Background: "The Kane Shadow: Murder is a Circus"

Below is the research that we conducted in our writing of the "The Kane Shadow: Murder is a Circus".  Delavan is chock-full of interesting history and stories.  Scroll through to find out about...

  • Who founded Delavan and why
  • How important the circuses were to Delavan
  • The tragic story of the famous elephants, Romeo and Juliet
  • The Walldogs
  • Some pictures of Delavan and Old Settler's Cemetery.

From the Delavan Wisconsin Historical Society

Delavan sits in the middle of what was at one time an inland sea. During the Ice Age, many glaciers, the last of which was known as the Michigan tongue, covered this area. The Michigan tongue descended down what is now known as Lake Michigan. A large section of this glacier broke off, pushing southwest into the area now known as Walworth County. Geologists have called this section of the glacier “the Delavan lobe”.

The first humans known to inhabit the Delavan area were Native Americans around the era of 1000BC. Later, between 500-1000 AD, Mound Builders lived in what is now the Delavan Lake area. Mound Builders were of the Woodland culture. The effigy mounds they erected along the shores of Delavan Lake numbered well over 200, according to an archeological survey done in the late 1800’s by Beloit College. Many were along the north shore of the lake where Lake Lawn Resort now stands. The Potawotomi Indians also settled around the lake in the late 18th century, although there were only an estimated 240 in the county. Some of their burial mounds are preserved in what is now Assembly Park.

From the mid 17th century through the mid 18th century, this area was known as “New France” and was under the French flag. It came under British rule and a part of the Province of Quebec following the French-Indian War. In accordance with the Treaty of 1783 it was turned over to the United States and a part of the newly established Northwest Territory.

Between the years of 1800 and 1836 the Delavan area was part of the Indiana Territory, followed by the Illinois Territory, finally becoming part of the Wisconsin Territory in 1836. Statehood was granted in 1848.

Delavan’s first white settlers arrived in 1836, finding the area to be dense forests with prairies on both the east and west sides with plenty of game available for hunting.

Lakes and streams surrounded the area. The first known settler in the Delavan area was a man from the Rockford, Illinois area named Allen Perkins. Arriving in the spring of that year, he built a log cabin for his family at the base of the hill along what is now Walworth Ave.

That same summer, two brothers from New York arrived in Chicago with the intention of starting a temperance colony. Samuel and Henry Phoenix were hoping to form a settlement “pledged to temperance, sobriety and religion; and where should a poor, despised colored man chance to set his foot, he might do it in safety” according to the writings in Samuel’s journal. They traveled north of Chicago in search of the most desirable spot to settle. After traveling around this area and finding nothing to their liking, Henry returned to New York and Samuel continued the search. Samuel discovered what is now the Delavan area after spending a night in an abandoned Potawotomi wigwam. He later met Perkins and Perkins two brothers-in-law as they were traveling the same route to Spring Prairie to get provisions. They all returned to Delavan the next day. Samuel Phoenix stayed with the Perkins family until his provisions arrived from Racine.
Phoenix was a successful businessman in New York and staked many claims in the Delavan settlement. It wasn’t long before he and the Perkins family were at odds over the naming of the colony. The Perkins had filed for the settlement to be named “Wilksbarre”, but the postmaster who received the request and was to have forwarded it to Washington for approval was a friend of Phoenix and returned it instead.

Phoenix was joined in Delavan by relatives and they soon outnumbered the Perkins clan. Phoenix then filed the name of Delavan with the Belmont Legislature. Born in 1793, E. C. Delavan, whose surname the city now bears, was a temperance leader in New York State. He never saw the town that carries his name. He died in 1871. Phoenix also filed the name of Walworth County, taking the name from Chancellor Rueben Walworth, past president of the New York Temperance League.

Perkins eventually moved from Delavan and Phoenix then took over his claims. Before long, Phoenix held claims on most of the area. The settlement was touted as a great temperance colony to those in New England and many came west to settle here. Most new settlers were successful farmers, good businessmen and financially secure. The majority of them traveled here via steamers on the Great Lakes and came west from their landing in Racine by wagon. Most stayed with Phoenix until their own cabins were built. He had also established the first general store in town. Land sold for $1.35 an acre and was primarily used for agriculture. Wheat crops were the most predominate and brought a good cash flow to the farmers.

The Baptist church, organized in 1839 was the first church in the newly formed town. From this church grew the first anti-slavery and temperance societies in Wisconsin. The belief in temperance was so strong that it was included in all deeds that no alcohol could be bought or consumed on the premises. This unconstitutional inclusion was outlawed in 1845.

Samuel and Henry Phoenix completed construction of the town’s first gristmill in 1839, at the current Mill Pond site. It could grind 100 barrels of wheat per day and was the main business in Delavan for the remainder of that century. The owners had rights to build a dam and control the water levels and the power used at the mill.

Most of the settlers were from New England and were not tolerant of the Europeans that tried to settle in the area. Many travelers were turned away from the inn, operated by Israel Stowell. Now the oldest building in Delavan, it still stands at the SW corner of Walworth Ave. and Main St.

The Phoenix brothers died within two years of each other. Samuel in 1840 from tuberculosis and Henry in 1842. Both are buried in Old Settler’s Cemetery, located in the 300 block of McDowell Street. About 6 months after Henry’s death, the first town meeting was held at Israel Stowell’s. William Bartlett, a half brother of Samuel and Henry was elected chairman. It is said that he did not possess their leadership qualities.

1845 brought the end of temperance in Delavan. In 1847, Edmund and Jeremiah Mabie, proprietors of the U.S. Olympic Circus – then the largest traveling show in America – chose Delavan for their winter quarters, a year before Wisconsin attained statehood and 24 years before the Ringling Brothers raised their first tents in Baraboo, Wisconsin.
The Mabie brothers chose Delavan due to its ability to support the circus horses and other animals. These animals were the most important assets to the 19th century circus, both for transportation and performance. Delavan’s abundant pastures and pure water provided everything the Mabies required. The Mabie Circus stayed at the present site of Lake Lawn Resort on Delavan Lake, where it created a circus dynasty that survived in Wisconsin for the next 100 years.

As time passed, the circuses grew in strength and numbers; hundreds of clowns and circus performers from over 26 circuses set up their winter quarters in Delavan from 1847 to 1894. The P.T. Barnum Circus, “The Greatest Show On Earth,” was founded in Delavan in 1871.

