Looking north on Walworth Avenue. Photo courtesy of Jill Westberg
PEOPLE, PLACES, & ORGANIZATIONS
More Local History
~ Danish Pioneers in the Bay - Niels and Christian Hansen ~
A Legacy of Contribution, Community and Service
by Deborah Dumelle Kristmann
Before the shoreline of Geneva Lake was lined by the mansions of wealthy Chicagoans, European immigrants were enticed to the undeveloped frontier and newly established state of Wisconsin by the Wisconsin Commission of Emigration. They distributed translated booklets encouraging thousands of immigrants to a beautiful place where land, water and natural resources were plentiful. Adventurous, hard working entrepreneurial pioneers were drawn to this new land. Brothers Christian and Niels Hansen were among the earliest that came from their native Denmark to Williams Bay.
Christian and Niels were Methodists from the Maribo District of Denmark near Copenhagen. Oral family history indicates that the young men came with other families (possibly neighbors Jensen and Madsen) from their native community in Denmark. Their intention was to purchase land in Williams Bay; to farm and distribute to new-comers to the Bay and help build a community. The Hansen brothers believed strongly in community and contributed immensely to the prospering village Williams Bay would become. They shared the vision of a bustling community as the train and Yerkes Observatory drew new residents and visitors to the area.
Owning much of the land between the lake and what is now Highway 50, they sold land to the village which allowed access to the Bay from the northeast which would link Williams Bay with Lake Geneva.
Christian Hansen (b. 1842 in Denmark, d. 1919) Arrived in Walworth, County in aproximately1863. He was a Stone Mason by trade. He married Mary C. (b. 1836 d. 1905) they had no children.
Niels Hansen (b. 1856 in Denmark d. 1927) Also a Stone Mason by trade. Married Hansine Rasmussen (b. 1857 in Denmark d. 1936) they had two children: Victor (b. 1891, d.1962) Sadie (b. 1893, d. 1956) and Elmer (b. 1895, d. 1976)
Victor Hansen married Elsie Boorman (b. abt. 1893 d.?) in 1921. They had one son Melvin J. Hansen (b. 1922, d. 2010) Elsie was a beloved teacher in Williams Bay.
Victor Hansen served in WWI beginning in 1917 and was honorably discharged in 1919. Victor earned a living in the bay by helping his father Niels farm and run the family businesses: Hansen’s Garage and Livery Service. The Livery transported guests between the Williams Bay train depot and Lake Lawn Lodge. It was at Lake Lawn Lodge where Victor met Elsie who was working at the resort for the summer.
After Niels death, Victor took over Hansen’s Garage and Livery, and purchased Hansen Pier in 1929. Victor made many contributions to the Village. He was one of the original founders of the Volunteer Fire Department where he was also its first Fire Chief and also donated the land to build the fire house. In later years Victor was a Village trustee and a supervisor for Walworth County.
Mel married Lillian, they had one daughter, Kathryn (Tom Leith). Mel ran Hansen’s Pier (bait, boat and delivery service) until the 1970s. Just like family before him, service and community were of utmost importance to Mel. He founded the Williams Bay Rescue Squad and was a long time member of Williams Bay Volunteer Fire Department.
Mel Hansen is noted as having been one of the longest serving firefighters in the State of Wisconsin.
Sources: Kathy Leith and Wisconsin State Historical Society http://www.wisconsinhistory.org/turningpoints/tp-018/?action=more_essay
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