Find your place in Lake Geneva history

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CSI News Media staff | April 4, 2014

LAKE GENEVA — The Geneva Lake Museum will hold a volunteer training workshop from 9:30 a.m. to 11:30 a.m. Thursday, April 17, for current and potential volunteers. The workshop will be held at the museum, on Mill Street in Lake Geneva.

"We need people both behind the scenes and in front — heck, we need people to hold up the scenes,” said Karen Jo Walsh, museum director.

Last year, the museum had more than 13,000 visitors, but more are expected to visit this year, in part because the museum will expand its hours.

Right now the museum is open weekends; in May, they go to four days, but in the summer months of June, July and August, they will be open daily, noon to 3 p.m. on Sundays and 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Saturday.

“The museum is totally staffed by volunteers,” said Walsh, who is herself a volunteer. “We find out what the volunteer's skills are and go from there. We need everything from security to walk the floor to docents who can provide information to the visitors.”?

But it doesn't stop there. Anyone who is willing to share their time with an interesting group of people will find a purpose in volunteering, from building the exhibits, to painting them.

Some of the newer additions were previewed for the public in April.

“A lot of people don't realize what we have here,” said docent Noel Payne, one of the volunteer guides with a nearly unlimited wealth of knowledge about the history of Lake Geneva.

Lake Geneva is unique in that it has a rich history stretching back to the days that the Potawatomi made their home along the shores of this spring-fed lake.

A Native American display is among the new exhibits that illustrate the growth of the area through the Great Chicago Fire of 1871 to the grand estates that surround Geneva Lake.

Founded in 1983, the museum was originally located in a house on Geneva Street. In the 1990s the city moved the Waterworks Department, which had been housed in the 1929 Wisconsin Power & Light building, to a new larger facility. The Geneva Lakes History Buffs persuaded the city to let them use the old building for a museum.

In 2004 the museum moved to the building at 255 Mill St.  Taking advantage of the generous space the new building provides, the Museum Board along with the History Buffs and much volunteer help, created Main Street, Lake Geneva, 1830-1930, which is one of the more popular exhibits. 

Walking along Main Street, visitors not only can peek into historic stores, homes, a school room and other places, but can walk inside for a close-up look at furniture, clothing, tools, machines, merchandise, photos and other artifacts of daily living. Visitors  get a real feel for life and lifestyles in the late 19th and early 20th centuries in the Geneva Lake area.

Another popular exhibit is the stained glass windows of Jerseyhurst — The windows from the estate of R.T. Crane, whose company for a time was the largest supplier of bathroom fixtures and plumbing supplies. The windows found their way to Hawaii, where a donor returned them to Lake Geneva for display at the museum.

Light fixtures from the Hotel Geneva, designed by renowned architect Frank Lloyd Wright in 1911 also are on display. The hotel fell into disrepair and was razed in 1970.

Geneva Lake Museum discovers and preserves the rich history that hides throughout Geneva Lake and the surrounding communities. The exhibits within the walls are time capsules that capture every essence of Geneva Lake and its people; people with amazing stories that unravel with every scene and every word led by volunteer docents.

You can help preserve these stories for people young and old who have the desire to see, listen and learn by volunteering your time.

If you cannot attend the training workshop on April 17, call the museum at (262) 248-6060 or email the director at to volunteer.

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