Before the memories of older residents of Lake Geneva dissolve into the mists of time, it might be useful to sketch a portrait of the community that Lake Geneva was during the 1950s. Such a portrait would also benefit from an analysis of what wove the fabric of the Lake Geneva community together.
Lake Geneva was a much smaller city during that decade than it is today, both in terms of its geographical size and its population, which was a little over 3,000 residents.
Lake Geneva’s geographical size was confined to an area bounded by Elmwood Avenue on the west (what would become the “Sturwood” subdivision was then a field where cows grazed), although the relatively new “Manor” subdivision extended farther west along the shore of Geneva Lake. There were also houses on Fremont Street, west Dodge Street, the westernmost block of Pleasant Street, and on Conant Street. Grant Street marked the northern limits of the city, but only a few houses had been built on it. The Crawford subdivision on the northeast side of the city had been filled up with houses. The eastern edge of the city was Curtis Street. Farther east beyond Curtis Street was the new “Golf Hills” subdivision (today called Hillmoor Heights), however it was in Lyons Township. South Street was the southern edge of the city.
A key question that must be addressed when sketching a portrait of any community is what wove the fabric of the community together. In the instance of Lake Geneva, a small city of 3,000 residents during the ‘50s, the factors that made it a community and not simply an aggregate of 3,000 people were the same factors that wove any community together — a combination of individuals and institutions. During the ‘50s, I suspect that I was too young and inexperienced to really appreciate or comprehend the central role that such individuals and institutions played at the time.
A portrait of the city must begin by recalling some of the ministers of the eight major churches in Lake Geneva during the ‘50s. Several key names come to mind: Father Manley of the St. Frances de Sales Catholic Church, Rev. Curtis Showalter and Rev. Richard Schroeder of the First Congregational Church, Rev. H.D. Diehl of the First Evangelical Lutheran Church (many residents referred to it as the “German” Lutheran Church to distinguish it from the “English” Park Row Lutheran Church), and the Rev. Gordon Amphlett of the Methodist Church. The other major churches in the city were the Episcopal Church of the Holy Communion, the First Baptist Church, and the Christian Science Church.
A second category of individuals would consist of the teachers at Central School, Third Ward School and Lake Geneva High School. Third Ward School would be replaced by Eastview School, and Lake Geneva High School would be replaced by Badger High School. St. Francis de Sales Roman Catholic Church would establish a school.
A third category of individuals were the doctors in the city. They included Dr. E. D. Hudson, Dr. Bishof, Dr. Boyd Hindall, Dr. Charles Brady, and Dr. Jeffers.
A fourth category would be the dentists in the city, Dr. Richard White, Dr. Robert White, Dr. A.C. Grosspietch, Dr. Wild, Dr. Jeffers, and Dr. Hazel Denig.
Other individuals who played an important role in weaving the fabric of the community together defy categorization. They included the pharmacists Bruce Arnold, Bill Hammersley, and Ed McCullough, the high school football coach Walter Jonas, the high school principal Ted Kitze, the superintendent of schools Vernon Pollack, the postmistress May Powers, and the realtor, lawyer, and state senator William Trinke.
Unlike the situation in today’s megastores like Wal-Mart, Home Depot, and Target, the owners and employees of stores on Main Street knew the residents of the city, talked to them when they came into their stores and asked how they and their families were doing. Among them were Frank Bullock and Louie Kimball at Moore’s Hardware Store, Vittie Allen and Dick Brady at Kohn and Allen’s, John Brandley at the Schultz Brothers dime store, Harold Mercer at the Ben Franklin dime store, Jess Campbell at Campbell’s women’s wear store, Angie Freitag at the Smart Shop, Bruno Bittner at Bittner’s Bakery, Claude Foster and George Weisner at their stationery store, Bertha Agern at Bucknall’s dry goods store, Howard Clemens at his gifts store, Norman Gill at his jewelry store, Ed Dunn at the Dunn Lumber Co., and Frederick Taggart at his Taggart Lumber Co., to name but a few. The individuals cited above contributed much to weaving together the fabric of the community in Lake Geneva during the ‘50s.
