County's largest lake formed in glacial period
A photo gallery of this Mystery Place is HERE
Geneva Lake is the largest lake in Walworth County. According to some of Lt. Jefferson Davis’ diaries, he saw this lake in 1830. In 1831, Mrs. Juliette Kinzie and her group who were traveling from Fort Dearborn (Chicago) to Fort Winnebago stopped at Geneva Lake. She wrote of her stay here and her visit with Chief Big Foot in her book, “Wau-bun.”
In 1832, Christopher Payne left Chicago and planned to seek a site on Geneva Lake for a mill. He got as far as Genoa City and returned to Chicago. In late 1835, a surveying team of John Brink and John Hodgson came to the lake and claimed a site for a town and water rights.
In the early part of 1836, Payne came back to the area and found a mill site. He built a log cabin and a dam. Thus he became the first settler in the county. This also started a feud between Payne and Brink concerning property rights.
Geneva Lake is surrounded by the communities of Lake Geneva, Williams Bay and Fontana and by the town of Linn.
The lake was formed during the second or “late Wisconsin” glacial period, according to Paul Jenkins’ “The Book of Lake Geneva.”
This region was the southern most area of the glaciers. As a result it was also the area first to be uncovered.
The lake gets some of its water supply from the many surrounding springs that flow directly into the lake. The outlet of the lake is the White River. Until the dam was built in 1836, the swift river cut its channel deeper and lowered the lake level. According to Jenkins, the lake just prior to 1836 was 6 feet to 7 feet lower than it is today.
The current dam, which is used to control the lake level, can be seen just north of the chamber of commerce building and Flat Iron Park in Lake Geneva. In 1894, the dam and adjacent property were bought by the newly formed Lake Geneva Power and Lake Level Protection Company. Control gates were constructed to control the lake level.
In the winter the level is lowered to help lessen the damage to the shoreline.
Around 1944, the company converted to the nonprofit Geneva Lake Level Corp. In 2003, the dam and gateway were renovated.
The cost of this project was shared by the surrounding communities.
As you drive around this lake you will see signs that you are entering (or leaving) the watershed area of the lake. That means that anything that is placed on the ground from that site down to the water, which will either soak into the ground or flow over the ground, will end up in the lake. The signs are a reminder to all, residents and visitors, that we want to keep the lake pristine. These reminder signs also are around Delavan Lake.
I’m sure you are aware that there is a public path completely around Geneva Lake. It is about 21 miles. I don’t recommend that you walk it in one day. I’ve written five booklets describing the homes around the lake, which start and stop at places where you can legally park your car and legally get on the path. These are sold at the Lake Geneva Public Library by their friends group.
Fishermen also enjoy this lake during all seasons. Fish that abound in the lake include wall-eyed pike, bass, pickerel and ciscoes. Jenkins tells about fishing in the early days before there were protective laws. In the winter of 1872-’73, there were so many huts on the frozen lake the area was called “Pickerelville.” Their catch that winter totaled 40 tons. The fish were shipped to various cities.