History of Cedar Point Park

“Keshegekiaketakewun” Native Americans on Cedar Point

 

Cedar Point’s attractive geography forms the eastern enclosure of Williams Bay on Geneva Lake. This geography helped to make Cedar Point an important location for the Potawatomi tribes who lived here for centuries before the arrival of European settlers. In fact, the Potawatomi and their Chief Big Foot had a village site on Cedar Point before they were forced off the land and sent to reservations in 1836. Cedar Point is where they maintained regular camping spots in the level areas of the lakeshore that would become Birch Grove, Oak Grove, and Walnut Grove Parks once the land was developed almost a hundred years later. Details on the exact location of campsites are not precise, but it is known that the Potawatomi spent much time on Cedar Point, though they called it “Keshegekiaketakewun,” meaning “cedar hill” or “cedar ridge.” Of course, the Potawatomi did not stay only at Cedar Point. They spent time almost everywhere in the area, and Chief Big Foot himself and a lodge at near present-day Fontana before he and his tribe were moved away from the good fishing and hunting of the lakeshore to much more difficult terrain of Kansas. After their removal from the Geneva Lake area, some tribe members tried to recapture the lakeside way of life they had by leaving Kansas and heading back to more sparsely populated parts of northern Wisconsin, specifically Forest County. Their appearances on the shores of Geneva Lake were rare and brief. The Potawatomi had lost the joys of Cedar Point and Geneva Lake for good. (1)

    

In the early years of Cedar Point Park, signs of the Potawatomi past were unearthed fairly regularly, arrowheads and pottery shards were not uncommon, along with cracked hearthstones and flint flakes. Even today, a careful eye in a Cedar Point garden might be able to spot some flint or arrowhead that had been overlooked. 

    

Signs of the Native American presence on Cedar Point show up in other places as well. James Phillip, a resident who lived on Circle parkway, reported that there is a dot shown on a plat of Circle Parkway that indicates a spot of spiritual significance to the Potawatomi. Also at least one of the granite boulders found on the higher ridges off the end of Cedar Point had a special spiritual significance to the Potawatomi. Reg Darley, a resident of Cedar Point, has affixed a plaque to a boulder on Sacred Hill with a dedication to this family and to Potawatomi who were here before them:

 

“Where you stand was holy ground to the Potawatomi. The tribe gathered here until 1836 to make offerings to their great spirit. This plaque honors their memory . . .  “

 

(1) Brown, Charles E., and Jenkins, Paul B., History and Indian Remains of Lake Geneva and Lake Como, Walworth County, Wisconsin, Geneva Lake Historical Society (printing place unknown), 1930, p. 34-35, 54-55, 62-64, 102.

(Excerpt from 75 Years on Geneva Lake: A History of Cedar Point Park 1925-2000)

 

Early Settlement and Disaster off Cedar Point

 

There is little information available on the early settlement of Cedar Point. Several CPPA members’ title abstracts indicate that the U.S. Government probably first deeded some of the land on Cedar Point to Julius Wadsworth and Thomas Dyer in 1839. Throughout the next 60 years, the land would be passed through a fairly dizzying number of hands, due to new investment schemes and the vicissitudes of the nations’ economy. In fact, much of land in the area was ceded back to Walworth County or to other creditors at least once during the speculative land booms and busts that characterized the last half of the nineteenth century.

  

Because much of the land around Geneva Lake was recognized early for its beauty, many Chicagoans and others made vacation trips there. Indeed, there seems to have been a brisk seasonal economy developing on the lake  even before the Civil War. The first steamboat on Geneva Lake arrived in 1858, and could carry up to 150 passengers for sightseeing on the lake. The influx of people created a demand for more steamboats during the summer season, and one of those boats became Cedar Point’s greatest recorded tragedy. On Sunday, July 7, 1895, a powerful storm descended on Geneva Lake. A steamboat named Dispatch was caught out in the storm and away from the shelter of a bay. It was overcome by water driven by terrific, probably tornado winds, and went down in water 110 feet deep, straight out from Cedar Point. Not one of the six people on board were rescued. (2)

 

(2) Burke, Jerome T., Black Point, HollyCourt Press, Elgin, Illinois, 1994, p. 222-227. This novel, though fictional, is built around the facts of the day the Dispatch sank.

