When one approaches the age of 80, one realizes that the future ahead is uncertain at best, and one’s thoughts necessarily focus on what has passed in one’s life.
Such must have been the case with Lake Geneva historian Eva Seymour Lundahl, as she wrote her history, “Main Street Lake Geneva,” before she passed away in 1978 at the age of 85. I did not known her very well, even though she lived just two blocks south of me at the southeast corner of Maxwell and Geneva streets. I remember her as an old lady. I read her historical columns in the Lake Geneva Regional News.
She had been born in 1893, the daughter of Lake Geneva’s “Ice King,” John Vos Seymour, who had, during the winters, shipped thousands of tons of ice on the railroad to Chicago to chill the city’s steaks and steins. After graduating from Lake Geneva High School and from college, she spent her professional life teaching in the Lake Geneva public schools. She married the Lake Geneva dentist, Dr. John Lundahl.
Her sister, Helen Seymour, who had married the Lake Geneva physician, Dr. Harry McDonald, had also been a teacher in the Lake Geneva public schools.
Among my fondest memories dating back to 1945 — when I was 3 years old — are of the times that my grandfather, Thomas Wardingle, would walk with me to the railroad depot to watch the incoming morning Chicago and Northwestern train arrive from the city of Chicago. My grandfather had been a railroad switchman in the Chicago rail yards as the 19th century became the 20th century. He knew many of the retired railroad men who lived in the Harrison Rich rooming house across the street from the railroad depot where Su Wing’s restaurant is today. He would frequently chat with his old pals in the depot’s waiting room.
As we would watch the train arrive, it would chug into the station and grind to a halt. Passengers would emerge from the train’s cars. Old Charlie Hudson would unlock the mail car, which was behind the engine, pull the locked mail pouches from the car and place them in his wagon, which was next to the train. He would get up onto the wagon and softly tell the horses that pulled the wagon to “giddy up.” The horses would pull the wagon south on Broad Street on its way to the post office. I will always remember that Charlie Hudson had a huge .45-caliber pistol in a holster strapped to his leather belt.
A year or so later, my grandfather took me and my cousin, Billy Malsch, to the railroad depot on a bright, sunny morning, where we boarded a train bound for Williams Bay. I recall the cinders from the engine’s smoke stack flying in the passenger car’s open windows. When we arrived at the end of the line in Williams Bay, our grandfather showed us the turntable. The three of us pushed the turntable with the train’s engine on it around by hand so that the train could return to Chicago.
We then walked across the street to the Williams Bay municipal pier and boarded the excursion boat, the Walworth, which took us on the lake back to the Riviera. Our grandfather bought us caramel corn at a store inside the Riviera, and we walked home while eating it. It had been a most wonderful day.
On a bright, sunny Saturday a few years later, our grandfather would walk with us down Dodge Street to Dunn Field. On the baseball diamond there, we would watch a donkey baseball game, with the players riding donkeys around the bases.
During the late 1940s, as a young boy, I would walk from my house on Maxwell Street up Maxwell to Park Row, west on Park Row to Jefferson Street, south on Jefferson to Dodge Street and east on Dodge back to Maxwell Street and my home. As I walked, I came to 1306 Park Row (on the south side of Park Row just west of Franklin Avenue). There I saw an old man sitting on his porch. He nodded to me. I went up onto his porch and sat next to him. He didn’t say much except for a comment or two about the weather.
I had no idea who the old man was. After that first time, if he was sitting on his porch as I walked past his house, I would join him on his porch. My Aunt Frances told me that his name was John Lone. It was not until I became an adult that I found out who John Lone was. I learned that he had been one of the most entrepreneurial businessmen in Lake Geneva during the early part of the 20th century.
John Lone had been born on a farm near Delafield on Nov. 8, 1866. He came to Lake Geneva in 1893 when he was 27. Shortly after he arrived, he opened the J.W. Lone clothing store at 752 Main St., which later became Kohn and Allen’s. He sold it in 1901. In 1897 he bought the Ford Theater, which had been built in 1876 as Centennial Hall. The Ford Theater was located where the Geneva Theater is today.
In 1902, he and a partner bought the boat livery on the lake at the foot of Broad Street, which operated a steam boat, the Wilbur F., that carried tourists around the lake. In the Ford Theater in 1906 or 1907, John Lone showed the first motion picture (a silent film) ever seen in Lake Geneva. Lone moved to California in 1909 and lived there until 1914, when he returned to Lake Geneva and had the Lone Hotel built at 817 Lake St. (today’s Wrigley Drive), which eventually became known as the Surf Hotel.
In 1925 Lone moved to West Allis, but returned to Lake Geneva and bought a tavern at 270 Broad St., which today is Thumbs Up. In 1944, he sold the tavern and retired. He had a home built at 1306 Park Row on a lot in the Columbian addition to Lake Geneva, which he had owned for many years. John Lone died on Aug. 18, 1956, at the age of 89. His grand-niece, Sally Gray Roberts, was one of my high school classmates.
In my column about working at the U.S. Post Office in Lake Geneva, I neglected to include the name of Augie Yakes among the post office staff. Augie was a clerk at the post office when I was working there. Augie Yakes was an integral member of the post office staff for many years. Few residents of Lake Geneva who bought stamps from Augie at the post office counter will ever forget him.