As a captivating area since its formation during the last Ice Age, Fontana-on-Geneva-Lake has a rich, interesting history. Learn more about how our area came to be the vibrant community that you see today!
First Inhabitants – The Potawatomi (1641-1836)
The Big Foot band of Potawatomi led a peaceful existence with both other Indian tribes and white settlers through their relocation to Kansas in 1836. Three bands lived around Geneva Lake in modern day Lake Geneva, Fontana, and Williams Bay.
The Potawatomi loved this region for many of the same reasons we do – its natural beauty and the great quality of life it afforded. There were plenty of game, fish, bison, berries, nuts, fruit, and maple syrup to found in the area as well as rich soil for corn, tobacco, and vegetable harvests.
Great Chief Big Foot wept as he gazed out over the lake and took a last farewell glance at his beloved Fontana. The Chief greatly deserves recognition for the pattern of life he set in our community, as a lover of nature, peace, and his fellow man.
Early Settlement – (1836-1874)
If you had arrived early enough, you could have acquired much of Fontana for just $83.25! The U.S. Land Office records show that in 1839, Henry Clark did just that. His purchase included all of the land between present-day Highway 67 and the lakeshore (about 66 acres).
Homesteaders and mill workers soon followed Clark to the area, most arriving from New York or other states along the east coast.
The very first white settlers, however, were Mr. and Mrs. James Van Slyke, in the fall of 1836, who built a log cabin on land located on the west side of what is now Pioneer Park.
Summer Resort Period – (1875-1929)
Starting in the 1870s, the wealthy families of Chicago discovered Lake Geneva and built vast estates on its lovely shores. Following the Great Chicago Fire, which occurred in 1871, these second homes were occupied as full-time residences for many Chicago inhabitants.
Their lavish estates were further developed, boasting large gardens and greenhouses cultivated by master gardeners and requiring a great number of servants. One estate could cut 30,000 roses in a single year!
In 1875, Edward E. Ayer came from Harvard, Illinois to build the first great estate in Fontana. Getting his start cutting trees at his father’s farm at Big Foot Prairie, he became a wealthy lumberman selling railroad ties to the railroads.
In 1941, his luxurious estate was sold to a church group that developed the property further. This land would later become the site for Abbey Springs in the 1970s.
Clubs and Estates – (1923-1957)
Until 1924, Fontana was merely a part of Walworth Township, controlled mainly by the farmers in the area. But that year, Fontana broke free to become a village and gain authority over their own affairs.
The “new” Fontana, designed for year-round living, came to life. With the additions of Big Foot Country Club, The Gardens, Indian Hills, Country Club Estates, and Club Unique – Fontana had arrived!
Even the Great Depression and World War I did not slow up Fontana as much as the rest of the nation. When banks and stocks tumbled, some city families adjusted to it by moving to our Village in order to reduce their cost of living, without sacrificing their standard of living.
Residential Growth – (1957-2008)
After the growth in the ‘20s, there were no new subdivisions until 1957, when Freeman Kemmerer acquired the Cox estate. After he platted it as Brookwood, it was voted into the village.
From this point on, others did the same. Abbey Hill was developed in the early 1970s by the same group that developed Abbey Springs. Timber Ridge was developed in 1981 by Debbie and Jeff Visner, Glenwood Terraces was incorporated in the mid 1990s, and Pheasant Ridge was purchased/developed by Bill Henry in 1999.
Our Village grew from a humble 385 residence taken in the 1930 census to a population eclipsing 1,800 by the year 2000.
Modern Day Fontana – (2008-present)
Today, our quaint Village of Fontana-on-Geneva-Lake is a beautiful and serene destination to enjoy small-town living with all the benefits of a waterfront getaway spot.
Fontana sits on the western lakeshore of Geneva in Walworth County, Wisconsin, and greets both residents and visitors with boutique shopping, hometown eateries, and outdoor recreation experiences galore.
Come pay us a visit, and see first-hand what all the fuss is about!