering oral or written advice concerning strategy to be adopted by the body with respect to litigation in which it is or is likely to become involved.”
The law recognizes that it wouldn’t make sense to discuss legal strategy when an adverse party to the action could be sitting in the room taking notes. Likewise, a closed session is permitted when negotiating the purchase of public properties or when conducting business that requires secrecy due to competitive or bargaining reasons. If a board was prepared to pay up to $20,000 for a parcel of land, but hoped that staff could negotiate a better deal on the purchase, it would be absurd to give that instruction in a public meeting.
The open meetings law is fairly straightforward, although officials and the public need to be diligent to ensure that local government is truly transparent.
One problem that I see, too often, is agendas that describe discussion items, generically.
The purpose of posting agendas is to provide notice to anyone who might be interested in attending the meeting.
An agenda topic of “Licensing Issues” is very different than “Revoking the Liquor License for Dave’s Bar and Grill.” As the owner of Dave’s Bar and Grill I wouldn’t even think of attending a meeting that contained the first agenda item. I would be camped out at city hall, however, if the second description appeared.
Both meeting notices are technically correct, but if the aim of the common council is to revoke my liquor license, then the more detailed description is the one that should be used.
Sunshine Week has its own website and provides tips to citizens to test various governments for transparency, including reviewing official websites and filing records requests.
You can find the web page at www.sunshineweek.org.

The opinions expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of the Walworth County Board of Supervisors.

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The Irish in Lake Geneva

March 13, 2014

St. Patrick’s Day, March 17th, is almost upon us.
Hence, it seems especially appropriate to take a look at the history of the Irish in Lake Geneva. The first substantial number of Irish arrived in Geneva in 1856.
They had built the road bed of the railroad from Chicago (Elgin, actually) to Geneva. But when they had finished their endeavor, they were unceremoniously discharged from their jobs and left stranded in Geneva.
The Irish workers quickly learned that cheap land was available in a woody area about three miles west of Geneva. With what was left of their pay, they made down payments on the wooded land and settled there. The area is known today as the “Irish Woods.” It is adjacent to the Woods School, which is named after the “Irish Woods,” and extends north of today’s Highway 50 to Kelly Road, which is named after one of the original Irish settlers.
The Irish had emigrated from Ireland to the United States and eventually to Chicago in the late 1840s because the infamous “potato famine” had destroyed the staple crop of Ireland, leaving hundreds of thousands of Irish no choice but to leave the Emerald Isle to avoid starvation. Most had made their way across the Irish Sea to the port of Liverpool in England, where they boarded sailing ships as steerage passengers.
The ships took them across the Atlantic to New York City. Many died of disease en route because of the terrible conditions in the holds of the ships.
The Irish railroad workers who arrived in Geneva in 1856, however, were not the first Irish to come to the Geneva area.
During the late 1840s William and Rose Quinn and their six sons and one daughter also fled the potato famine, made their way from their home in Tullamore, Offaly County, Ireland to Liverpool, and boarded a ship which took them to New York City.
After a brief stopover in Esopus, New York on the Hudson River, where they left behind one of their sons, William and Rose Quinn and their family traveled further west to Geneva Township, Wisconsin, where they placed a down payment on a small farm on the south side of today’s Palmer Road, just west of Petrie Road. William and Rose Quinn were my great great grandparents.
All historians doing research on the history of the Irish in Lake Geneva will encounter serious difficulties. That is because the Irish in Lake Geneva in the 19th Century are largely anonymous and invisible as far as the written record is concerned.
While the Irish, after 1856, became the largest ethnic minority in the Geneva area, the native “Yankees” from Vermont and upstate New York, who had originally settled the Geneva area, were the dominant group in Geneva, economically, politically, culturally, and religiously. They wrote the local newspapers.

