Kemah Farm, Residence of Albert W. Harris
~ Beginning of the Village of Williams Bay ~
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In 1870, Festus Williams returned from Virginia, where he had been superintendent of a large plantation near historic Jamestown he took up residence in Beloit; in 1874 he came back to the village to farm the marsh lands extending toward the Bay today known as Kishwaketoe Nature Conservancy.
A man who is worthy of more than a passing notice is Major Edward Brown Meatyard. For nearly twenty years he was one of the most prominent men in the area of Geneva Lake. His house, known as Lawn Glen, was built near the lake shore east of Cedar Point, at a cost of several thousand dollars and showed a decided English style.
Major Meatyard invested in land around Williams Bay, owning 240 acres in the town of Walworth and 600 acres in the towns of Linn and Geneva that extended from the lake shore east of Cedar Point over the ridge and embracing all the flat land at the head of Lake Como. He invested large amounts of money trying to reclaim this swampland, but his efforts were fruitless. Major Meatyard was a Geneva Lake enthusiast and made himself thoroughly familiar with the topography of all the surrounding area. He spent a great deal of time and money perfecting various inventions, but realized little gain from them. His fortune dwindled away until nearly everything was lost. His property at Cedar Point was sold for back taxes in 1889 and passed into the hands of John Johnston Jr.
E. L. Baker, a surveyor and civil engineer whose home was in Lake Geneva, had long had a plan which at first thought appears wild and impossible, and as it failed we may say it was a hare-brained scheme. Had it succeeded it would have been a grand triumph of genius.
The plan was as follows: buy up all the land about Lake Como at as low a price as possible, dam up the outlet of Lake Como, and raise that body of water to a level with Lake Geneva (It is about 14 feet lower), dig a channel, large enough for the passage of any boat in Lake Geneva, from Williams Bay to Lake Como. Had this plan been feasible it would have made the shoreline of Como Lake as valuable as the shoreline of Geneva Lake.
In the meantime a flourishing settlement was springing up on the west side of the Bay around the old farm house built by Captain Williams. In 1883 James W. Loft bought a five-acre tract of land on the south side of the Williams farm and built a residence. The Williams homestead was now owned and occupied by Lucretia Williams, widow of Royal Williams, and her youngest son Harley.
During the next two years village development was slow. The town line road (Elkhorn Road or Highway 67) was laid out from Jonas Southwick’s farm south to the Village, and other minor improvements were made. In 1891 Arne H. Arneson, Eric Anderson, and G. L. Jensen incorporated the Scandinavian Free Lutheran Church, bought a lot, and erected a church building.
In February 1892, Marie R. Williams, wife of Edward F. Williams (Royal Williams’ second son) secured appointment as postmistress and the Williams Bay post office was established. For the first two years the mail was brought from Lake Geneva by team; at first only bi-weekly, but the business steadily increased, and during 1893 it was brought daily. In the fall of 1894, through the efforts of the postmistress and her husband who was her deputy, the mail route was transferred to the railroad, and in the fall of 1895 the Village began to receive two mail deliveries per day, which continued until the 1960s.
The winter of 1893 Henry McBride and Frank Harville purchased land on the east side of the town line road from Harley Williams for an Ice house. They organized the Lake Geneva Ice Company and built one of the largest ice houses in Wisconsin. It had a capacity of 40,000 tons, employed 125 men for about six weeks during the winter, and from five to fifteen men during the shipping season.
In the spring of 1893, C. M. Williams came from Lyons and purchased the corner across from W. G. DeGroff’s and erected the Lake Vista House and opened up a hotel and general store business. In the same year Harley Williams opened a coal, lime, and brick business. Beginning in a small way he had gradually worked up an extensive and lucrative business.
During the winter of 1892 - 1893, Dr. M. E. LeClerque, of Chicago purchased sixty acres of the flat land north of the depot (now Kishwauketoe), organizing the Williams Bay Land Company. He laid out his purchase into blocks and lots and commenced improvements. Money did not seem to be forthcoming as readily as might have been expected, but nobody felt alarmed, as it was reported that the company was worth millions. It was just before the opening of the Columbian Exposition World’s Fair in Chicago and times were good, wages were high, and the country was flourishing. It looked as if the Village on Geneva Lake was going to “boom”, and no doubt it would have done so but for the financial crash that struck the country that summer. When the crash came in July the Williams Bay Land Company was struck a death blow.
In 1895 there was a demand for more lots, and another addition was laid out on the hill above the original subdivision (west of the library on Williams Street). Meanwhile several houses had been built, all of them a credit to the growing village. Among the most important were those were built by Eric Anderson, A. Blix, Harley Williams, Henry Francis, U. Lockwood, W. G. DeGroff, and C. Slocomb. Christian Hansen subdivided part of his farm east of the Bay and called it Hansen’s Addition to Williams Bay in 1894.
In 1894 W. A. Lackey secured complete control of the livery from Williams Bay to Delavan Lake and leased land from the railroad company for a barn. He established a livery business and had a large and well-ordered stable, rigs, and conveyances for his customers.
In January 1895 L. E. Francis commenced the erection of a store building and upon its completion, opened up a stock of groceries and general merchandise. J. Rouse purchased the business and enlarged the building and business.
C. M. Williams also made a change in 1895. His business was becoming too large for one person to conveniently handle so he rented the hotel portion of his building to Joseph Keat from Elkhorn. Mr. Williams built an addition on the west side of the store and in partnership with G. S. Holmes was doing an extensive business. Meanwhile under the management of Mr. Keat the Lake Vista House became a popular place.
As the 19th century was coming to a close the community had three subdivisions, one hotel, two stores, a post-office, blacksmith shop, barber shop, and some thirty buildings which were used for residential purposes.
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