But, as times changed so too did the circus era in Delavan. It came to an end in 1894 when the E.G. Holland Railroad Circus folded its tents. Except for a handful of local performers, who continued the tradition, the circus vanished from the community. Within a generation, the familiar ring barns and circus landmarks were gone. On May 2, 1966, the U.S. Postal Service selected Delavan to issue the five-cent American Circus Commemorative Postage Stamp. Today, more than 150 members of the old Circus Colony are buried in Spring Grove and St. Andrew’s cemeteries.

The Mabie brothers took over where the Phoenix brothers had left off. They were financially well off and soon owned over 1,000 acres in the township. The purchased the Phoenix brothers gristmill, orchestrated the original plank road that was laid from Racine to Delavan and saw to the completion of the Racine-Mississippi railroad to this point in 1856. Edmund served a term as village president and they were both extremely fundamental in the development of Delavan during the pre-Civil War era.

In the late 1840s, many new immigrants came to Delavan, but were not welcomed by the Baptist element already established here. Many of the new arrivals were Irish and Catholic and settled in the Darien area. In 1856, many more Irish laborers arrived with the construction of the railroad and settled here.

The Wisconsin School for the Deaf was founded on April 19, 1852. It is situated high on a hill, overlooking Delavan, on land donated to the state for it’s sole use by Franklin Phoenix. Phoenix was a friend and neighbor to the Ebenezer Chesebro family whose daughter Ariadna was deaf. Chesebro had employed Wealthy Hawes to teach his daughter in 1850. Hawes himself was hard of hearing and had attended the New York Institute for the Deaf and Dumb. As Delavan’s population grew, so did the increase in the deaf population. By 1852 Hawes successor, John A. Mills was teaching eight area children and the need for state assistance became apparent. The Chesebros, along with some help from friends and neighbors petitioned the state for a school, the land was donated and the school was opened.

In 1861 the first manufacturing plant was built in Delavan. Founded by Trumball D. Thomas, it manufactured windmills and wooden pumps. It employed 35 men. Over the years it grew and evolved and included a foundry and machine shop.

64 Delavanites perished in the Civil War, more than all other wars combined. Following the Civil War, many manufacturers built in Delavan, including the Logan cheese factory, the VanVelzer cigar factory, the Jackson tack factory and the N. W. Hoag grain elevator.

Development at Delavan Lake didn’t begin until the first permanent residence was built by Dr. Fredrick L. VonSuessmilch in 1875 along the north shore. Mamie Mabie opened a small hotel at Lake Lawn three years later. A steamboat launch was built at that location also. The next 20 years saw a building boom of private houses, hotels and resorts. Most of the residents were summer retreats for Chicagoans who came up on the train, which at that time stopped here 6 times a day during the summer months. Livery buses took people from the train station in town to the resorts around the lake.

Many changes came to Delavan in the last decade of the 19th century. Fires devastated the business district in both 1892 and 1893. A new school was built in 1894. Electricity was first brought to town in 1896. Delavan became a city in 1897.

During the early 1900s, Delavan became a recognized art center. The Chicago Art Institute held summer classes here for 15 years. Famous artists that had studios here include William T. Thorne, Adolph and Ada Schulz, Frank Dudley and Frank Phoenix.

The Bradley Knitting Company was established in 1904. The first major manufacturer in town, it employed up to 1,200 people over the next 30 years. Delavan saw a rapid growth in building after Bradley opened. The average new home during that period cost $1,800.

The first paved street in Delavan was Walworth Avenue between Terrace and Fourth streets in 1913. Bricks were laid at a cost of $1.79 per square yard. Sidewalks soon replaced the boards that had previously been used to walk on. In 1915, a 3 block boulevard was built between Fourth and Seventh streets on Walworth Ave. The brick streets still remain, although they were redone in the late 1990s. The boulevards still remain an attractive sight on the main street through town.

During this same time period, Aram Public Library, the Delavan Post Office and streetlights were added to the downtown area. Horse and buggies gave way to automobiles and plumbing went from outdoors to indoors. Dairy farming took over as the leading agricultural income and milk was transported to Chicago by train.
Delavan lost 16 servicemen during World War I. Influenza during that same time claimed the lives of many at home.

Delavan’s strong economy helped to see it through the Great Depression, keeping it a bit less devastating than it was for many areas of the country. The resorts and ballrooms around the lake were instrumental in keeping the economy alive. Slot machines were abundant in the ballrooms and were known to have caused a few gang warfare incidents.

As the Depression wore on, Bradley Knitting Company fell into hard times. A Chicagoan by the name of George W. Borg came in and loaned the business some capital. He also opened a small manufacturing plant that made clocks for automobiles. Borg was also largely responsible for the development of the automobile clutch. Around this same time, William C. Heath developed Sta-Rite Products that manufactured water systems. Heath later designed landing gears for B-17 and B-29 bombers and also developed a high-speed submersible pump that was used in the capture of a German submarine. In 1940, Thomas B. Gibbs started a factory that manufactured timing and electrical devices. During World War II, Borg and Gibbs completed over 30 contracts for the U.S. government. Because of the number of government contracts, Delavan was listed as one of the top ten prime targets for enemy sabotage.

Delavan was immediately affected by the bombing of Pearl Harbor when Walter Boviall, a DHS graduate, went down with the Arizona. Twenty-three Delavan servicemen lost their lives in this war. Government contracts kept Delavan’s economy healthy during this time.

The late 1940’s and early 1950’s brought a building and baby boom to Delavan once again. The Korean War took the lives of three Delavanites. Progress brought a new water tower, which is still in use in Tower Park. Borg Industries and Ajay Industries joined the industrial firms of Delavan. The Mill Pond was dredged during this time and began to be used for swimming in the summer and ice-skating in the winter. It still serves the purpose today. The new Delavan-Darien High School was built and the first senior class to graduate from it was the class of 1958.
The 1960s brought the assassination of President Kennedy, who had stopped in Delavan during his presidential campaign. George Borg, son of George W. Borg was elected to the State Senate. A D-DHS graduate, Gary Burghoff launched his acting career in the role of Radar O’Reilly in the movie “M*A*S*H” followed by the TV Series. The Viet Nam War took the lives of six area servicemen. Local attorney, Ernst John Watts became Walworth County Circuit Judge. Delavan was chosen as the First Day Cover city for the issuance of a five-cent commemorative American Circus postage stamp. The Lange Memorial Arboretum was opened and a large section of the north shore of Lake Comus was donated to the city by Ben Dibble for use as a wildlife and botanical refuge.