One of them, the lawyer, James Simmons, who wrote the history of Geneva in the 19th Century, only mentions the Irish once in his history: “Among my most steady customers [in 1856] were the Irish people of the hill country west of the village. Their principal trouble was the unscrupulous action of three or four shrewd Yankees, who managed to control their school affairs.”
In 1871 a second wave of Irish arrived in Geneva from Chicago, many of whom had been born in the United States. They had worked to rebuild the railroad line from Chicago to Geneva.
The railroad had first arrived in Geneva in 1856, but the track had become so deteriorated by 1860 that it was abandoned until 1871 when Irish laborers rebuilt it and stayed in Geneva after they had completed the job.
During the Civil War, a number of Irish in the Geneva area joined the Union Army, including my great grandfather Michael Quinn’s younger brother, Thomas Quinn. Beginning in 1856, the Irish in the Geneva area became the most significant group of members and supporters of the St. Francis de Sales Catholic Church.
If one wishes to gain a sense of the Irish in the Geneva area in the 19th Century, an excellent means of doing so would be to stroll among the tombstones in the St. Francis de Sales Cemetery on Highway 50, just east of Lake Geneva, and to observe the names and birth and death dates of the hundreds of Irish buried there.
Among those buried in the St. Frances cemetery are my great great grandparents, William and Rose Quinn, my great grandparents, Michael and Polly Quinn, my grandparents, Bernard Francis and Ellen (Nellie) Quinn, and my parents Bernard Foran and Helen Quinn.
Another very useful source of information about the Geneva Irish in the 19th century is the U.S. census, especially for the village of Geneva and Geneva Township. The occupation of most of the Irish listed in the census is simply “laborer.” The U.S. censuses from 1860 to 1940 yields the Irish surnames whose descendants became well-known residents of Lake Geneva, including, among others, the O’Neills, Powers, Chases, Bradys, Quincannons, Kellys, Allens, Currens, Quinns, and Pendergases.
By the time of World War I, the descendants of the original Irish had pretty much been assimilated into the larger social fabric of Lake Geneva despite many of them still being laborers.
Most of the children of the original Irish who had settled the “Irish Woods” moved to Lake Geneva.
William Quinn’s grandson, Bernard Francis Quinn, had become a constable in Lake Geneva in 1906 and part of his job was to keep the boisterous Irish in check after they had imbibed too many glasses of whiskey.
Some of the original Irish settlers had, of course, left the Geneva area, including William and Rose Quinn’s two sons, Bernard and Thomas, and their daughter Anna and son-in-law George Warren, who moved to Kansas in the early 1870s and homesteaded farms there.
But others of Irish descent began moving to Lake Geneva. My grandmother, Ellen (Nellie) Foran Quinn, was brought to Lake Geneva from Chicago as a maid for a wealthy lake shore resident. Nellie had been born in Ireland and had emigrated to Chicago during the 1890s.
By the mid-1930s, Lake Geneva had changed considerably. The descendants of the original Irish settlers, despite being Catholic, had become accepted members of the Lake Geneva community.
My father, Bernard Foran Quinn, Lake Geneva High School Class of 1935, was a star football and basketball player on the LGHS teams.
After the end of Prohibition in 1933, O’Brien’s tavern on the south side of the 700 block of Main Street became the favorite “watering hole” for residents of Irish ancestry. The Irish’s drink of choice was whiskey, as opposed to beer, which was the favorite drink of residents of German ancestry.
The upward mobility of Genevans of Irish ancestry can be illustrated by the opening of the Sturwood subdivision, where at least two of the families who occupied new houses on Elmwood Avenue in lower Sturwood were of Irish descent.
St. Patrick’s Day will no doubt be liberally celebrated by those of Irish ancestry (as well as by those of many other diverse ancestries) despite O’Brien’s tavern being long gone.
One suspects that across the street from where O’Brien’s tavern used to be located, the celebration of St. Patrick’s Day will be in fine form at Champ’s Sports Bar as well as in every other tavern in town. Of course, the celebrants will no doubt first stop at Fleming’s to avail themselves of some very fine Irish products.
Patrick Quinn is a Lake Geneva native who is University Archivist Emeritus at Northwestern University.

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Rewriting history from the perspective of high school grads

