After the column I wrote about my paternal ancestors, “The Quinns of Lake Geneva,” appeared in the Lake Geneva Regional News on Sept. 19, quite a few readers contacted me and urged that I write a column about my maternal ancestors in Lake Geneva, the Wardingles. Accordingly, this column is about them.
My maternal grandparents, Thomas and Lillie Wardingle, and their three children, Tom, Frances, and Helen (my mother), arrived in Lake Geneva on the train in 1912. They had come to Lake Geneva from Chicago, where my grandfather had been a railroad brakeman. In Chicago, they had been living in a tenement apartment at 512 W. 37th Place (which was torn down in 1990 to make room for the new Chicago White Sox baseball stadium).
The reason that they moved from Chicago to Lake Geneva was that my grandmother’s sister, Frances Hayes, had married Harold Sherman, the son of the owner of the Sherman Livery Stable, then located on the east side of the 200 block of Broad Street in Lake Geneva, and my grandfather had been offered a job driving carriages for the Sherman Livery Stable.
After they arrived in Lake Geneva, the Wardingle family lived upstairs of the Sherman Livery Stable. My grandparents sent their three children to the nearby Baptist Church on Sundays. Because he had been born in England, my grandfather had become acquainted with members of the “English community” in Lake Geneva, including William Hooker, whose daughter, Altha, later married the renowned Lake Geneva real estate entrepreneur and state Sen. William F. Trinke. William Hooker had founded the first plumbing firm in Lake Geneva. He hired my grandfather as an apprentice plumber and taught him the plumbing trade.
My grandparents were soon able to place a down payment on a small house at 512 Maxwell St. across the street from the Pioneer Cemetery, and moved into it. It took them the next 40 years to pay off the land contract with which they had bought the house. My grandfather worked as a plumber in Lake Geneva from 1912 until he retired in 1952. He installed plumbing in many of the summer homes of wealthy people who owned estates on the shores of Geneva Lake, including Hillcroft and Green Gables, the homes of William Wrigley and his son, P.K. Wrigley.
After retiring from the plumbing trade, my grandfather worked at the Lake Geneva News Agency, then located just south of the Geneva Theater. He died in December 1957 of a heart attack while attending a plumber’s union meeting at the Labor Temple (the former Evangelical Lutheran Church building) located on the southwest corner of Park Row and Warren Street. My grandmother, Lillie Wilkinson Wardingle, passed away in Lake Geneva in August 1966.
My grandfather (James) Thomas Wardingle had been born in May 1881 in the small village of Tickhill in Yorkshire, England. His father, William Edward Wardingley (my grandfather for some reason dropped the final “y” of his surname), was a groundskeeper on the Westgate Estate on the west side of Tickhill. He married Polly Grindle, and they had two children, my grandfather and his sister, Kate Gertrude Wardingley.
William Edward Wardingley eventually moved his family from Tickhill to Clay Street in the Attercliffe section of Sheffield, England. In 1887, he decided to move his family to Canada. They took a ship to Halifax, Nova Scotia, and from Halifax took a train to Manitoba, where he became a farmer near Franklin, Manitoba. Apparently his wife, Polly, died on the ship en route to Canada. Eventually William Edward Wardingley decided to move to Chicago, leaving his two children, my grandfather and his sister, in the care of a nearby farm family.
In Chicago, he took a job as the driver of a City Garbage Wagon. At the age of 15, my grandfather, Thomas Wardingle, went to the Yukon in Canada, where he participated in the Gold Rush that occurred there. He found no gold, so he returned to Manitoba, where he became a farm laborer.
In 1900, when he was 19, he was cutting wheat with a hand scythe near the Canadian-U.S. border on a hot August day. He saw a freight train approaching, threw down his scythe and hopped on the train, which he rode all the way to Chicago. When he got off the train in a freight yard, he was arrested by a railroad detective. Expecting to be beaten, he was pleasantly surprised when the railroad detective released him and pointed to a nearby shack and told him that they were hiring brakemen there. He went to the shack and was hired as a railroad brakeman, a job he held from 1900 to 1912.