The seventies through the nineties brought more growth both in industry and residential aspects. Joining the businesses in Delavan were Swiss Tech and Andes Candies. Highway 15 was expanded to a four lane interstate highway and became I-43, running from Beloit to Milwaukee. Delavan’s first female mayor was elected in 1976. Beth Supernaw had previously served on the common council, representing the second ward. Fires devastated the city during this decade. In 1978-79, The Colonial Hotel, the American Legion and the Ajay South Second Street buildings were all destroyed by fires.
Since then, Delavan has become the home of Waukesha Cherry-Burrell, Stock Lumber, Bergamot Brass and other industrial companies. Ajay closed is doors in the 1990s. Geneva Lakes Kennel Club brought Greyhound racing to the lakes area. Two shopping centers built in the late 1980s on the east side of town added many shopping alternatives to area residents. A few additional have been built along Hwy. 50 since then.


 

 

From http://www.assemblypark.com/

HISTORY OF ASSEMBLY PARK

-☛ 1840's - The Mabies purchased Assembly Park in 1847 & later their heirs sold to the Delavan Lake Assembly Association.

-☛ 1890's - Delavan Lake Assembly Association in 1898. was formed by a group of Delavan business men.

-☛ 1900's - Delavan Lake Assembly Association in 1898. was formed, after the land was purchased from the Mabie heirs.

-☛ 1910's - Assembly Park was noted for its annual Chautauqua type programs featuring nationally known lectures

-☛ 1920's - Assembly Park's first fire house 1920's

-☛ 1930's - 8 cottages burned down, new new park benches, a new concrete boat ramp, new concrete curbs were all added.

-☛ 1940's - The first Arbor Day was held, "My Brother's Place" was opened.

-☛ 1950's - Gail Reece, the caretaker at the park, the Children's Thursday Night Dances started.

-☛ 1960's - Seventy Ladies from Assembly Park, traveled to the Playboy Club, as part of the Arbor Day celebration.

-☛ 1970's - Construction of the Delavan Lake Sanitary District began as well as the construction of Route 15 , now Router 43.

-☛ 1980's - The lake Level was dropped to save the lake. Rob Mohr was hired as Caretaker of the Park.

-☛ 1990's - 100 years anniversary, water system was turned off, new playground equipment and new park benches were installed.

-☛ 2000's - Assembly Park.com was created, the beach Wall was painted.

-☛ 2010's - The new roads were approved and installed.

 
Below is a brief overview of the history of the Park along with links on more details for each period. For additional information please click on the year to the right.
 
Did you know....

- Many years ago when only a few people (not a cell phone but a land line) had a phone the caretaker, at the time, would take phone messages and deliver them to the cottage, day and night.

- On the 4th of July people in the park would purchase fireworks which would be lunched at the end of the beach pier, this was in the day Fireworks were not illegal, in the park, as they are today.

- On the 4th people would bring there lawn chairs and blankets to the park to watch the fireworks, this was also the one weekend which permitted "sleeping out" in the Big Park.

- According to the Articles of Incorporation of the Delavan Assembly, "the business and purpose of the organization shall be to maintain and conduct an annual educational assembly for the dissernination of knowledge and morality by means of lectures, sermons, music and other classes in accordance with the general plan and purpose of the Chautauqua Assembly movement."

Below is some early history of the area and some general historical photos from the Park over the years. Be sure to check out the various events that made up the history of Assembly Park (above).

The first humans known to inhabit the Delavan area were Native Americans around the era of 1000BC. Later, between 500-1000 AD, Mound Builders lived in what is now the Delavan Lake area. Mound Builders were of the Woodland culture. The effigy mounds they erected along the shores of Delavan

In 1978, the Great Lakes Archaeological Research Center determined that early Paleo-Indians occupied this area as early as 5000 B.C. This was followed by Archaic Indians, Woodland Indians and then mound builders.

Members of the Potawatomi tribe had a small encampment in the area for a short time, marked by a plaque that was dedicated July 12, 1925 by the Delavan Women's Club.

A 1909 survey counted six conical mounds, a 20-by-50-foot oval mound and one shaped like a dumbbell.

Three of the conical mounds remain, although they have been partially destroyed.

In the 1800s, the area was part of Samuel and Henry Phoenix's temperance colony.

The Indian mounds, there are at least 159 mounds, were built around Delavan Lake, by the Indians who are referred to today as Effigy Mounds Builders, probably before 1000 A.D. One was excavated and showed a construction in layers, cobblestone, gravel, fine white sand, blue clay, the bodies facing the lake, soil/clay mixture, then a fire apparently on top of baked clay. Archeologists who excavated and documented mounds in the area in 1911 increases the respect of the mounds. Early construction in the Park have destroyed many of the mounds. In 1925, the Delavan Women's Club, placed a marker near the mounds. In 1975 the maker was replaced by the current marker.

Lake numbered well over 200, according to an archeological survey done in the late 1800's by Beloit College. Many were along the north shore of the lake where Lake Lawn Resort now stands. The Potawotomi Indians also settled around the lake in the late 18th century, although there were only an estimated 240 in the county. Some of their burial mounds are preserved in what is now Assembly Park.
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My Brothers Place - "The White Store" - or the little store, for many the first time their parents let them walk to the store and buy something on their very own. Picture above Vi Mulder was the last proprietor of the store.
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A very large version of this sign was used to direct people to what is now known as Assembly Park.
For more than 70 years Delavan Lake area was widely known for its summer resorts and hotels, most of which contained ballrooms or dance pavilions. At one time there were probably more ballrooms per capita on Lake Delavan than any other location in American. No wonder why there is still a Thursday night dance.
A special thanks to Gerri Kernes, Kate Herron and Kathy Griffin for sharing the an article with the history of Assembly Park.
 
1830's
The Town of Delavan History - Between the years of 1800 and 1836 the Delavan area was part of the Indiana Territory, followed by the Illinois Territory, finally becoming part of the Wisconsin Territory in 1836. Statehood was granted in 1848. Delavan's first white settlers arrived in 1836, a man from the Rockford, Illinois area named Allen Perkins. Arriving in the spring of that year, he built a log cabin for his family at the base of the hill along what is now Walworth Ave.

