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History of Lake Geneva
As near as geologists can tell, Geneva Lake was formed about 20,000 years ago, as the last glacier traveled across North America. The lake is over 7 miles long from east to west and over 2 miles wide at its widest point from Williams Bay to the Lake Geneva Yacht Club.
There are approximately 22 miles of shoreline, and the surface area is 5,263 acres. Geneva Lake is the 2nd deepest spring fed lake in Wisconsin, with depths reaching 142 feet just off Black Point in Fontana. The lake is fed entirely by underground springs, and has no surface inlets. The only outlet, the White River, in the City of Lake Geneva, feeds into the Fox, Illinois, and Mississippi Rivers.
The earliest residents in the area were the Pottawatomi Tribe, who had migrated here in the 1600’s from northern Wisconsin. Their best-known leader was a chief by the name of Big Foot, which the beach on the East end of the lake has been named in honor of.
Although the Wisconsin territory had been explored as early as 1634 by French explorer Jean Nicolet, there never was an official recorded sighting of the lake until 1831. The Native Americans called the lake “Kishwauketoe”, which loosely translates to mean Clear Water or Lake of the Sparkling Water.
In 1834, a government surveyor named John Brink was sent through the territory to survey the land and name the landmarks. When Mr. Brink saw the lake, he was reminded of Seneca Lake, near his hometown of Geneva, New York. It was at this time that the lake became known as Geneva Lake in honor of his hometown.
Several factors were involved in the growth of Geneva Lake as a resort for Chicago’s wealthy. First of all, in the 1870’s, numerous men from Chicago came here to hunt and fish, and their love of the area convinced them the Geneva Lake would be the ideal place to build a summer home.
Transportation was the second factor. The Chicago & Northwestern Railroad opened a line from Chicago to the Village of Lake Geneva on July 6, 1871. This allowed people to reach the area with ease.
The third and most important factor was the Chicago Fire, which occurred on October 8, 1871. Many of the families displaced by the fire actually escaped the burning of the city by getting on the train and coming up here to the lake.
Many of these people stayed here at the lake through the fall and winter of 1871-72, while they waited city homes to be rebuilt. Within a few years, when the city and its industries were back on their feet and money was available, more and more Chicagoans began selecting Geneva Lake for their summer getaways.
Even today you will find that about 80% of the summer residents here have roots in Chicago.