Lake Geneva did not have paved streets in 1892, but one map company deemed its water resources “inexhaustible.”

The maps of the former Sanborn Perris Map Co., of New York, can be viewed online via the Wisconsin Historical Society or Wikimedia Commons.

They are invaluable historic documents, allowing those who peruse them to geographically pinpoint locations of note thanks to the attention to detail paid by the mapmakers.

According to Recollection Wisconsin, 901 maps of 251 Wisconsin communities were digitized and made available through the historical society.

The Lake Geneva maps reveal the downtown area to be a place where cobblers and tinsmiths once plied their trades.

The railroad came through the city, which once had two theaters, a gospel hall and a sanitarium.

Sanborn made detailed, large-scale maps of thousands of communities throughout the U.S.

Detailing structural features as well as road and utility main layouts, the maps were used by insurance agents to identify fire hazards.

Today, the documents — which can be viewed through Wikimedia Commons — present a geography of Lake Geneva’s history.

According to the maps, in 1892, Lake Geneva’s “Water & Electric Light Works” was on Main Street, with the Oakwood Springs Sanitarium to the east and a flouring mill to the west, across from the North Western Railroad line.

Back then, the city’s population was 3,000 — and it was “Centre” Street.

Lake Geneva’s fire department consisted of 60 volunteers, one independent hose cart and “no steam and no hand engines,” according to the map.

In 1900, Lake Geneva had a population of 2,500, with the fire department down to 40 volunteers.

The city was home to a creamery, typewriter factory and a high school on Cass Street.

St. Francis de Sales Catholic Church, 130 W. Main St., appears on the 1900 map.

In 1912, population increased to 3,800, and the streets were “not paved but surfaced with stone and gravel.”

The city fire department had 35 volunteers, two hose reels, one two-horse hose wagon and a two-horse ladder truck.

In 1912:

  • A gospel hall used to be at what is now Lake Aire Restaurant, 804 W. Main St.
  • Majestic Theatre, a vaudeville/motion picture theater, was at 757-59 Main St.
  • Hotel Florence was at what is now Jayne, 771 W. Main St.
  • The YMCA was located at 872 Main St. Today, it is at 203 S. Wells St.
  • The Hotel Geneva was at what is now Geneva Towers, 101 Broad St.

To make your own historical discoveries, visit commons.wikimedia.org and search “Lake Geneva Sanborn maps.”

Also, visit the Recollection Wisconsin site for more about the map digitization effort.