 

Fairbank Woods

Land Dispute

Geneva Lake Yacht Club

 

Creating Cedar Point Park: 1900-1925

 

By the late 1800’s, the eastern shore of Williams Bay that is now in Cedar Point was held by Chicago Industrialist, Nathanial K. Fairbank (and, later, his estate and inheritors). The Book of Lake Geneva notes that this “eastern shore of Williams Bay, including Cedar Point . . . has remained in its original untouched wooded beauty.” In fact, the book also notes that Mr. Fairbank was very involved in early efforts to stock Geneva Lake so as to improve fishing. The land farther off the shoreline of the bay-the land that was part of the original Cedar Point Park Subdivision- seems (according to title abstracts) to have been passed more frequently, through the hands of families named Beidler, Smyth, Metyard and Johnson. Other than a passing reference in a title transfer to a farm well off the water, all of the land seems to have remained basically unimproved and unsubdivided until 1920. Inspite of this, there was increasing tourism in the Williams Bay area. During the height of the summer season, 3,200 cars would use state highway 50 between Delavan and Geneva Lake. It was only a matter of time before wholesale development of the lakeshore began.

    

By 1922, Emory F. Jaeger and Alfred A. Pederson had acquired the land that would soon be known as the original subdivision of Cedar Point Park. This land contained no shoreline except for the very tip of the Point itself, where Moeller Park is today. This land they designated as a community park on the plat of the original subdivision that was filed on December 12, 1922. Also included on the plat was space for tennis courts on three lots on the original subdivision and the other additions.

    

Each lot was sold to new owners in Cedar Point Park with numerous promises attached to it by the subdividers. One promise included the exclusion of all non-whites or non Christians from Cedar Point (according to later references to this promise in the CPPA minutes). Whether this abhorrent promise was an extension of Jaeger and Pederson’s own attitudes, or a manifestation of the prevailing attitudes and concerns, we do not know. Quite possibly, it was both. The nation as a whole would not confront discrimination in the courts for several decades to come.

    

It is worth noting that non of the original advertisements or handbills for Cedar Point Park have been preserved in the Association’s archives or otherwise turned up durning the research for this book. What little we can lear about how Cedar point was sold by Jaeger and Peterson can only be culled from CPPA minutes recording what promises were not kept. For instance, as will be covered later in this history, good drinking water must have been integral to the set of promises made by the subdivider, but we only know this because of the difficult they had making good on that promise.

    

One positive, well-delivered promise did remain in the records, and was the basis for most of the future decisions made by the residents of Cedar Point. Jaeger and Pederson made commitment to create a Cedar Point Park owners’ association to govern community affairs as soon as a majority of the original lots were sold. That promise, written into the original dees, became the most powerful force in creating and guiding the community of Cedar Point through the remaining three quarters of the twentieth century. The promise to “form a permanent organization of the purchasers of lots” became active as soon as a majority of the lots in the original subdivision and been sold by Jaeger and Pederson. The original subdivision totaled about 65 acres and contained 225 lots as drawn on the original plat. The roads platted then - Cedar Point Drive, Lincoln Parkway, Garfield Parkway, Humboldt Parkway, etc. have retained their original names to the present day. In addition to the original subdivision, Jaeger and Pederson were subdividing and selling the lands that became the first, second and third additions to Cedar Point Park.

    

By1925, a majority of the original subdivision and fist addition had been sold. It was time for Jaeger and Pederson to hand off the responsibility for Cedar Point to the owners themselves.