That same summer, two brothers from New York arrived in Chicago with the intention of starting a temperance colony. Samuel and Henry Phoenix were hoping to form a settlement "pledged to temperance, sobriety and religion" according to the writings in Samuel's journal. They traveled north of Chicago in search of the most desirable spot to settle. After traveling around this area and finding nothing to their liking, Henry returned to New York and Samuel (his grandson J.J. Phonix, was the founder of Assembly Park, J.J. Phonix spoke at the second annual Arbor Day celebration, in 1941) continued the search. Samuel discovered what is now the Delavan area (Delavan was named after Edward C. Delavan, temperance leader in Albany, New York. more information) after spending a night in an abandoned Potawotomi wigwam. He later met Perkins and Perkins two brothers-in-law as they were traveling the same route to Spring Prairie to get provisions. They all returned to Delavan the next day. Samuel Phoenix stayed with the Perkins family until his provisions arrived from Racine.

Phoenix was a successful businessman in New York and staked many claims in the Delavan settlement. It wasn't long before he and the Perkins family were at odds over the naming of the colony. The Perkins had filed for the settlement to be named "Wilksbarre", but the postmaster who received the request and was to have forwarded it to Washington for approval was a friend of Phoenix and returned it instead.

Phoenix was joined in Delavan by relatives and they soon outnumbered the Perkins clan. Phoenix then filed the name of Delavan with the Belmont Legislature. Born in 1793, Edward C. Delavan, whose surname the city now bears, was a temperance leader in New York State. Edward C. Delavan, temperance leader in Albany, New York.
He never saw the town that carries his name. He died in 1871. Phoenix also filed the name of Walworth County, taking the name from Chancellor Rueben Walworth, past president of the New York Temperance League.

Perkins eventually moved from Delavan and Phoenix then took over his claims. Before long, Phoenix held claims on most of the area. The settlement was touted as a great temperance colony to those in New England and many came west to settle here. Most new settlers were successful farmers, good businessmen and financially secure. The majority of them traveled here via steamers on the Great Lakes and came west from their landing in Racine by wagon. Most stayed with Phoenix until their own cabins were built. He had also established the first general store in town. Land sold for $1.35 an acre and was primarily used for agriculture. Wheat crops were the most predominate and brought a good cash flow to the farmers.


The Town of Delavan History - Members of the Potawatomi tribe lived along the shores of Lake Delavan when a treaty was signed, in Chicago, on September 26, 1833, ceding these lands to the U.S. Government, following the Blackhawk war.
1840's
1847 - The Town of Delavan History - Between 1847 and 1894, Delavan was home to 26 circus companies. The Mabie Brothers U.S. Olympic Circus, then the largest in America, arrived in 1847, to become the first circus to quarter in the territory of Wisconsin. Its famous rogue elephant, "Romeo", stood 19½ feet high, and weighed 10,500 pounds. The original P.T. Barnum Circus was organized in Delavan in 1871 by William C. Coup and Dan Costello. Over 130 members of Delavan's 19th century circus colony are buried in Spring Grove and St. Andrew cemeteries.

Assembly Park history - prior to 1898 Assembly Park, at time time was called, "Mabiewood" was a densely forested area.


Edmund and Jeremiah Mabie, began wintering in Delavan in 1847 and bought land around the lake, and purchased the Lake Lawn Lodge in 1847, deciding Delavan would be a perfect to board their U.S. Olympic Circus for the winter. This purchased , allowing the Mable circus to be the first to call Wisconsin home. In the same year Edmund and Jeremiah Mabie purchased Assembly Park in 1847 and later their heirs sold the 38 acre tract to the Delavan Lake Assembly Association in 1898. They began wintering in Delavan in 1847 and bought land around the lake.
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Fred and Blache Cevene, Fred is on the far right (above) both were circus acrobats, with P.T. Barnum, who made at least 17 property purchases in Assembly Park.
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Above - Fred and Blache Cevene, built a cottage around 1920 at 1400 Indian Trail, in Assembly Park. Below see where 1400 Indian Trail in the Park.
1890's
By 1895, John Jay Phoenix organized a club of 12 Delavan citizens under the name, The Junto. The name comes for a club established in 1727 by Benjamin Franklin for mutual improvement in Philadelphia. The group met monthly to discuss literature, science and music.

The Delavan Lake Assembly Association in 1898. was formed by a group of Delavan business men, who purchased the land from the Mabie heirs, 38-acre plot to the Delavan Lake Assembly Association for $15,000. There were a total of 300 shares of capital stock issued at $100 a share (see photo of a stock certificate below). The aim of the association was to enable the moral, intellectual and physical welfare of its members. Based on the religious principles the association banned the use of alcohol and dancing on the premises.

On Jan. 25, 1898, they formed a committee to study the feasibility of presenting a Chautauqua-like program. Modeled after activities at the
Chautauqua Institution of western New York, these large, public adult-education programs were highly popular in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

The group organized under the name Delavan Lake Assembly Association and got permission from Mabies' heirs to use Mabiewood for their first Chautauqua in 1898. The officers were William A. Cochrane, president; John Jay Phoenix (grandson of the founder of the Town of Delavan), vice president; Edward F. Williams, treasurer and Grant D. Harrington, secretary.

The first session of the program was held July 25 to Aug. 3, 1898. Season tickets cost $2.50, and meals could be purchased for 25 cents. Transportation was available form Delavan to the Assembly grounds for 10 cents. Campers were encouraged to use the site for summer programs and a large dinning hall (photo below) served on the average of 2,000 meals a day at .40 cents each.
*Chautauqua (pronounced /ʃəˈtɔːkwə/ in the IPA; or, in informal US transcription, "sha- TAW- kwa") is an adult education movement in the United States, highly popular in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Chautauqua assemblies expanded and spread throughout rural America until the mid-1920s. The Chautauqua brought entertainment and culture for the whole community, with speakers, teachers, musicians, entertainers, preachers and specialists of the day. (From Wikipedia)
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Delavan Lake Assembly was one of the more than 160 "daughters Chautauquas" that operated throughout the country around the turn of the century. They stressed that education could be pursed in a relaxed atmosphere and combined with entertainment.

Between 1898 and 1914 Assembly Park was noted for its annual
Chautauqua* type programs featuring nationally known lectures in the fields of literature, science, religion, politics, music and entertainment. Most of the years the programs were held in the Assembly auditorium, opened in 1899, which seated 3,500.

