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Column: The working class in 19th and 20th Century Lake Geneva

Column: The working class in 19th and 20th Century Lake Geneva

Horticultural Hall

Over the next forty years the firm of Reinert and Malsch built many houses and buildings in Lake Geneva including, most notably, the Horticultural Hall (1911) and the Lake Geneva High School (1929).

In most of my previous columns about Lake Geneva’s 19th Century history I have concentrated on recounting the lives of 19th Century “movers and shakers” rather than the lives of working class residents of the village/city.

The reason that I have done so is not because I privilege the lives of “movers and shakers.”

To the contrary, I have done so because there is much more biographical information available about the “movers and shakers” and very little biographical information available about members of the working class in 19th Century Geneva/Lake Geneva.

In this column I will attempt to rectify the situation by recounting the lives of several 19th Century and 20th Century working class residents of the village/city.

Three carpenters who built many of the 19th Century homes and other buildings in Geneva/Lake Geneva were O.T. LaSalle, H.B. Conant, and Conant’s brother-in-law Cyrus W. Maynard.

O.T. LaSalle

O.T. LaSalle was born in 1827 and moved to Geneva as a young man. His ancestors were French-Canadians who lived in Quebec. He came to Geneva during the early 1840s. As a carpenter, he built many of the houses and other structures in Geneva/Lake Geneva over the next four-and-one-half decades.

In March 1892 he was building a new home for Dr. Benoni O. Reynolds on Campbell Street at the Lake’s shore when a scaffold on the roof of the house that he was working on gave way and he fell to his death.

He owned several of the buildings that he had built, including a bath house, and the LaSalle House, a boarding house hotel on the lake shore just east of where the Riviera is today.

He was a member of the Good Templars Lodge in Geneva. He was buried in the Pioneer Cemetery adjacent to the Dodge Street fence. LaSalle Street in Lake Geneva is named after him.

H.B. Conant

H.B. Conant was a carpenter who built many of the 19th Century houses and other structures in Geneva/Lake Geneva. He was born in Pawlet, Vermont in 1825 and came to Geneva in 1846 at the age of 21.

Among the many structures that he built was the original wooden building of the First Congregation church, which was then a Presbyterian church.

The wooden building was later acquired by the Episcopal church and moved west across Broad Street where it housed the Episcopal church. H.B. Conant was a member of the First Congregational Church.

He passed away in the last week of June in 1903 and was buried in the Oak Hill Cemetery. Conant Street in Lake Geneva is named after him. Conant’s brother-in-law, Cyrus W. Maynard, moved to Geneva in 1845, a year before H.B. Conant arrived in Geneva.

Like Conant, Maynard was also a carpenter who built many of the houses and other structures in Geneva. Unfortunately, I could not locate any biographical information about Cyrus W. Maynard.

C.O. LaSalle

The contractor who bridged the 19th and 20th centuries in Lake Geneva was C.O. LaSalle, the son of O.T. LaSalle. C.O. LaSalle was taught the carpentry trade by his father.

Before his father’s unfortunate death in 1892, C.O. LaSalle had already become a prominent contractor in Lake Geneva. He played a major role in the construction of Yerkes Observatory, which was completed in December 1896. In 1903 he built Central School which still exists at the northwest corner of Wisconsin and Cook streets.

Malsch family.

Perhaps the most well-known family of building tradesmen in Lake Geneva during the late 19th and the 20th centuries is the Malsch family.

The first Malsch to come to Lyons Township in Walworth County from Germany was John Frederick (Fred) Malsch, who was born in Saxe-Meiningen in the German Kingdom of Saxony on February 13, 1832. He was a stone mason by trade, as had been his male ancestors dating back to medieval times.

In 1865 he left Germany and migrated to Lyons Township, Wisconsin, accompanied by his five-year-old son, William Malsch. He had been married in Germany, but his wife had died before he migrated to the United States.

In 1869 he married Cristina Rader who had been born in Germany and had come to the U.S. in 1865. The couple had two children, Herman and Andrew Malsch.

Fred Malsch and his family lived on a farm just east of Springfield which he farmed while continuing to work as a stone mason. He passed away in May 1890 and is buried in the Spring Prairie Cemetery.

Fred Malsch’s son Herman Malsch was born in Springfield on November 1, 1874. Herman’s brother was Andrew Malsch and his older half-brother was William Malsch.

Herman Malsch learned the stone mason trade from his father when he was only 14 years old. In 1895 he formed a partnership with Edward C. Reinert, and they established a stone mason and contracting business. In 1906 they took in a third partner, William Baumbach.

Over the next forty years the firm of Reinert and Malsch built many houses and buildings in Lake Geneva including, most notably, the Horticultural Hall (1911) and the Lake Geneva High School (1929).

Herman Malsch lived on the north side of the 1100 block of Wisconsin Street. Next door was the home of the well-known architect James Roy Allen, who designed the Riviera, a home now occupied by the Lake Geneva architect Ken Etten. After he retired, Herman Malsch kept rabbits in hutches behind his house.

As a kid I used to walk through the alley behind Herman Malsch’s house on my way to the Central School. I would often stop and chat with Herman Malsch as he fed his rabbits.

Herman’s son Floyd Malsch became a prominent contractor in Lake Geneva. Floyd lived in the Manor. Stephen Malsch, Herman’s grandson (the son of Harvey Malsch, Herman’s son), is today a contractor in Lake Geneva, making him a fourth generation building tradesman.

John Frederick (Fred) Malsch’s son William Malsch (Herman and Andrew Malsch’s older half brother) was born in Germany on August 8, 1860. He was brought to the United States and Lyons Township by his father at the age of 5 in 1865. He grew up on the Malsch family’s farm just east of Springfield.

He married Hermine Zick on October 13, 1886 in Spring Prairie. He and his wife had two daughters and nine sons, four of whom became building tradesmen, including his son, who was also named William Malsch. William Malsch was born in 1897 at the Malsch family farm. His father, the first William Malsch, died at the Lakeland Hospital in 1940 at the age of 80.

William Malsch served in the U.S. Army in France during World War I.

When he returned to Lake Geneva after the end of World War I he learned the trade of stone masonry from his uncle Herman Malsch and began building houses and other structures in Lake Geneva.

In addition to being a stone mason, he was also a bricklayer and a plasterer. The first structure that he built in Lake Geneva after he had completed his apprenticeship with his uncle Herman Malsch was the American Legion Canteen in Library Park on what is now Wrigley Drive.

The long, clean lines of the Legion Canteen’s brickwork show how well William Malsch had developed his skills as a bricklayer early in his career.

In 1942 William Malsch married my mother’s sister, Frances Wardingle. They had two children, Bill Malsch, a current resident of Lake Geneva, and Betty Malsch Emery, who lives in Madison. They are my first cousins. William Malsch was my uncle.

As a teenager I served as his assistant when his “helper” did not show up for a job. I mixed mortar and trowelled it onto a hawk for him as he was laying bricks. He passed away at the age of 84 in 1981.

His brother Leland was a carpenter and Leland’s brother Maurice was a plumber who worked with my grandfather Thomas Wardingle, who was also a plumber. William’s brother Henry (Hank) Malsch was also a mason. Hank worked on building the Riviera. Hank’s daughter Muriel Malsch lives in Lake Geneva.

If I am able to uncover more biographical information about working class residents of Lake Geneva during the late 19th and 20th centuries, I will convey it in subsequent columns.

Patrick Quinn is a Lake Geneva native who is the University Archivist Emeritus at Northwestern University.

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