Mystery Place: Bible camp once a private residence

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Ginny Hall | September 16, 2016

The boat house at Covenant Harbor is located west of the Lake Geneva Public Library and Geneva Manor. It can be viewed from the public path around Geneva Lake or from a boat on the lake. If you participate in any of the activities at Covenant Harbor, you also might have the opportunity to see this historic building.

It is the only remaining building from the George Sturges estate, built in 1881. He named his 50- room home Snug Harbor.

This is the home that he built after their house and land in Lake Geneva was donated to the city for a library and park. Sturges was president of Northwestern Bank of Chicago. According to the 1882 History of Walworth County, he served as Geneva village treasurer in 1870 and again from 1874 through 1878.

George's wife, Mary, is credited as the one who gave the land and building to the city for the library. In addition, she was one of several women instrumental in the formation of Holiday Home, a camp on Geneva Lake. She also was instrumental in many philanthropic ventures in Chicago and the Geneva Lake area.

Their three-story home was described as French chateau. It looked like a castle with its tall tower. It had 20 rooms, most with a fireplace. The Sturgeses had nine children. Their library was filled with books from ceiling to floor. 

George died in 1890. Mary died in 1901. Their daughter, Ethel Sturges Dummer, continued in her mother's philanthropic footsteps.

On April 10, 1919, John Borden purchased Snug Harbor for $50,000. He had leased the home since 1910. According to “Lake Geneva: Newport of the West” by Ann Wolfmeyer and Maggie Gage, Borden made his fortune from Colorado silver and real estate investments in Chicago. This was similar to the fortunes made by Marshall Field and Levi Leiter.  This Borden family was not related to the “milk” Bordens.

His eldest daughter, Ellen, married Adlai Stevenson. Later they were divorced.

Charles Benjamin Smith bought Snug Harbor in 1923. The house and land became Covenant harbor Bible Camp in 1947. Cost for a week's stay at the camp in the early years was $13 to $17.

According to the Jan. 18, 1957, Janesville Gazette, the house was destroyed by fire. Only the shell of the structure's foundation remained. It was assumed that the fire was caused by an electrical problem.

Ginny Hall, a Delavan historian, is author of the “Walking around ...” and “Meandering ... ” books, which highlight the history of Walworth County communities.

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