The Foundation Years: 1925-1929

The first meeting of the Cedar Point Park Association (as it was later called) was held in the Morrison Hotel in Chicago on October 7, 1925. The Association, as intended by Jaeger and Pederson, consisted at the time only of residents from the original and first subdivision. (The first subdivision contains much of the land along the Bay, roughly fo Oak Grove on the north end to just south of Walnut Grove Park, with Cedar Point Drive as the eastern boundary.) Mr. Jaeger explained to the new residents of Cedar Point Park that the subdividers envisioned a non-profit corporation being formed to oversee the activities of Cedar Point Park. A member elected board of trustees would control the corporation as it strove to maintain and improve the community. Upon formation of the corporation, Jaeger and Pederson would hand off responsibility for the roads, parks and piers to the corporation.

    

The residents of Cedar Point Park formed committees to organize the new Cedar Point Park Association. Residents met again later in October 1925, and there was more specific discussion about the form their association should take. Jaeger is paraphrased in the minutes as saying that “one management of the entire area known as Cedar Point Park Subdivisions would be more practical . . .  and would assure the people in the original subdivision more facilities for recreation in parks and at bating beaches.” The democratic feeling at this meeting were strong, and a Mr. Claus Erlandson exhorted the group that Cedar Point Park should:

 

“. . .  be looked upon as a mutual community, one person as good as another, all contributing to the maintaining of the dedicated property, all enjoying the same rights and privileges, there being no difference in the states of the members in the different sub-divisions, all having the same voting power per lot owned, and paying the same dues per lot owned . . . “

 

These sentiments were put into action by a unanimous vote to form the Cedar Point Park Association.

    

Throughout the rest of 1925 and early 1926, the business of formalizing Cedar Point Park Association proceeded. CPPA was incorporated and by-laws were drawn up, and the first park rules were created at the end of April 1926. Many of the rules have remained in nearly their original form to this day, but their colorful 1920’s diction has not survived. For instance, the original rules define the “closing” of the parks as the “cessation of all noise, hilarity, music, singing etc.”

    

The original CPPA by-laws set up the procedures for electing officers and outlined their duties. They also delineated who could be a member of the Association and what members’ responsibilities were. Sadly, the by-laws prohibited people who were not “caucasian” from participating in the Association. (By extension, of course, members of those excluded groups could not own in Cedar Point.) Interestingly, though, the by-laws specifically allowed for the full participation of women and forbade discrimination “by reason of sex.” The by=laws also included penalties (liens, turning off power and water) for not paying Association assessments on time.

CPPA Begins: Assessments, Water, and Taxes

 

The fist CPPA assessment, was $10 for he partial year 1925-1926, and was sent out in February 1926. Other than expenses for parks, roads and labor the only other early expense of note was insurance to protect the Association from liability. (An almost astoundingly cautious $50,000 in liability coverage was purchased just for the caretaker’s truck.) Jaeger and Pederson were still very much on the scene, though, and, in October 1926, they promised to provide better drinking water by digging a well. The Association minutes record dissatisfaction with the pace of the well-digging, and the Association voted to hurry their subdividers along at a meeting in early 1927.

    

The well was dug later in 1927, but problems with the quality of the water persisted. Jaeger and Pederson gave further written promises to provide safe drinking water in 1928. The problems with water and other utilities would continue despite their promises and efforts. The Association would write to Jaeger and Pederson in July 1929, asking this time that Board of Health certify that CPPA water was drinkable. It was the last note about water before the Great Stock Market Crash of 1929, which made all future improvements more difficult.

    

Throughout these early ears before The Crash, though, assessments and expenditures were added to the Association’s coffers each year. Much of the money was spent on improvements to the parks and roads, many of which had drainage issues of one kind or another and required extensive work. These improvements to the parks were under the direction of the Board’s Grounds Committee and the Associations first caretaker, Charles Henne. Another active committee in those early years was the Fire Committee, which sought to protect the lives and property of Cedar Point members.

