I, of course, miss the railroad from Chicago to Lake Geneva (and Williams Bay) that existed between 1856 and 1859 and between 1871 and August 1975.
And I greatly miss the railroad depot and its waiting room that existed for more than 80 years on the north side of North Street just west of Broad Street.
Beginning right after the end of World War II, my maternal grandfather (with whom I lived together with my grandmother and bachelor uncle) would take me to the railroad depot often (especially during the winter when he was laid off from his job as a plumber) where we would sit in chairs around the huge pot-bellied stove in the waiting room with retired railroad workers who lived in the rooming house at the north end of Broad Street where Su-Wing’s Chinese restaurant is today.
The retired railroad workers were buddies of my grandfather who had been a railroad switchman in Chicago as the 19th century turned into the 20th century.
All of the old retired railroad workers and my grandfather would chew Summertime and Plowboy tobacco and frequently expectorate laser-like streams of tobacco juice that would sizzle and crackle as they hit their target, the blazing hot pot-bellied stove.
The railroad station was one of Lake Geneva’s public spaces open to all.
I miss the old excursion boats that were tied up at the Riviera docks including the original Walworth, the Marietta, the Tilford S, the Tula, and the smaller excursion boats the Billie and the Jackie. Today, of the old excursion boats that for many years cruised up and down Geneva Lake, only the Polaris and Louise remain.
I miss Taggart’s Lumber Co. that was located just east of Broad between North Street and the railroad tracks. I miss coal being unloaded from coal cars on the railroad tracks and piled into huge bins at the Taggart Lumber Co. After the coal was unloaded, poorer people who lived in Lake Geneva would bring burlap bags to the Taggart Lumber Co. and steal coal from the bins and slip away before the police came. And I miss the smell of freshly sawed lumber as it was unloaded from freight cars on the railroad tracks.
I miss the bowling alley that was located in the basement of today’s Landmark Center at the southeast corner of Broad and Main streets.
Before the Brunswick automatic pin-setters were installed, local boys would jump down from their perches at the end of the allies and reset the triangle of wooden bowling pins that had been demolished by bowling balls expertly rolled down the allies. Always crowded to the max with bowlers, the bowling alley was one of Lake Geneva’s social centers.
I miss the large auditorium facing the gym floor in the Lake Geneva High School (from 1929 to 1958), which was always filled to capacity during the winter with fans watching LGHS basketball teams play high school teams from Elkhorn, Delavan, Burlington, and elsewhere. Alex and Jim Chironis, Dick Burnett, and Tom Curan, among many other players, would hit set shots as the assembled crowd cheered in approval. High school basketball games provided one of the few breaks in the monotony of long winters in Lake Geneva.
I miss Dunn Field just east of the junction of Dodge and Sage streets, where Lake Geneva High School football teams played rival high school teams under the Friday night lights during the fall.
During the summers, semi-pro baseball was played on the Dunn Field diamond as was the annual donkey baseball game in which baseball players rode donkeys around the bases.
Also during the summers, circuses which came to Lake Geneva on the railroad erected their tents on Dunn Field and drew hundreds of people to them just as the two carnivals held during the summers at Flat Iron Park and the Walworth County Fair, held over the Labor Day weekend do.
I miss the old Victorian YMCA at the southeast corner of Broad and Lake streets, long since demolished, where we played basketball in the gym and on Friday night went to Teen Town where we danced on the gym floor.
The old Y was one of the main social spaces in Lake Geneva.
I miss Sherman Allen’s root beer stand at the northeast corner of Marshall and Williams streets, where the Pizza Hut is today.
I miss the Frank Lloyd Wright-designed Hotel Geneva (1911) that was located on the north side of the lake’s outlet where the Geneva Towers is today.
I miss it not only because of its architectural eminence, but also because as an underage teenager I used to go to the bar in the basement of the hotel where the bartender, “Bugs” Moran’s son, would serve me a long neck bottle of beer every time I placed a quarter on the bar’s counter.
I miss the unveiling of the new models of automobiles during a week in October when the auto dealers (Ford, Chevy, Buick and Mercury) were all located in the downtown business district.
Each dealership would pull the covers off their new models while serving doughnuts and cider to the townspeople as war surplus searchlights sent their beams high into the night sky.
And I miss Leo Schreiner’s blacksmith shop on the east side of the 500 block of Broad Street, Basil Ratter’s tavern across the street from the blacksmith’s shop (where my grandfather used to take me), the old wooden-framed Lake Geneva Public Library (built by Asa Farr at the end of the 1850s), the Swamp, once located between Maxwell Street and Elmwood Avenue and Main Street and Wisconsin Street; Devil’s Hill and Beginner’s Hill, down which we used to race our sleds (where the Edgewood Hills subdivision is today), Columbia Field (where the Anchor Covenant Church is today), where as young boys we played tackle football without pads; the recently demised Hillmoor Golf Course, Jo-Velle’s Grill (at the corner of Grant Street and Highway H, where El Rancho, a Mexican grocery store, is today), the Dairy Queen (when it opened in 1956 it was considered thoroughly modern), the Oakwood Sanitarium on Catholic Hill (where the Havenwood Apartments are today) and Richard Souter’s house on the north side of the 1000 block of Geneva Street, both of which, being derelict buildings, scared the wits out of us callow youth.
And, of course, I miss the long-vanished stores in the downtown business district—the Schultz Brothers and the Ben Franklin dime stores, Montgomery “Monkey” Wards, Arnold’s and Hammersley’s drugstores, Bittner’s Bakery (which fortunately is again in business at the northeast end of town), Cobb’s and Moore’s hardware stores, and last, but certainly not least, Frediani’s ice cream parlor, with its juke box, on the east side of Broad Street just north of the Geneva Theater.
Quinn is a Lake Geneva native who is the University Archivist Emeritus at Northwestern University.