Many events have had a significant impact on Lake Geneva. Perhaps the first of these events occurred in 1895, five years before the 19th century became the 20th century.
In July 1895, the former Lake Geneva Seminary for Young Ladies, which had been located in what is today Seminary Park and had been opened in 1864 by Anna Moody, was refurbished and reopened as Lake Geneva’s first high school.
Lake Geneva’s new high school flourished in the former Ladies Seminary building until 1904 when a new high school was built on Wisconsin Street just north of Maple Park to the west of the newly built Central School, which had replaced the original Central School that had burned to the ground in 1903.
The new high school building housed Lake Geneva’s high school until 1929 when the firm of Herman Malsch and Edward Reinert constructed the new Lake Geneva High School just to the west of what then became known as the old high school. The old high school was demolished during the early 1960s to make way for construction of the central portion of the Central-Denison school complex.
During the 19th century, Geneva grew slowly and steadily from being a tiny frontier outpost in 1837 into the city of Lake Geneva, its name having been changed by the U.S. Post Office in 1882 from Geneva to Lake Geneva.
By the beginning of the 1930s, Lake Geneva had ceased producing its major export — ice harvested from the frozen lake during the winters, which was shipped to Chicago on rail cars. The end of ice shipments to Chicago was the result of the development of new refrigeration technology that produced ice and facilitated cold storage, thus obviating the demand for ice cut from frozen lakes.
In 1958, another major event occurred that would have a significant impact on Lake Geneva: the opening of Badger High School on the far south side of the city. Badger High School replaced the Lake Geneva High School on Wisconsin Street just north of Maple Park, thereby shifting the cultural nexus of Lake Geneva from its longtime central location to the far southern edge of the city.
For almost three decades prior to the opening of Badger High, high school basketball games had been played in the Lake Geneva High School gym/auditorium, and plays, musical concerts, and lectures had also been held there. High school football games, which had been played in Dunn Field on Sage Street at the foot of Dodge Street under the Friday Night Lights that had been installed at the end of the 1930s, and high school baseball games began to be played on new fields adjacent to Badger High.
During the 1960s, the Highway 12 four-lane bypass east of Lake Geneva was completed. It would have a profound impact on Lake Geneva, drawing the city’s major shopping center in the downtown business district (the 700 and 800 blocks of Main Street and the 200 block of Broad Street) to the far eastern edge of Lake Geneva. Two drug stores, the bank, two five-and-dime stores, the bakery, three grocery stores, five clothing stores, two hardware stores, Montgomery Wards, two taverns and the bowling alley beneath the Landmark Center either closed or moved out of the downtown business district, and were replaced by stores that primarily served tourists. The two major auto dealerships located downtown — the Ford dealership and the Chevrolet dealership — relocated to the city’s periphery.
In August 1975, another major event occurred that would have a profound impact upon Lake Geneva. The Chicago and Northwestern Railroad, which had served since 1871 as the steel umbilical cord that connected Lake Geneva and Chicago, ceased operation. Lake Geneva’s bus depot also eventually closed, and regularly scheduled buses no longer arrived in or departed from Lake Geneva. From that time forward, tourists no longer arrived in Lake Geneva via inexpensive and efficient mass transit.
By the end of the 20th century, Lake Geneva’s largest employer, Trostel’s, ceased operation as a manufacturing firm, thus eliminating what had been for most of the last half of the 20th century the vibrant center of the city’s economy. For years, Trostel’s had operated three eight-hour shifts, but it became ghostly silent when it no longer was a manufacturing dynamo.
Other events also had an impact on Lake Geneva, although not as precipitous as those depicted above.
During the 1920s, the Oakwood Sanitarium, located on the north side of Main Street on Catholic Hill where the Havenwood Apartments are today, closed. In 1970, what had long been one of Lake Geneva’s icons overlooking the lakes’ outlet, the Hotel Geneva, designed by Frank Lloyd Wright, was demolished.
The original YMCA, at the southeast corner of Main Street and Wrigley Drive, a classical Victorian building that had been perhaps the finest YMCA located in a city of Lake Geneva’s size at the time it was built, was demolished. The YMCA moved into the former Piggly Wiggly supermarket on Wells Street.
The Third Ward School on the north side of the 700 block of Henry Street closed in 1954 and was replaced by the newly constructed Eastview School.
Sherman Allen’s root beer stand closed. Located at the northeast corner of Williams and Henry Street where the Pizza Hut is today, Allen’s root beer stand had been one of the central social gathering places in Lake Geneva during the summers for many years. the swamp between Wisconsin and Main streets and Maxwell Street and Elmwood Avenue was drained, and condos and apartment buildings were built where it had been. The Taggart Lumber Co. on Broad Street, just north of the railroad tracks, closed, leaving Lake Geneva with only one lumber yard, the Dunn Lumber Co.
The Surf Hotel on Wrigley Drive just west of “Popeyes” was demolished, as was the Luzern Hotel, just west of Seminary Park and east of today’s Harbor Shores Hotel. Recently the Traver Hotel was demolished. It had stood just north of the Lake Geneva Regional News office. The Lake Geneva automobile racetrack on the north side of Bloomfield Road was closed. The Baptist Church at the northeast corner of Broad and Geneva streets closed. It is now the home of the Breadloaf Book Shop and other stores. Immanuel Lutheran Church, formerly at the northeast corner of Park Row and Clover Street where the Anchor Covenant Church is today, moved to the far southeastern edge of the city on Bloomfield Road adjacent to the Highway 120 bypass.
The Hillmoor Golf Course, which for many years had been one of Lake Geneva’s most significant recreational venues, closed. And last, but not least, the Dairy Queen on Wells Street, which had been for six decades a gathering place for generations of Lake Geneva’s youth, closed.
History will determine if the events listed above had a positive or negative impact upon Lake Geneva or whether they represented “progress” or a step backward. Perhaps they entailed a bit of both. But there can be no doubt that they all had an impact on Lake Geneva.
Quinn is a Lake Geneva native who is the University Archivist Emeritus at Northwestern University.