The auditorium (seen below) was constructed for the second Delavan Chautauqua Assembly in 1899 at a cost of $3,500. It attracted up to 3,000 people a day during the two week sessions that began in late July. As more cottages were built , however the large summer crowds were not welcomed by residents. Attendance start to decline as alternative activities gain popularity. The last Chautauqua Assembly was held in 1914. On August 21, 1919, the auditorium burn to the ground, due to the crossing of electrical wires.
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The dates of the first Assembly were July 26, through August 3, 1898. The Delavan Lake Assembly became a legal entity on August 12, 1898. The building above was completed for the 1899 session which featured Jane Addams of Hull House and many other speakers. The 1900 session included William Jennings Bryant. Programs included lectures on religion, politics, science, literature, music, and the arts. Sporting events, especially water sports were organized. Delavan Lake Assembly (1899 to 1919).
 
 
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Delavan Assembly Park Auditorium (above), faced the lake, was described as a round building with wooden benches and a sawdust floor.

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Above is a copy of a stock certificate for share 3 issued by J.J. Phoenix October 18, 1898. The 38 acre parcel of property, know at the time as Mabiewood was purchased for $15,000 from heirs of the Mabie Family. The Assembly Park charter provided for issuance of 300 shares of stock at the par value of $100. Each stock carried a 99 year lease on a lot. 149 certificates were issued in the first year. By 1902 there were only 30 lots available. A ledger book recording the names of owners of each property was updated until 1976. The ledger provides information for ownership history of various cottages. Below is stock from 1974.
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1899 - Dinning Hall - Severed up to 3,000 people, three times a day. The Dinning Hall was remodeled and added to over the years. This building burned downed in 1947 and replaced with a Quonset hut, served as a neighborhood grocery store and gathering place for many years.
1900's
  • By 1901, the Assembly programs were known throughout the Midwest for their outstanding 10-day sessions.
  • Delavan Lake Assembly Association, sold lots by 1903 over 50 cottages had been erected.
  • In 1904, William Jennings Bryant was featured and spoke to a crowd of 4,000. Chautauqua programs were held in the 3,500-seat Assembly auditorium between 1898 and 1914.
  • Two-week sessions were held in late July and early August.
  • After the turn of the century, lots were sold, and by 1903, more than 50 cottages had been built.
  • In 1903, cottage owners objected to plans to build a barn to house the horses of people attending the Chautauquas*. They thought the stench of the manure would be overpowering.
  • Crowding continued to be a problem, and in 1914 the programs were suspended.
  • They began again for a short time, and featured speakers like former President William Howard Taft, who spoke in Aug. 1919 on the League of Nations, according to the Delavan Republican newspaper.
  • In 1909, electricity was arrives in Assembly Park.
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Birdseye view (above) of how the park looked approximately in, 1903, when it was said there were fifty cottages. The auditorium, dining hall and water tower were at the top of the park. There was a path that ran along the shore.
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The Snyder/Bestul family has resided here from the beginning. The above photo was of the house built in 1906 at 1119 N. Gazebo. This house seems to be one in the "Birdseye View" drawing (top photo) drawing from 1903.
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1910's
  • Campers were encouraged to use the site for summer programs and a large dinning hall served on the average of 2,000 meals a day at .40 cents each.
  • Lots were sold by the association and by 1903 over 50 cottages had been erected.
  • By 1913, more cottages were built, including year round homes, drawing large crowds in the summer. In 1914 the annual events were discontinued.
  • Between 1898 and 1914 Assembly Park was noted for its annual Chautauqua type programs featuring nationally known lectures in the fields of literature, science, religion, politics, music and entertainment. Most of the years the programs were held in the Assembly auditorium, opened in 1899, which seated 3,500.
  • The end of the Chautauqua era came Aug. 21, 1919, when crossing of electrical wires started an electrical fire which destroyed the auditorium. The building had been valued at $20,000, but was only insured for $2,000.
The auditorium (below) constructed for the second Delavan Chautauqua Assembly in 1899 at a cost of $3,500, was used for storage until destroyed by fire in 1919.
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To the right is a column from the program of the last Delavan Lake Assembly Chautauqua held in 1914.
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1920's
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Assembly Park's first fire house, photo taken in 1920's.

1930's
1934 - On April 27, 1934 - eight cottages, on South Gazebo Drive, burned down, in the park, left over leaves from the fall allowed the fire to spread.

Mid 1930's - A flurry of improvements occurred, during this period, Park benches with cement ends, were added to the parks and beach. A total of 16 benches were purchased at the cost of $150. These were later replaced in 1998.

1935 - A new flag pole was dedicated.

1935 - The President's report mentioned "the old and unsightly toilet building on block F has been moved to the west side of the park, near the water tank (which has since been removed.) and will be used for storage purposes."

1938 - Hilltop Park, formerly known as "Block B", was to be made into a park.

1935 - The concrete boat ramp was installed in 1935. The ramp affords boat owners easy access to the lake and the storm water drainage for a three hill street. The above photo is a view of Lincoln Avenue from the lake.
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1938 - Motorized boats must have attracted considerable attention when they first appeared on the lake. This one might have been a Thompson with 5 h.p. motor. Paul Shives (Dorothy Radford's uncle) piloted one of the earliest power boat on the lake.
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1930's - Charles Flint installed half of the curbs in the park using the above concrete mixer on a Model T truck. This photo was taken out in front of 1609 Monroe. The Flint Family's connections to Assembly Park spans four generations. The Flint's owned and rented cottages. They constructed curbs, rented boats with motors and without motors, and they even sold worms. They ran a boat livery from about 1933-1932. It is safe to say, if a Chicago paper was available, for delivery to the park, the Flints would have delivered papers as well.
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Charlie Flint - Boats for Rent, both power and not power boats.

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Jim Flint - (above) was caretaker of Assembly Park around 1915. Bob Flint, Jim's grandfather, and his wife Pat, has lived in the park for over 23 years and has served on the Park board.
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1940's
1940 September - The first annual Arbor Day celebration was held and continues to this day!

1941 September - J.J. Phonix, was the founder of Assembly Park, J.J. Phonix spoke at the second annual Arbor Day celebration, in 1941

1942 - Mr. and Mrs. Tuckwoods purchase the cottage owned by Fred and Blache Cevene and acted as a rental agent for cottages around the park for many years. The Zagone family purchased California Cottage and Hollywood apartment from the Tuckwoods estate in 1971.

