—By Janet Alexander Davis

 

Janet and cousin Michael at Lake Ivanhoe
Janet and cousin Michael at Lake Ivanhoe

One of the great advantages of growing older is that you live long enough to remember the memorable moments in your life. I have recently been in contact with a person whose Father was a great friend of my Father. They shared a passion for fishing and in my case, my Father tried to pass the sport on to me. It didn’t work. But I loved to go with my Father because that was time we could spend together. My childhood friend, Deanne, recently reminded me of this time in my life by sharing with me a story she wrote about her experience with her Dad and fishing. Lake Ivanhoe in Wisconsin was the name of this favorite fishing hole we all shared.

I always got excited when I saw my Mother preparing for our vacations. There was always the purchase of new shorts and shirts, and maybe a new bathing suit and PF Flyer tennis shoes would make it into the suitcase. Back then you ironed everything. My Mother starched some clothing too, which sometimes scratched my skin a little. Didn’t care, we were going somewhere, usually camping and fishing, visiting state parks, riding horses, watching impressive scenery while riding in the car and cooking delicious meals at the camp site.

A visit to Lake Ivanhoe never came fast enough. As a kid any ride in the car seemed like an endless experience. Once there, we rented a cabin and an outhouse was included; that was a experience I had to get use to. I learned not to look inside of it, just take care of business and move on. During one of my visits to Lake Ivanhoe, I didn’t heed the warning of my Mother to take off my wet bathing suit before the sun came down. I stayed wet and when nightfall came, out came the mosquitoes. I continued to play and when I took off my bathing suit that night I began to itch and scratch my backside. As a result, I had scars on my body for many years to come.

As a child, Lake Ivanhoe was a large lake to me. I don’t remember an end to it. This definitely wasn’t Lake Michigan, but to a child everything looks large. We would head out early in the morning, using a rented boat, and find a good place to lower our anchor. Some of the time, I wore a life jacket, sometimes not realizing how blessed I was; I couldn’t swim and I’m not sure my Father swam either. Usually the night before we started our vacation, we went out searching for night crawlers (worms). Worms seemed to be plentiful back then. Now, I rarely see them in my yard. We would put dirt in an empty coffee can then add the worms as we found them. Once in the boat, we readied our fishing poles and hooks, by attaching a worm. I wasn’t afraid of the worms and learned to apply them to the hook and swing my arm out “casting” my rod toward the water. We settled ourselves and waited. And waited, and waited. . . patience is necessary for fishing. We had a battery equipped radio and sandwiches that always tasted better while fishing. Back then, I’d even eat lettuce sandwiches—white bread, lettuce and salad dressing—tasted so good back then.

After hours on the Lake, we’d catch enough fish for dinner then head back to home base. I’d be exhausted, but not ready to stop being active. If my cousin Michael, eleven months younger than me, was with us we’d never stopped moving.

Many years later, I started thinking about this time in my life and began to question if these fun vacations were much fun for my Mother. I can see her now on the banks of the lake helping to gut the fish, scaling the fish and preparing food for our meals. Mother would slice fresh veggies like cucumber, tomato and onions and make a vinaigrette dressing that, all these years later, makes my mouth water now with the thought of it.

Toward the evening, with noises from wildlife near and far, and a full tummy, we would go to the large non-descript building on the property where there was housing available, a restaurant, and a game and social area, complete with an old fashioned juke box, and then the party would get started. So much fun we shared in the outdoors and camping grounds with other African-American people. Back then people of color, who had money, vacationed in Idlewild, Michigan. This was our Idlewild.

In the past few years my childhood friend and I have talked about our experiences at Lake Ivanhoe. Because we were children and didn’t drive there ourselves, we didn’t know how to drive to the Lake. Last year I met a couple at a party and guess where they lived – Lake Ivanhoe, Wisconsin. This place still exists. From talking with them, I don’t think the buildings of my childhood still exist, but I want to go and visit, to reflect on my past there; when life truly was much more simple and I had no responsibilities and life was really great.

I’d love to hear from any of our readers who may have visited Lake Ivanhoe in the past and would like to share their memorable experiences.

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8 thoughts on “Lake Ivanhoe, Revisited

  1. Thanks, Janet, for sharing these beautiful memories with us! I’ve read your essay many times, eyes closed, while traveling back in time to a similar place my family went when I was a child. It wasn’t Lake Ivanhoe, but close enough. Like your friend Deanne, you took me back. Thank you! And you still have that same beautiful smile.

  2. Janet my parents Honeymooned at Lake Ivanhoe in 1956/ I have no excuses not to visit since i now live in Milwaukee.

  3. Tanya, thanks for writing and sharing your parents history with our Shorefront readers. As a kid, I went were my parents took me to vacation, never realizing until now the history of the lake. I didn’t know Black people were not always welcomed in resort areas of our country. I thank those who tried to develop Lake Ivanhoe as a safe place for people of color to bring their families and friends to relax away from the busy city life they endured each day.

  4. Lake Ivanhoe- In the 1920’s, 3 prominent black men from Chicago set out to establish a resort community for a growing elite black society. Jeremiah Brumfield, Frank Anglin, and Bradford Watson purchased an 83-acre site east of Lake Geneva. The resort’s huge pavilion and dance floor were filled on opening night in 1927 with the songs of music great, Cab Calloway. Streets were named for people and events in black history. Sales of lots exceeded expectations and black Chicagoans flocked to Lake Ivanhoe for weekend entertainment. The 1929 stock market crash and Great Depression of the 30’s hurt the success of the community. Although Lake Ivanhoe’s run as a black- owned resort lasted a short 3 years, its legacy lives on.

  5. I visited Lake Ivanhoe frequently as a kid during the 1970’s. I was unaware of the history that went back to the 20’s until about 15-20 years ago. My dad owned a club/ tavern there called the Blue Flame in the late 1970’s. At that time there were still many blacks in the community. I have many memories of walking along the streets with my dad and brother and stopping at several homes to have conversation. Loved those arcades in Lake Geneva as well.

  6. Many years ago, maybe early ’80’s, some friends and I, on the way home from Lake Geneva visited Lake Ivanhoe and stopped in at the Blue Flame. Nice place and everyone was very friendly. Downstairs offered adult entertainment. I was sorry to hear that it burned down a few years later.

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