In Lake Geneva, the week between Christmas and New Year’s Eve has traditionally been a time of reflection about the most important events that occurred during the year about to expire. Ultimately historians will determine which events were the most significant ones that occurred each year.
Among events that occurred in Lake Geneva in recent decades that are contending as “grist for the historians’ mills” are the opening of the new Lake Geneva Middle School, the closing of the Hillmoor Golf Course, the opening of the Associated Bank on Williams Street, the opening of the Kwik Trip gas station and convenience store on Williams Street, the reopening of the Geneva Theater, the opening of the Starbucks coffee house adjacent to Walmart, the opening of the Aldi’s grocery store on Edwards Boulevard, the demolition of the Traver Hotel, the demolition of the “Victorian Lodging” on Main Street, and, even further back, the opening of the new City Hall and the opening of the new fire station on Marshall Street.
Historians in the 21st century may well consider the opening of the Riviera in 1932, the opening of the new Lake Geneva Public Library building in 1954, the opening of Badger High School in 1958 (and Lake Geneva High School graduating its last class in 1958), the demolition of the Frank Lloyd Wright-designed Geneva Hotel, and the ceasing of railroad service between Lake Geneva and Chicago in August 1975 as being among the most significant events that occurred in Lake Geneva during the 20th century.
So, as the year 2018 winds to a close, which events might local residents consider to be the most significant ones that occurred in the Lake Geneva area during the year that is about to fade into the mists of history?
First and foremost must be an event that occurred five miles to the west of Lake Geneva, the closing of Yerkes Observatory by the University of Chicago. Completed in 1896, the Yerkes Observatory served for decades as perhaps the most significant astronomical observatory in the United States, an observatory that included Albert Einstein among its many distinguished visitors. As of this writing, the future of Yerkes Observatory is, to say the least, uncertain.
One cannot conclude that 2018 was a particularly significant historical year in Lake Geneva. Other contenders for the most significant events that occurred in the Lake Geneva area during 2018 pale in comparison to the closing of Yerkes. They would probably include the completion of the two roundabouts on state Highway 120 northeast of the city, the opening of the new Emagine movie complex, also on Highway 120 northeast of the city in Lyons Township, and the auctioning of the Baker House hotel on Wrigley Drive by its owner, Andy Fritz. As of this writing, the future of the Baker House is, like Yerkes, uncertain.
Andy Fritz must be commended for rescuing the Baker House in 2010, renovating it and turning it into an important tourist destination in Lake Geneva. Originally the home of Emily Baker, the widow of Robert Baker, the son of Charles Minton Baker, Geneva’s most prominent attorney in the 19th century, the Baker House was known as the St. Moritz Hotel during the period when the city’s leaders tried to promote Lake Geneva as the “Switzerland of America.” Let us hope that the Baker House will not only survive, but flourish in Lake Geneva.
Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to all who read this column. May the year 2019 be a happy, healthy, and prosperous year for you.
Quinn is a Lake Geneva native who is the University Archivist Emeritus at Northwestern University.