Two recent events prompt this column about one of Lake Geneva’s most distinguished families, the Dunn family. The first event was the sale of one of the oldest (125 years) and most well-known businesses in Lake Geneva, the Dunn Lumber Company and Hardware Store to a lumber yard company in Iowa. And the other was the appointment of a fourth-generation member of the Dunn family, Tim Dunn, a member of the Lake Geneva City Council and alderman from the third district, as the City Council’s representative on the Lake Geneva Historic Preservation Commission, of which I am a member.
The Dunn family in the Lake Geneva area dates back to before the Civil War. Edward Dunn was born on the Patrick Dunn farm in Linn Township on Dec. 10, 1863. He grew up there before attending and graduating from Valparaiso University in Indiana. He married Mary Ann Walsh of Harvard, Illinois, in November 1889. After college, he was a traveling salesman for a wholesale grocery business, and then operated a retail grocery business in Harvard. In 1894, he moved to Lake Geneva, where he co-founded the Douglass and Dunn lumber yard and coal company with his brother-in-law, Horace Greeley Douglass, who had married his sister, Katherine Dunn, in 1883.
Eventually he sold his interest in the lumber yard to Burton, Denison, and Davison. After owning lumber yards in Williams Bay, Walworth, and Zenda, he repurchased his interest in the Douglass and Dunn Lumber Company in Lake Geneva from Burton, Denison, and Davison and operated it with H.G. Douglass. Edward Dunn was elected mayor of Lake Geneva in 1900 and eventually served six terms as mayor. In addition, he was active in many civic and community organizations, including being a member of the Lake Geneva School Board, an active member of the St. Francis de Sales Catholic Church, and a leader of the Democratic Party in Walworth County and in Wisconsin.
Tragically, while serving his sixth term as mayor, he was killed in an automobile accident at the intersection of state Highway 50 and U.S. 41 near Kenosha on Thurs., Jan. 7, 1937.
Lake Geneva’s athletic field east of the intersection of Sage Street and Dodge Street and the Eastview Elementary school was named after him. I became thoroughly acquainted with Dunn Field because I played football for Lake Geneva High School at Dunn Field during the 1956 and 1957 seasons, and for Badger High School during the 1958 and 1959 seasons. I also played baseball for Lake Geneva High School on the baseball diamond then located at Dunn Field during the 1957 and 1958 seasons, and later played on the Dunn Field baseball diamond for the American Legion baseball team.
After Edward Dunn’s death, his son, Edward P. Dunn, took over the Dunn Lumber Company. Edward P. Dunn had been born in Lake Geneva on Aug. 28, 1898. He grew up with his parents in what everyone called the “Dunn House” at the northwest corner of Wisconsin and Warren streets. The Dunn House, a formidable red brick structure, still exists. (Lake Geneva historian Chris Jacobson Brooks later grew up in the Dunn House.)
After graduating from Lake Geneva High School, Edward P. Dunn enrolled at Notre Dame University, where he became a star guard on the Notre Dame football team that was coached by Knute Rockne and featured the famed football star, George Gipp. However, Edward P. Dunn didn’t get a chance to finish his football career at Notre Dame. He joined the U.S. Army after the United States entered World War I in April 1917 and served in France. After serving in the U.S. Army during the war, he returned to Lake Geneva, where he was engaged in the real estate and insurance business until the tragic death of his father. He then took over management of the Dunn Lumber Company.
On a summer day when he was in his speed boat on Geneva Lake, he saved the lives of three prominent young Lake Geneva residents — Glydewell Gerber, John Powers, and Percy Leonard — whose boat had capsized.
He was a very active member of the Democratic Party, including serving as head of the Walworth County Democratic Party. From April 1952 to June 1953, he served as Lake Geneva’s postmaster. In 1954, he was appointed as police justice (i.e., justice of the peace) in Lake Geneva and served in that capacity until June 1959 when he was forced to retire because of ill health.
Edward P. Dunn was an active member of the Lake Geneva Chamber of Commerce, serving as its president and secretary, and of the Frank Kresen Post #24 of the American Legion, of the Knights of Columbus, and of the Lions Club.
As a teenager in Lake Geneva, I knew Edward P. Dunn when, toward the end of his life, he lived in the old YMCA at the southeast corner of Main and Cook streets. He was known to virtually everyone in Lake Geneva because of the big cigar stogies that he always smoked. The YMCA was invariably permeated by the smell of his stogies. Edward P. Dunn died at the Woods Veterans Hospital in Milwaukee on Feb. 16, 1961, at the age of 62.
Edward F. Dunn represented the third generation of the Dunn family in Lake Geneva. He was born on Aug. 29, 1923, in Lake Geneva, the son of Edward P. Dunn and Eleanor Whiting Dunn. He graduated from Lake Geneva High School in 1941. He served in the U.S. Navy in the Pacific during World War II. He married Virginia De Lap on Oct. 11, 1947, in Lake Geneva. He began working at the Dunn Lumber Company with his father, Edward P. Dunn, and became the owner and operator of the Dunn Lumber Company in 1942 before he entered the U.S. Navy. He ran the Dunn Lumber Company for 58 years.
Edward F. Dunn was a member of the St. Francis de Sales Catholic Church, a president of the Lake Geneva Lions Club, a member of the Knights of Columbus Council 1647 in Lake Geneva, a member of the Frank Kresen Post #24 of the American Legion, a director of the Wisconsin Lumbermen’s Association, and a member of the board of the Citizens National Bank.
I well remember when the Edward Dunn family, including his wife, Virginia, and his sons, Tim and Terry Dunn, lived on the south side of the 1100 block of Dodge Street, across the street from the Pioneer Cemetery, 200 yards southeast of the house in which I grew up on Maxwell Street. The Edward F. Dunn family eventually moved from Dodge Street to the then-relatively new subdivision of Sturwood. A third son, Mike Dunn, was born into the family after they moved to Sturwood. Edward F. Dunn died in Lakeland Hospital on Sun., Jan. 9, 2000, at the age of 76.
The fourth generation of Dunns in Lake Geneva, Mike and Terry Dunn, took over ownership and management of the Dunn Lumber Company after their father died and ran it for 19 years until they sold it in March 2019. Their brother, Tim Dunn, also worked at the Dunn Lumber Company. As noted above, Tim is now a member of the Lake Geneva City Council as an alderman for the third district and is the council’s representative on the Lake Geneva Historic Preservation Commission.
For 125 years, the Dunns have been one of Lake Geneva’s best known and most distinguished families, whose legacy of continuity is clearly among the longest in the city’s history.
Quinn is a Lake Geneva native who is the University Archivist Emeritus at Northwestern University.