Another factor that wove the community together was what one can loosely call institutions. These included venues in the city where people gathered for one reason or another, such as the bowling alley in the basement of today’s Landmark Center on the southeast corner of Broad and Main Streets, the Lake Geneva Public Library, the old YMCA on the southeast corner of Main and Cook streets, the Geneva Theater, the Chicago and Northwestern railroad depot, the Riviera, the Hillmoor Golf Course, the Lake Geneva Post Office, the First National Bank, Derrick’s and Steinke’s funeral homes, the Horticultural Hall, and the Lake Geneva High School auditorium.
During the ‘50s, Lake Geneva was a “joining” city. Many of its residents were members of organizations that met regularly, including the Frank Kresen Post #24 of the American Legion, the Lions Club, the Masonic Lodge (located upstairs of Bucknall’s dry goods store), the Knights of Pythias (which met upstairs of a store on the north side of the 700 block of Main Street), the Odd Fellows, the Order of the Eastern Star, and the Lake Geneva Volunteer Fire Department. The city’s youth were members of the Boy Scouts, the Cub Scouts, the Girl Scouts and the Brownies.
The barber shops in Lake Geneva, run by Del Schaude, Jim Macuba, Adolph Kaempher, Harold “Chappie” Chapman, and Ken Weeks, were centers of conversation and the exchange of news and gossip in the city. The city’s taverns, including O’Briens and the Terrace Gardens on Main Street, Johnejack’s on Center Street, the Anchor Inn on Main Street (and later on south Broad Street), Basil Rafter’s at 512 Broad Street and the bar north of the Geneva Theater on Broad Street, known today as Thumbs Up, whose owners and bartenders dispensed advice as well as booze. Among them were Doug Chase, Bill Sadler, Glenn Smith, and Basil Rafter.
During the ‘50s, there were no mega grocery stores in Lake Geneva. The largest grocery stores, the National and the A&P located on the north side of the 700 block of Main Street, were not nearly as large as today’s Piggly Wiggly, Aldi’s or Wal-Mart. And there were many smaller grocery stores in the city, including Frank Janowak’s and John Power’s grocery stores on Main Street, two grocery stores in the Crawford neighborhood, and three grocery stores near the intersection of Broad and Dodge streets. As residents shopped for groceries, they exchanged news and gossip with other residents who were shopping.
During the summers, many of the city’s residents gathered at Sherm Allen’s root beer stand (where the Pizza Hut is today), at the Donkey baseball games at Dunn Field, at the two carnivals in Flat Iron Park, on the lake shore watching the boat parade on Venetian Night, and at the circus in Dunn Field. During the fall, the Friday Night Lights at Dunn Field drew hundreds of residents to the stands on the south side of the football field to watch the Lake Geneva High School football team play its rivals. During the winters, seasonably unemployed residents congregated around the “Fourth Ward” ice shanties on the lake’s ice, where they caught fish which they sold to residents.
Like the city’s doctors who made house calls, many of the city’s tradesmen also made house calls, including the plumbers William Hooker, Donald Ingrim, Harry Bucht, Lind Schryver, Thomas Wardingle, Maurice Malsch, “Pep” Huntress, and Sid Kahn, as did the city’s painters, including Herman Quade among many others.
When the city’s largest employer, Trostel’s, opened its doors in the ‘50s in the building formerly occupied by the Belvidere Pottery Co., hundreds of the city’s residents obtained work there, especially when Trostel’s ran three shifts, and they would talk to one another as they worked.
Lake Geneva was a walking city during the ‘50s. Residents would encounter one another while walking on the diagonal sidewalk that ran through the middle of Maple Park on their way downtown or on Main and Broad streets. Such encounters were yet another of the factors in the city which wove it together as a community.
In 2019, virtually of all of the phenomena of the ‘50s described above no longer exist. One wonders what serves to weave the fabric of the community together in Lake Geneva today.
Quinn is a Lake Geneva native who is the University Archivist Emeritus at Northwestern University.