1947 - Dinning Hall burns down - Built in 1899, Severed up to 3,000 people, three times a day. This building burned downed in 1947 and replaced with a Quonset hut, served as a neighborhood grocery store and gathering place for many years.
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Georgann Inn - Above is letterhead from the Inn, below is the photo of the Inn. Owned and operated by George and Anna Hatch. It ad rooms for rent and a small grocery store. The Inn was destroyed by fire in 1947. The Hatch's also owned a cottage, located at 1201 Evergreen, which George and Anna called Georgann and was sold in 1952.
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Shortly after the Georgann Inn burned down, in 1947, the War World II quonset hut was built (see below). The building named, "My Brother's Place" (Click here to see a video) served as a small grocery store and had a breakfast and lunch counter.
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1950's
1956 - Gail Reece, the caretaker at the park from 1956-1980. Was an appointed police officer and a member of the volunteer fire department. He also picked up garbage through out the park twice a week, at one time using an open truck that was tramped down by foot. Gail was seriously injured while working on a sewer line in 1978. He stayed on as caretaker while the sewer line was installed during the years 1979 to 1980 and then retired to Texas where he lives with his wife Norma.

1950's Early - the concrete retaining wall at the beach was built to protect the bluff and hold the sand.
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Gail Reece

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1950's Early - The Thursday Night Dance - was started.

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July 16, 1964 from the Delavan Enterprise

 

1960's
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1968 - Arbor Day - 70 ladies, from Assembly Park, traveled to the Playboy Club, in Lake Geneva, for a luncheon on September 21, 1968. This was part of the Arbor Day celebration presumably. No report where the men of the Park went.
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A new "refrigerated" drinking fountain installed in the park for those hot summer days and evenings. Donated by John and Gwenn Purcell in memory of their parents.
1970's
1976 - July 4th - Fireworks - someone threw tear gas into the crowd at the city's firework's show.

1976 - Wisconsin 15 (currently named Interstate 43 , name changed in 1988) is completed. Running through Delavan from Milwaukee to Beloit.

1979 - Start of construction of the Delavan Lake Sanitary District collection system around the lake and the WALCOMET wastewater treatment facility
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The Delavan Lake Sanitary District was created in 1969 to operate and maintain a wastewater collection system serving properties adjacent to and surrounding Delavan Lake. Since 1997 the District has been responsible for the Aquatic Plant Management Program for Delavan Lake as well as various lake monitoring projects and studies in cooperation with Wisconsin DNR and USGS. Since 1995 DLSD has assisted the Town of Delavan in the monitoring lake levels and operation of the Delavan Lake (Borg) Dam facilities.

 

1980's
1980 - Gail Reece, the caretaker at the Park from 1956-1980, retires.

1980 - Sewer Project Started in 1979 these photos are from 1980, along Lincoln Avenue in the Park.
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1981 - The construction of DLSD sanitary sewer collection system around the lake was completed.

1989 - Rob Mohr hired as the new caretaker of the Park, and currently is the Park's caretaker.

1989 - The lake Level was dropped to save the lake, in September 1989. When the water was dropped you could walk across the bay from Assembly park to Lake Lawn's golf course.


Here what the Tribune wrote about it...

"DELAVAN, WIS. — It`s not shallow enough to reveal the bones of Juliet the elephant. But six weeks of massive pumping have dropped Lake Delavan`s level 10 feet in one of the broadest water-rehabilitation projects ever undertaken, environmental officials say.

 
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Rob Mohr, Caretaker of the Park

With the water down to a level where it is cost-effective to apply a toxic substance, hundreds of thousands of carp and buffalo fish will be killed next week to restore ecological balance to the 2,072-acre Delavan Lake.

That`s only part of a $5.5 million local, state and federal program to rehabilitate the lake and its surrounding watershed, and to prevent it from returning to its polluted state. About $3.7 million of that is coming from local taxpayers. There are 2,200 cottages on Delavan Lake, roughly half of them owned by Illinois residents."

Here is a link to the complete
Tribune storyThe dropping of the lake level was dropped 10 feet, exposed the concrete cribs used to hold the piers in place. No fishing signs were posted until 1992. This was a joint project of the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resource, the City of Delavan, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), and the Delavan Lake Sanitary District, the lake was chemically treated, killing all the fish. Fish were restocked in 1990 and 1991.

As of November 2007, the lake is
still need of attention. For additional information please see this link to the Delavan Lake Improvement Association.
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1990's
1990 - The first and last issues of the Assembly Bark or the Barker were published on a bi weekly basis. The Assembly Bark, or "the Barker" was a bi weekly newsletter published in 1990. Below are the historic first and last issues of The Barker. The Assembly Bark only had two issues. The Assembly Bark covered recent and upcoming events, weddings, news of the time, APYC updates, movie reviews and much more.

1990-1991 - The Lake was restocked with fish in 1990 and 1991, the lake Level was dropped to save the lake 1989.
 
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1995 June - At the Annual meeting voted to discontinued Park Water system due to the deterioration of the water system. It was determined it would cost each owner more than the cost of a new individual well to make the necessary repairs to the park water system, October 1999 was when the water was turned off.

1997 - The Gazebo near the beach was replaced, with funds raised by the Assembly Park Ladies Auxiliary. "Memory Bricks", inscribed with the names of loved ones, were purchased for $50 each, and placed near the entrances of the gazebo.

1997 - Asphalt paths, both the south and north paths, to the park's beach were completed.1997 - The caretaker's house received a facelift with a new paint job.

1998 - Assembly Park celebrated the Centennial Year

1998 - New playground equipment was completed

1998 - New park benches were installed replacing the benches installed in early 1930's.

1998 - The caretaker's house received a new roof.

1999 October - The park water system was turned off and discontinued.
 
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The Assembly Bark, or "the Barker" was a bi weekly newsletter published back in 1990. Below are the historic first and last issues of The Barker. The Assembly Bark only had two issues.

The Assembly Bark covered recent and upcoming events, weddings, news of the time, APYC updates, movie reviews and much more.
2000's
2001 March - Assembly Park.com was created

2001 OCTOBER - The final annual Tim O’Connor Memorial Golf Outing held on September 29, 2001 was a tremendous success with the most players (many from Assembly Park) and the best weather. Over the 11 years, the total amount raised is over $55,000.00.dollars. Proceeds benefit the University of Chicago Cancer Research Center. Mrs. Dorothy O’Connor and her family thank everyone for their support throughout the years.

