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Lake Geneva Celebrates a Double-Barreled Year

July 13, 1986|FRANK RILEY | Riley is travel columnist for Los Angeles magazine and a regular contributor to this section

LAKE GENEVA, Wis. — Andy Gump is obviously delighted about it.

This is both the centennial and sesquicentennial year of the famed comic strip character's international resort community, within easy reach of Chicago's O'Hare Airport. The timing couldn't be better.

Andy, created by Sidney Smith, who spent his happiest and most productive years at Lake Geneva, beams as he looks from his memorial pedestal at the sailboats, sightseeing cruisers, swimmers, sunbathers and water skiers on and around the sun-sparkled waters of the lake.

He'll look just as happy when they're replaced next winter at this all-year resort by cross-country and downhill snow skiers.

The simultaneous 100th and 150th anniversaries are being commemorated during a summer when reduced travel abroad means booming business at domestic resorts.

Model A Rally

More than half a million visitors are expected this year, with vacationers from many states and nations supplementing the usual base of tourism from Chicago and the Midwest. The Model A car rally this month will by itself draw 6,000 cars and 15,000 fans from around the world.

"In many ways," says George F. Hennerly, executive vice president of the Geneva Lake Area Chamber of Commerce, "this destination is like our favorite Monterey/Carmel area of California--charming and elegant, very successful and loved by everyone who comes here."

Having both a 100th and 150th anniversary at the same time is a blessing bestowed by history.

After the Indian land settlement was negotiated at the Great Council of 1833 in Chicago, government surveyors went to work. Settlers moved into the rich farm lands around Lake Geneva in 1836, just 150 years ago.

Stagecoach Line

With the help of a stagecoach line, the village grew to a population of more than 1,000, with two hotels. The wealthy of Chicago built mansions as second homes. In 1886 the resort village of Lake Geneva was incorporated.

Next year Lake Geneva can celebrate Andy Gump's 70th birthday. He was introduced in the Chicago Tribune's first daily comic strip in 1917. Cartoonist Sidney Smith lived in Lake Geneva until 1935, by which time Andy had already brightened the daily lives of millions throughout the world.

Certificates have been presented to families who have lived in Lake Geneva for more than 100 years, and there is a Southern California tie with one of the most famous families.

Chicago chewing gum king William Wrigley bought Catalina Island in 1919. His son built Avalon's famed Casino in 1929. The family set up 86% of the island as a nature conservancy in 1974 and moved even their Arabian horses to the Wrigley estate on Lake Geneva, which had four mansions along a quarter-mile of waterfront.

This summer you can cruise by these and many other lakefront mansions in a Lake Geneva sightseeing boat. The mail boat offers a 2 1/2-hour cruise, with stops along the way to deliver mail. One of the Wrigley mansions was recently sold for more than $1 million.

19th-Century Styles

Heritage tours are being offered this summer to view homes that reflect architectural styles of the 19th Century, from the English, German and French country-style homes to Mediterranean and pre-Civil War Southern mansions.

The calendar of events reflects the diversity of Lake Geneva's cultural roots: corn and bratwurst roasts Aug. 2 and Aug. 9-10, Venetian Festival Aug. 13-17, Jazz Festival Sept. 7.

Local arts and traditions are on stage at the 30th Annual Antique Show and Sale Aug. 10-11, the Lake Geneva Women's Club Ice Cream Social Aug. 9, the Tour du Lac Bike Rally Sept. 13 and Oktoberfest in neighboring Delavan the first weekend in October.

The downtown lakefront has been restored in time for this year's celebrations. Landscaped walkways follow the shoreline.

Echoes of Elizabeth

The old and the new blend gracefully in the two dominant trends among places to stay. One is epitomized by the bed-and-breakfast Elizabethan Inn that we have adopted as our vacation home. The inn is appropriately named, both for its decor and furnishings and for Elizabeth Farrell, the gracious lady who restored and manages it.

Her 10-year-old granddaughter, Kim, welcomed us at the front door. She was accompanied by Ginger, a tiny dog whose protective barking was offset by its wagging tail. They were quickly joined by the lady of the manor, who gave us a tour of rooms with high poster canopied beds, handmade quilts, antique furniture and lake-view windows.

We choose one in what we thought was the elegantly restored carriage house. Our hostess set the record straight.

"It was just a barn," she said. "A Chicago businessman built it at the end of the last century. We're not sure why, but it was here before the house."

Chardonnay and Towels

While we were unpacking, our hostess returned with a bottle of Chardonnay wine and two glasses. Then Kim arrived with an enormous supply of additional towels.

"You might need them," she said, nodding toward the beach where the inn has its own pier.

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