    

Property taxes were an important issue for the early residents of Cedar Point. A Committee on Taxes was authorized to seek and obtain legal advice on the possibility of secession from the Village of Williams Bay. It was, perhaps, an inauspicious beginning to the relations between the Village and the residents of Cedar Point, but the Association members were very angered by the taxes they paid relative to what they received for them. In fact, Ignatz Schwinn, whose property was outside the edge of Cedar Point, donated $1,000 to help with the fight against property taxes, In the end, Cedar Point did not secede from Williams Bay, Inf act, the committee on taxes was refused services by a Delavan lawyer who suggested they could only find willing counsel in an area farther removed from Williams Bay. Apparently, felling was so strong within Williams Bay against the lowering of property taxes that the lawyer did not want to risk future business by representing the Committee on Taxation. The Committee continued its work, but not great successes were recorded.
    

Second and Third Additions Accepted

 

The Second Addition residents became part of the Cedar Point Park Association in 1927. The Third Addition of Cedar Point Park was officially incorporated into the Association in 1928. Both of these additions took place with little debate. It is reasonable to assume that the lack of debate indicates a general approval of how the CPPA had so far handled its affairs and worked in the interest of members. The demarcation of Cedar Point Park was complete.

 

The Great Depression: 1930-1940

 

The Crash came in October 1929, almost four years exactly after the first organizational meeting for the Association. The tremendous strains that the implosion of the national Great Depression, of course, was not called by the name at the time, or at least no immediately, and the minutes of the Association meetings, in fact, make no specific reference to the economy util the Depression and become deep and long indeed.

    

The signs of the problems showed up soon, though, in the problems that the Association had in collecting assessments. Also, the Association, despite its own financial problems, did not raise the assessment once the depression began. In fact, the assessment was lowered several times during the 1930’s, and would not again go above its 1930 level of $20 annually until 1949. The Association’s first caretaker, Charles Henne, had his salary cut in 1932, and CPPA spending in general contracted during the deflationary Depression.

    

The hard economic times also strained relations between the residents and subdividers of Cedar Point Park. Jaeger and Pederson’s finances must have soured very quickly as people stopped buying lots in their subdivisions. As early as the summer of 1930, they appear to have been unable to pay at least some of their bills. One desperate engineer tried to bill CPPA for work that he had done specifically for Jaeger and Pederson, and Board President William Banner vehemently rejected the bill in a letter: “I therefore must repeatedly disclaim any responsibility for the charges to which you refer.” (Letter from Banner to Degen Engineering, 1/20/1920. CPPA archives.)

  

 Indeed, it must have been a most difficult time for those voluntary members of the CPPA Board of Directors. When many of them signed on, the future of the Association must have seemed very bright, but the hard economic times made their voluntary work on behalf of the members more difficult, more distasteful, and more necessary. At several points during the 1930’s, the CPPA had a current accounts deficit. Like a lot of other people and organizations, CPPA had to choose spending carefully, and sometimes, juggle their bills and assets to keep creditors at bay. By March 1930, 80 residents were delinquent in paying their assessments. By mid-August 1932, the accumulated unpaid assessments had ballooned to $11,570, well above the entire budget of the CPPA for that year.

    

Jaeger and Pederson’s inability to pay assessments on their own unsold lots contributed greatly to the Association’s financial problems. In 1933, the Association entered into the first of several rounds of negotiations with Jaeger and Peterson to try to get some of the money owed to the Association. Jaeger and Pederson tried to argue that they owed no assessment on their own lots because they had never been sold, and tried to use the language of past documents to support tier case even though, before the Depression began, they had to had this view of the matter. Nonetheless, the CPPA and Jaeger an Pederson entered into a “friendly” suit, and a compromise was reached. The compromise itself was a complex affair, but basically it provided for the complete payment of all back assessments on the sale of their lots, as well as the partial payment of back assessments at several points in the future even if they had not sold.