2002 - Assembly Hall Remodeled - Photos

2003 - Beach Wall Painted - Photos

2003 - Work started on North Shore Drive to expands a lane in each direction - Photos
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About Romeo and Juliet the Elephants
 
 
 

 

Lake Delavan (Delavan, WI.)

 

 

In Circus history, it's not only the human performers who are remembered. Certain animal acts are also remebered in the fondest of terms. In the case of Indian elephants, Romeo and Juliet, both are remembered, but only one of them is remembered fondly.

Romeo stood 19 1/2 feet tall and weighed 10,500 lbs. He also had a nasty habit of killing his keepers.

By the time he died, in the summer of 1872, Romeo was responsible for the deaths of five people, and at least 25 horses. He also nearly tore apart a theater in Chicago, and terrorized the cites of Delavan & Lake Geneva when he had escaped from his pen, one winter day.

By contrast, Juliet, was a gentle giant. A charming animal, who was loved by her trainers, and people all over the country.

Originally from the area that is now known as Sri-Lanka, Juliet came to America in 1851, to work in P.T. Barnum's Asiatic Caravan.

It was during the 1850's, that Juliet was paired up with Romeo, and the two would perform a musical act. Romeo would turn the crank on a hand organ, while Juliet would dance.

In February of 1864, Juliet died at the Circus' winter camp, along the northern banks of Lake Delavan (where Lake Lawn Resort is today). With the ground frozen solid, it was ordered that Juliet's body be dragged out to the frozen lake, and left. Then once the lake melted, the body would, and did sink to the bottom. It is said, that it was Romeo who was forced to drag Juliet's body across the frozen lake (the Circus would later use this experience as the reason why Romeo turned mean, and to garner sympathy, to prevent him from being exterminated after each of his attacks).

Some say it wasn't Juliet's death that turned Romeo mean, but the death of another elephant, by the name of Canada (whether this was before or after Juliet's death, is unknown by this author).

Canada died when she fell through the floor of a train car as it traveled over a bridge in Iowa.

Before Canada fell, it was Romeo that held onto her for over an hour. When it became apparent that Canada could not be saved, and for fear of losing both elephants, trainers forced Romeo to let go of his hold on Canada. Canada fell. Severly injuring herself, she had to be exterminated.

It is believed by some, that this was the moment Romeo turned bitter, violent, and most of all,
hold a grudge.

Over the next few years, Romeo became impossible to control. His rampages became folly for the newspapers, who reported on every death, and every violent outbreak. At one point getting so bad, that on February 25, 1872, the New York Times told it's readers, that "Romeo has outlived his usefulness."

On June 7th, 1872, Romeo died in Chicago, from an infected foot. Upon death, his body was removed from the Circus grounds, and taken to the public dump, where it was left to rot.

Today, the only reminder that Romeo ever existed, is the statue of him that sits on the corner of
E. Walworth Ave. and N. 2nd St., in Delavan. But if there was an elephant mean enough to return from the great beyond, it's Romeo.


 

 

  • An elephant's trunk has been seen sticking out of the water (in Lake Delavan).
     
  • The sound of an elephant "trumpeting" has been heard coming from the lake.

  •  

     

    To this day, fishermen still pull elephant bones out of Lake Delavan, and maybe for that reason, Juliet sticks her trunk out of the lake to let people know she's still there, and not happy.

     

    As for the trumpeting sound coming from the lake, that also could be Juliet, but some people also feel that it could be Romeo letting people know that he's still around, and not happy.

     

    Elephants never forget.

     

    From the Walworth County Today

    Circuses made Delavan a winter home

    Margaret Plevak | February 21, 2016
    An elephant lumbers along in the 500 block of Walworth Avenue in Delavan in this 1889 photo. More than two dozen circus companies once set up winter quarters around the city, making the appearance of exotic animals commonplace in the mid- to late 1800s. Delavan was attractive because of its central location and plentiful timber, water and land for crops and animal grazing. Delavan Historical Society photo
     
     

    DELAVAN—There was a time in Delavan when it wasn't unusual to see elephants lumbering down Walworth Avenue or drinking from  Lake Comus, or watch zebra grazing in pastures near High and Parish streets.

    Exotic sights were common when more than 20 circuses called Delavan their winter home in the mid-to late 19th century.  

    Historical accounts trace Delavan's earliest circus connections back to brothers Edmund and Jeremiah Mabie, who raised horses on their New York farm. Many of the Mabies' neighbors were circus performers, and in 1840, the brothers jumped on the circus band wagon themselves, creating a tent show.

    In four short years, the Grand Olympic Arena and United States Circus had grown to 27 wagons and 150 horses. By 1847, decades before P.T. Barnum or the Ringling Brothers, the Mabies had the largest traveling circus in America.

    That year, en route to Janesville from a performance in Milwaukee, the Mabies stopped their circus wagons in Delavan to rest and—according to one newspaper account—hunt prairie chickens. Impressed by the area's verdant woods, plentiful streams and prairies, the brothers decided they'd found the perfect spot to house their show during the winter months when they weren't on the road.

    They set up the first permanent winter headquarters in the Midwest, purchasing 400 acres and two barns for a little over $3,000. The land was most of what is now Lake Lawn Resort, adjacent to Assembly Park and Inlet Oaks.  

    “It all started with the Mabies, who were looking in what then was 'the wild west' at that time to try to find someplace that was similar to their New York home in vegetation and water access,” said Patti Marsicano, Delavan Historical Society president and the author of two books on Delavan.

    Delavan had it all: lots of timber for heating fuel and building materials, ample water and enough grazing and farmland to raise crops for their horses and a menagerie of animals, including hungry elephants that could eat 200 pounds of hay a day.

    Delavan also had something else essential for traveling circuses—a great location. It offered easy access to multiple regions and the advantage of getting out at the start of the season ahead of Eastern-based shows, said Peter Shrake, archivist at the Circus World Museum in Baraboo.

    Before railroad became common transportation for circuses, the shows drove their circus wagons from town to town, state to state. The Mabies played Wisconsin, Illinois, Indiana, Michigan and South Dakota, the East Coast, and southern states like Missouri, Arkansas and Texas. For one short season, they even traveled by boat, playing port cities around the Great Lakes.

