Plymouth Rock, Conference Point
WILLIAMS BAY FACTS
Past Stories, Click on a link below to read.
~ The Ice Age & Mastodons Too ~
Approximately 400 to 500 million years ago, during the Ordovician and Silurian Periods of the Paleozoic (Ancient Life) Era, all of eastern Wisconsin was under a shallow tropical sea. During this early time, most plant and animal life were only present in watery environments.
These ancient seas contained numerous types of corals, brachipods, crinoids, and cephalopods. Fossils of this period are frequently found in Williams Bay, and in many cases, are not that far from the surface.
Starting about two to three million years ago, the northern half of North America experienced a series of Ice Ages. It is the final glacial event, the so-called Wisconsin Ice Age (150,000 to 11,000 years ago), that shaped the features that we see today in the Geneva Lake region.
Glacier would move south, carrying mountains of earthly debris before them for hundreds of miles. Where the mountains of till and debris ended, hilly features called moraines were formed. The so-called "Cliffs of Fontana" at the western end of the lake, are the moraines created by the furthest advance of the glaciers in this area which occurred about 21,000 years ago. When you drive south on highway 67 into Walworth, you notice that once you drive under the railroad tracks, you are back in the "flat" Midwest. That is because the glaciers never got that far during the late Wisconsin Ice Age.
Before the arrival of humans, this part of Wisconsin was home to animals whose habitat is now found elsewhere such as wolves, bison, and elk. There were also animals that are now extinct, like the wooly mammoths and mastodons (part of the elephant family) and a giant beaver with a longer and narrower tail. Mastodon remains were found in gravel pits around the northwest corner of Williams Bay. In 1907, Mr. Michael Johnson, while digging in his garden on Congress Street, excavated mastodon bones and teeth. Poorly preserved the bones crumbled away while the enamel of the teeth preserved them.
Williams Bay may have been a marshy area after the last Ice Age, attracting elderly mastodons with its soft vegetation. Humans did not migrate to the Americas until about 20,000 years ago, and did not reach the Midwest until around 14,000 years ago when the glaciers had sufficiently retreated. Over hunting may well have been a major factor in the extinction of both the mastodons and wooly mammoths in North America. -- by docent Greg Trush.
~ The Four Corners ~
The first subdivision was laid out in 1889. W. G. DeGroff was the first to purchase a lot. He was a carpenter and built a home on the Northeast corner of Walworth Ave and Geneva Street. It had a porch on three sides and he soon modeled it to serve High Tea. Mr. Mel Spence later began a full service restaurant and it continues to be a restaurant today.
This side of the street is also where the first commercial buildings began. There was a general merchandise store and a meat market. At one time it employed four butchers. Next door was Hermanson's bakery. Further north was Roeker's blacksmith shop and later the blacksmith shop was owned by Louis Rasmussen.
C.M. Williams built a general merchandise store and in 1895 Joe Keat bought one half to house the Lake Vista House Hotel. The hotel burned in 1903 and William Lackey began his three level pressed brick building. The lower level housed a pool hall, Granzow and Peterson Grocery Store, and a tea room. Later the tea room gave way to a drug store with Arthur Ohl, proprietor. A second drug store was across the alley. It had originally been a harness shop and then a hand laundry. On the second floor of the Lackey building, Mr. Lackey opened a hardware and dry goods store. The third space, on the front corner of the building, housed the U.S. Post Office. The third floor was and still is apartments.
Williams Bay folklore says this corner was the location of the first livery. It was said to have been dismantled and the lumber used to build the two houses to the south of the corner. In 1917 Mr. Van Belzer built the Star Garage. In 1923 Elmer "Hoppi" Hopkins and his partner Frank Walker purchased the business and built a brick building to service automobiles. Later they increased the size of the building and added an area for boat storage and service. They held the Chris Craft service contract as well as one for Johnson motors. The depression forced the partnership to dissolve and Mr. Hopkins moved to the building next to the Lackey building and continued his business.
Leslie Sawyer built the cement block building that initially housed a grocery store and two restaurants. In the ensuing years this building would house a pool hall, beauty shop, and two restaurants, including the Keg Room.
Down the block is a building built by Henry Bjorge. He was a painter. Shortly after, Mr. Bjorge's nephew Carl came to join him in his painting business. -- By docent Toby Case.