Lake Geneva, Wisc. Where To Stay, What To Do
This is just one way Lake Genevans share the wealth.
Express interest and they’ll tell you about the wealthy Chicagoans who built summer lakeside estates here starting in the mid-1800s; how the local Playboy Club turned into Grand Geneva Resort & Spa; why it’s worth spending $6,000 a year to dismantle docks each fall (freezing water is murder on wood); and about “hard water” escapades such as ice boating.
Awaiting carryout flatbread at Sprecher’s Restaurant & Pub, I’m engaged by a third-generation Lake Genevan who tells me about free Saturday tours of Yerkes Observatory, an architectural wonder on the lake’s northwest shore that boasts the world’s largest refracting telescope. My “Sprechtangle” arrives; he suggests reconvening over coffee or a New Glarus brew to discuss a conspiracy theory linking Yerkes and the Vatican. Lesson learned: These folks love to share their good fortune — the juiciest apples, the freshest greens, the purest lake, the quaintest and quirkiest antiques.
That civic pride is in full force when I visit the Baker House, a lakeside Queen Anne restored to Gilded Age glamour. There, lifelong Lake Geneva resident Rodney Whetlow and his friends Lorraine, Helen and J.B. regale me with tales of four-season fun at the lake.
First stop: a hallway with racks of saucy vintage hats. A bystander docks one on my head. All guests must wear a hat; that’s dressing for dinner at the Baker House. Meanwhile, the staff wears period costumes complementing the sumptuous interiors of the 1885 turreted Victorian, which owner Bethany Souza revived last year as an inn, the culmination of a lifelong dream.
Over specialty cocktails (star fruit, apple), finger foods and mismatched vintage tableware, local lore flows as the setting sun is reflected in the quicksilver lake that reaches depths of 146 feet. In the background — soon to become the foreground at singalong time — Tom Stanfield, outfitted in ragtime regalia, plays yesteryear standards on piano, pocket trumpet and fluegelhorn.
Rodney describes riding motorcycles across the frozen lake, praising J.B.’s skills in studding tires for an optimal mix of traction and speed. They’ve sailed the ice as well. “Most of Geneva Lake freezes two feet below the surface, which is perfect for ice boating,” says Rodney. An ice boat has a long, narrow hull, like a kayak; its large main sail acts as an airfoil. “Sailors with good winds can reach speeds over 100 miles per hour,” Rodney explains. “Some parts of the lake, such as the Narrows, don’t freeze.” These “faults” are one to 30 feet wide. “You try to gain enough speed to jump the fault.”
By Robin Soslow, The Washington Post, Nov. 11,2011