    

By 1934, however, Jaeger and Pederson owed 26% of all unpaid assessments. There does not appear to have been personal acrimony between the subdividers and the residents of their subdivisions, but the CPPA did move to stop Jaeger and Pederson from having votes in the Association for the lots they held because of their unpaid assessments. In 1936, the CPPA and Jaeger and Pederson again entered negotiations because the subdividers had not been making payments to which they agreed in the earlier compromise. In 1938, one of the subdividers’ checks to CPPA bounced, and another repayment compromise had to be negotiated.

    

The Depression era lives of individual residents were difficult, too, of course. One resident’s home burnt down at the start of the Depression, and he was still living in his garage as 1940 approached. Even when employment was still to be found, thrift became a fixture in almost every household. Well-intentioned members sometimes paid their assessments in installments because it was, quite literally, the best they could do.

Caretaker: A Legacy Begins

 

Despite the hard times, the members of CPPA still tried to aintian and improve their community with an eye on the further and hope for better days. Ben Moeller became their ally in building that better future when he was hired as the Association’s caretaker during the depths of the Depression. It was the start o a family legacy of hard, intelligent work that owl carry the CPPA into the twenty-first century.

  

 Ben Moeller was initially hired on a daily basis when Charles Henne was caretaker, in the fall of 1932. Henn appears to have begun to neglect his duties because of other business opportunities he was pursuing, and Ben replaced him as caretaker in January 1933. Ben was responsible for just about everything on Cedar Point, form performing maintenance and clearing snow off the raids to planting bulbs and arresting vandals. He was even deputized so that he could better protect the community.

    

Ben improved the parks and roads as much as his time and the CPPA budget would allow, and the Association rewarded him for his outstanding service by supplying him with a lot  an materials to build a caretaker’s house. Keith Moeller (Ben’s son and subsequent CPPA caretaker) remembers carrying the lumber his father needed to build he house. The depression dictated economy, and economy was used: much of the lumber came fro the deposited Crane family estate.

    

Ben’s wife, Elsie Moeller, was in effect a caretaker too, and she did what was needed to improve Cedar Point. At Ben’s retirement part, she remembered some of her own jobs, including missing concrete, trimming trees and bushes, and delivering messages from the Association phone to individual members. The Moeller family worked long hours to help carry Cedar Point to better times. Once, during the darkest days of the Depression, Ben even offered to let theCPPA defer payment of his salary until things improved. In 1944, when Cedar Point’s needs were less desperate then thy had been, Ben was given permission to work six days per week instead of seven, but storm damage or snow continued to bring him out whenever there was work to be done.

 

Boil All Drinking Water: Utilities on Cedar Point

 

The biggest non-financial problem on Cedar pOint during the 1930’s was the lack of good drinking water. Apparently, it was eventually found, the water system was poorly laid out, and there were places, called stub ends, where water would stagnate. The fungus in the water made it, by all accounts, extraordinarily distasteful to smell as well as to drink. Cedar Point residents were, no doubt, not very happy to receive their assessments in the early 1930’s. Not only were bills unwelcome, but the assessment letters had bold-printed warning such as: “BOIL ALL DRINKING WATER.”

    

The water system was only really functional during the summer months, and required constant attention from Ben Moeller. Much of the CPPA Board’s time was spent reviewing possible solutions to a terrible problem. Becoming part of the city water system seemed the best option (since Jaeger and Pederson clearly did not have the resources to fix the problem), but even though the solution was evident, enacting it took extraordinary efforts. As bad as the delinquent assessments. This again, indicates how few resources were available to fix the problem.

    

Finally, after a water works program was defeated in 1934, another was approved in 1936 to extend the Village water to Cedar Point. Although there were still complaints about the quality of the water, the water problem was essentially solved. Soon, natural gas service was extended to Cedar Point, too. The last major utility improvement - the connection to the city sewer system - would not come for several decades.

 

To be continued . . .

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"Drowned in Geneva" Double click on article to read in separate window. Original article from The Weekly Wisconsin (Milwaukee, Wisconsin) Saturday, July 13, 1895