Source: Lake Geneva Regional News

Special section celebrates 175th anniversary

by John Halverson

March 24, 2011

It’s the birthday no one knows about.

It was 175 years ago this year that the first United States citizen settled in the Lake Geneva area. The city celebrated the 150th anniversary, but we’re unaware of any plans for this year.

Undeterred, The Lake Geneva Regional News has developed a special section to commemorate that anniversary, “175 Years of Progress.” The section — which will be in next week’s Regional News and at store locations — also will celebrate the birthdays of many of our local and area businesses.

We hope it’s the start of something bigger, an embracing of local history that’s entertaining and also helps put the moment into perspective.

As we did our research for this section, there was war in the Middle East, natural disasters in Japan, and political turmoil at home. I was feeling out of sorts and started to wonder if the fanatics were right, maybe Armageddon was upon us.

To gain perspective, I referenced a large coffee table book called “The History of the World,” I keep close at hand in case of such emergencies. I rediscovered what we should never forget — No matter how bad things are, they’ve been much worse.

The bubonic plague wiped out half of Europe in the 1300s. More than 60 million were killed during World War II, dwarfing the number of deaths from our current conflicts. The Civil War, which killed 600,000 Americans, severed the nation with more than words. In the past, we’ve had presidents assassinated and forced to resign — actions much more significant than shrinking approval ratings. Closer to home, the political conflicts that occurred on the city council a few years ago brought out far more venom, action and reaction, than it deserved.

Lake Geneva, history teaches us, has seen conflict since the very beginning. Christopher Payne is given official credit for being the first non-Indian to claim the area in 1836. A stone marking the first settlement is located between the Post Office and the Mill Creek Hotel. But another man — surveyor John Brink — claimed that he was the first to mark the area five months earlier. The debate lasted so long that when the new Post Office was built in the 1930s, the area had to go through a condemnation procedure.

Since then, there was the good with the bad. Mansions were built and many burned. We rose to the occasion during the Civil War and sent the Union our men, but many died. We had a 1960s era riot when so many were arrested the fairground barns were used for a jail. The city had to go to court to keep the lake path open. A Frank Lloyd Wright hotel came and went, as did the Playboy Club Resort.

Sure, the present is troubled, but humankind is resilient. That’s part of what history teaches us. Since Lake Geneva’s beginning, the area has grown and flourished. Its beauty remains pristine enough so that it draws “oohs” and “aahs” even from those of us who live here.

We hope you enjoy our special section. If it’s successful, we’d like to do more to honor our heritage and our history. We’re open for ideas.

And, remember, we’re making history every day. Give that knowledge it’s due — enough to keep it in perspective; enough to care.

Halverson is the general manager of the Regional News.