In 1905, he met an 18-year-old waitress at a railroad men’s café, Lillie Wilkinson, and in 1906, he married her. Over the next six years, living in tenements in the 4100 block of south State Street and at 512 W. 37th Place, they had three children, Tom (1906), Frances (1908), and Helen (1910).
The ancestry of my grandmother, Lillie Wilkinson Wardingle, was equally interesting. She was born in Springfield, Illinois, in 1886. In 1893, her father, Frank Wilkinson, moved the family from Springfield to Chicago. Her grandfather, John Wilkinson, had come to the United States from England in 1838. Eventually he owned a tavern in Greenview, Illinois, near Abraham Lincoln’s home town of New Salem, Illinois, and became a close friend of Lincoln’s.
John Wilkinson’s father, also named John Wilkinson, had been the famous “Ironmaster” of England, whose iron had been used to build the first iron bridge over a river in England. This site is now called Iron Bridge Gorge and is a UNESCO World Heritage Site celebrated as the birthplace of the Industrial Revolution in England. John Wilkinson’s portrait hangs in the National Portrait Gallery in London. John Wilkinson’s brother-in-law was Joseph Priestly, who had discovered oxygen. John Wilkinson was also a business associate of James Watt, famed for developing the steam engine and for whom the electric unit “watt” is named.
Thomas and Lillie Wardingle’s three children had interesting lives in Lake Geneva after graduating from Lake Geneva High School in 1924, 1926, and 1928 respectively. Their oldest son, my uncle Tom Wardingle (born in 1906), had been a football star at Lake Geneva High School before attending Milton College on a football scholarship for two years. He then worked for the Sherwin-Williams Paint Co. in Chicago until he was laid off when the Great Depression began in 1929. He returned to Lake Geneva and was employed in building the Riviera. In 1936 he got a job as a letter carrier for the U.S. Post Office in Lake Geneva. In 1942 he was drafted into the U.S. Army Air Force and was stationed during the war at Ft. Warren, Wyoming, and at Drew Field in Tampa, Florida.
He returned to his job as a letter carrier at the post office after his discharge from the Army Air Force in 1945. He became an active member of the Lions Club and the commander of Frank Kresen Post #24 of the American Legion. Sadly, he died of colon cancer in August 1959.
My aunt, Frances Wardingle (born 1908), graduated from Lake Geneva High School in 1926. She then worked as a “nanny’ on various estates on the shores of Geneva Lake, including Ceylon Court, then owned by John Mitchell. When the new Montgomery Ward store opened on the south side of the 800 block of Main Street in the mid-1930s, she became the store’s first order clerk. In 1942, she married William Malsch, a mason, bricklayer, and plasterer in Lake Geneva. She had two children, Bill and Betty Malsch. She passed away in 1986.
My mother, Helen Wardingle (born in 1910), graduated from Lake Geneva High School in 1928, where she had played on the LGHS women’s basketball team. After graduation, she worked as a legal secretary (today a paralegal) for the Lake Geneva attorney Lewis Brown, whose law office was in the historic home (ca. 1847) at 915 Main St. directly across the street from the Lake Geneva Public Library. Helen Wardingle married Bernard Foran Quinn Jr. in 1941. She has one son, me. She died of pneumonia in 1945 and is buried in the St. Frances de Sales Cemetery. Thomas and Lillie Wardingle, Tom J. Wardingle, and Frances Wardingle Malsch are all buried in the Oak Hill Cemetery.
Only two descendants of the Wardingles still live in Lake Geneva — my cousin, Bill Malsch, and me. We both live in the houses that we grew up in. I was very fortunate indeed to have been raised by my maternal grandparents, Thomas and Lillie Wilkinson Wardingle, and my uncle Tom J. Wardingle.