March 13, 2014

Several years ago the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel published a survey of recent high school graduates. It was intended to uncover what these young people had learned about American history during their public school years.
The students were asked a series of questions, including this one: “From what nation did the colonies proclaim their independence?” Fully one-fifth, or 20 percent, said they believed it was France.
When they were asked to identify their country’s national anthem, over half thought it was the “Star Spangled Banner.” Of those, however, nearly 25 percent said they did not think they could recite the words to it.
When I was teaching history, I had my students read and become familiar with the Declaration of Independence. It was my experience that junior high students had great difficulty with 18th century prose, so I rewrote the document at their reading level, in colloquial English. At the end of the Declaration, the signers proclaim that they will commit the following in their fight to create a nation free from the dictates of Great Britain: “Our lives, our fortunes and our sacred honor.”
When asked what they were willing to give up to preserve the American way of life, nearly all my students agreed that they would devote their honor to the cause. About their fortunes, there was far less certainty. Most indicated that they would be willing to make a contribution, but they didn’t really think they’d give up everything. As to whether they would be dedicated enough to risk their lives? Well, not so much.
Jay Leno used to have a regularly-appearing segment on the Tonight Show called “Jay Walking.“ He would go out on the street and pick people at random to talk to, then ask them a question. Frequently this was about U.S. history. One evening, he stopped a lady and after chatting for a moment, asked her, “Can you name the location of the Gettysburg Address?”
Looking down at her feet and thinking hard, she raised her gaze and said this: “How do you expect me to find an address without a street number?” Raucous laughter from the audience. It is good that we can find humor even in the saddest of times.
After the Republicans regained control of the House of Representatives they undertook to demonstrate their unswerving commitment to do only what the Constitution specifically allowed. In other words, they rejected sweeping interpretations that might deepen and expand the reach and intrusion of government into the lives of Americans. To demonstrate their devotion to this idea, each Republican member of the house rose to read a portion of the document into the Congressional Record. Apparently most had slept through their high school civics class.
In Article I of the Constitution the powers of the legislative branch are clearly enumerated. And after all have been set out, they are followed by this statement: “Congress shall have the power to make all laws necessary and proper to promote the general welfare.” This is commonly known as the “Necessary and Proper Cause.” The founders put this into the Constitution knowing full well that they could not possibly anticipate every circumstance the legislature might encounter in the years ahead. So, to ensure it would be able to act in nearly any circumstance, they created a general clause to cover everything not provided for in the list of specified powers.
In other words, the Republicans were affirming the right of the House to pass on the widest possible range of public policies and issues. This encompasses, of course, “sweeping interpretations” and “expanded posers” of the federal government.
Wayne LaPierre is adept at fear-mongering. And successful, particularly amongst those who are ill-informed about the history of America. If you listen closely to the rants and raves of Mr. LaPierre —and don’t know any better — you might think that unless every citizen in the country was armed to the teeth, the government in Washington would trample on the Second Amendment and either interfere with their real or imagined right to bear arms — or heaven forbid — take them away altogether.
Shay’s Rebellion, the Whiskey Rebellion, the attempt by Aaron Burr to bribe a serving general in the United States Army to join him in a scheme to cross into territory west of the Mississippi and attempt to set up his own “empire” — while he was serving as vice president, no less — offer examples of armed insurgents testing and threatening the authority of the federal government; not the other way around.
Most notable of these incidents, of course, was the insurrection of the so-called Confederacy, resulting in the Civil War.
None of these events were instigated by the government of the United States. They were all undertaken by irate musket-wielding extremists who were convinced — in their own minds — that the only way they could settle their grievances with the central government was to exercise their “right to bear arms.” We have much less to fear from the power of the Executive Branch than we do from misguided gunmen.
Incidentally, the oft-mentioned “right” to bear arms was never written into the United States Constitution, and can nowhere be found there. It was added later, only after a deal was struck with New Hampshire to amend that document, which then led to the ninth vote needed for its ratification.
Our national amnesia is a devastating malady that requires the strongest remediation available. After all, as a very wise person once observed: “No people can possibly know where they are going unless they first understand where they have been.”
As a nation we spend too much energy and time with the sciences and mathematics, which only deal with what we could do and not nearly enough with the social sciences that beg the far more penetrating and critical question of what should we do.

Chapin's actions backed his beliefs

March 13, 2014

Seventy years ago, Simeon Chapin, a longtime summer resident, put his philosophy of life in practice by establishing the Chapin Foundation of Wisconsin.
He said, “I would have no right to things if I did not share with others.”
A trust was established with the purpose of supporting religious and educational causes in the Lake Geneva, Williams Bay and Fontana areas.
Within those 70 years, the foundation has made grants of more than $2 million. Public libraries in Lake Geneva, Williams Bay and Fontana have received yearly grants. One of the grants to the Lake Geneva library aided in the construction of the present library. The Water Safety Committee received grants for the programs of swimming and life saving.
In 1930 Mr. Chapin was instrumental in founding the Water Safety Patrol and was its first president. The YMCA has received annual grants. Mr. Chapin’s generosity to the Y in his lifetime was a determining factor in its survival during the depression.
Grants have been made to churches in the area. Mr. Chapin was interested in religious training of young people. The Chapin Foundation of Wisconsin was established as a trust to be administered by Marshall & Ilsley of Milwaukee.
Only the income from the trust is available for grants to beneficiaries designated in the indenture.
This distribution is under the guidance of a board of advisers, all who are area residents. Present members are Carolyn Gramley, Richard Treptow, Martha Mietello and Betty McNally Hartnett. The members are saddened by the death of their chairman, Harold Hartshorne who died on Oct. 28. He was a devoted member and a presence for his grandfather, Simeon Chapin, by faithfully supporting the missions of the board.
The trust was established with 1,000 shares of North American Car Corp., 2,000 shares of Nash Kelvinator Corp. and 1,000 shares of Louisville and Nashville Railroad.
The first year total grant was $2,500. One of the first grants was to the Methodist Church in the amount of $200 to repair the church’s heating system.
For 70 years, 1943 to 2013, this trust has grown and benefited this area of Lake Geneva, Williams Bay and Fontana through the generosity of Simeon B. Chapin who lived his philosophy of life.

Recent Community columnists
Where we live
March 06, 2014

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.

A history of African-Americans in Lake Geneva
March 06, 2014

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.

Mike the mechanic
March 06, 2014

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.

Kedzie backs heroin bill
February 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 123
February 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, 1960s
February 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 revealed
February 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 dsoplanda@williamsbayschools.org.

Riches can be the road to an over-abundance of ego
February 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 taxpayers
February 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 result?
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 grow
February 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.

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