    Word of Delavan as the Mabies' winter quarters got around, and by 1858, four different shows followed suit. Delavan-based circuses multiplied. The Mabie name was associated with two other circuses here. Some Mabie circus performers and employees left to start their own shows, like the Holland family of riders, acrobats and owners who settled in Delavan. In 1858 they formed the Holland & McMahon Circus, which performed for Union troops during the Civil War and became forerunner of USO entertainment shows.

    Delavan resident and dentist George Morrison was a circus promoter who did dental work on the road with his show. One newspaper account said Morrison “extracted teeth from (a) circus wagon with no anesthesia, but sounds of the band probably drown out any moans.”

    Of the more than 100 circuses that started in Wisconsin, Delavan was home to a reported 28—more than any other city in the state, including Baraboo, which had only nine. Not all of the circuses were as large as the Mabies' show, but most needed a place to spend the winter.  

    “The primary mission of a circus winter quarters was to refurbish the show in the off season,” Shrake said. “A traveling circus encountered considerable wear and tear over the many months on the road. The winter months allowed for the repair of worn out and creation of new wardrobe and equipment—props, wagons, tents. New acts were developed in the off season as well.

    “Concerning animals, generally speaking, usually the horse stock—specifically the horses used to pull the various wagons—were kept at local farms for the winter. The exotic animals and ring-performing horses were usually kept near the winter quarters in heated buildings.”

    A Milwaukee Sentinel article on local circuses noted, “Their winter home resembled a small village with the animal quarters, repair shops, training quarters and other buildings. With the coming of winter the showmen returned to Delavan and always had a large part in the life of the city.”

    Both the Mabies had permanent homes in Delavan, including one on Fourth Street and Walworth Avenue. Other circus performers stayed at local boarding houses or hotels.

    Delavan, settled by two other brothers from New York—Samuel and Henry Phoenix, who intended to start a temperance colony—wasn't initially welcoming of the Mabies and their ilk.

    “Most churches opposed the circus, claiming it was an immoral presentation that took money out of the community,” wrote the late Delavan historian Gordon Yadon in a local newspaper article.

    Delavan was dubbed “The Wickedest City in Wisconsin” because of its circus connections and the rough element that seemed to be a part of circus life.

    “If you went back to the time when circuses traveled by wagons, they were followed by people trying to make money who hung out on the fringe of the circus,” Marsicano said. “Call them unsavory characters, snake oil salesmen, quick-change artists—the circuses drew those types of people.”

    But the Mabies were different. Edmund Mabie joined the Delavan Congregational Church, was active in the community and became a civic leader, instrumental in getting projects like a 60-mile plank road built between Racine and Janesville. The brothers purchased the Delavan Milling Company and a saw mill in Janesville. Like other circus owners they were wealthy men and well-respected for their community involvement.

     At the time Delavan had a population of less than 1,000 but it was growing, and city officials couldn't deny the circuses' impact on the local economy, from feed dealers and blacksmiths to mechanics and wagon makers.

    Circus roustabouts and performers, from acrobats to clowns, became part of the area each winter.

    So did the circus animals, including horses, elephants, camels, lions, leopards, zebra, snakes, even buffalo.

    Albert the elephant, owned by the Holland-Gormley circus, was kept in a round house at 608-610 E. Walworth Ave. Purchased in 1889 from another circus in Philadelphia, Albert was sent by rail to Chicago, then—because there was no direct line to Delavan—to Clinton, where he was met by two circus workers who walked him to Delavan.

    Albert was said to be gentle, although one account said when the circus traveled by railroad, and Albert was housed for the night in the animal car, he kept reaching into the widow of the adjoining car, where the workers slept, using his trunk to pull the blankets off their beds.

    By 1864, the Mabies, then in poor health, sold their circus to Adam Forepaugh for $42,000. The animals and equipment were moved to Chicago a year later.

    E.G. Holland's circus was the last circus organized in Delavan in 1892, and when that show called it quits in 1894, signs of the circus's imprint were disappearing.

    “Within a generation of 1894, the familiar landmarks such as ring barn equipment were all gone,” Yadon wrote in a newspaper article.

    A Milwaukee Sentinel article dated Nov. 13 1921 was already lamenting the fading circus history as it described a circular building on the LeBar farm near Delavan Lake. “The old building was at one time the 'ringhouse' where the riders trained and the acts rehearsed during the winter months…” the story said.

    Some signs of Delavan's circus history are still there: a state historical marker on the west side of Tower Park on East Walworth Avenue, fiberglass statues of a giraffe, elephant and clown in the same park, even two downtown circus murals painted last year by the WallDogs.

    There are also nearly 100 circus performers and owners buried in Spring Grove and St. Andrew's cemeteries. Marsicano said plans are in the works to replace the circus grave markers that were set in  1962.

    Marsicano said few 19th-century Delavan circus photographs exist because residents then time found circuses so commonplace.

    “The circuses were here all the time, and in our society, when you see something all the time, it's no big deal. People were blasé about it.”

    Ironically, circuses also found Delavan a poor place to perform because attendance was generally low.

    After all, local residents were already used to seeing elephants heading down Walworth Avenue.


     

     

    From the Walworth County Sunday...

    Greatest show on Earth is closing, but Delavan circus legacy lives on

    Written by 
       

      Circus workers hoist the big top in 2003 at the former Geneva Lakes Kennel Club when the Carson and Barnes Circus made annual stops in Delavan. While the Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey circus has announced it will close in May, circus heritage always will be ingrained in Wisconsin's history. P. T. Barnum founded his circus in Delavan.

      Circus workers hoist the big top in 2003 at the former Geneva Lakes Kennel Club when the Carson and Barnes Circus made annual stops in Delavan. While the Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey circus has announced it will close in May, circus heritage always will be ingrained in Wisconsin's history. P. T. Barnum founded his circus in Delavan. Terry Mayer/file photo

       

      WALWORTH COUNTY SUNDAY -- The Big Top is coming down.

      Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey, which called itself The Greatest Show on Earth, announced earlier this month it was closing in May, after rallying for years against a difficult economy, changing tastes in entertainment and pressure from animal rights groups.

      When Ringling Brothers made a decision to retire its performing elephants two years ago because of protests, attendance dropped even lower than predicted, according to Feld Entertainment, which owns Ringling Brothers.

      Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey’s final shows on May 21 in Uniondale, New York, have sold out, but online ticket exchanges are offering tickets at prices inflated by as much as 560 percent, with lower level ringside seats at The New Coliseum costing as much as $2,000, according to some websites.

      Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey had a historically long run: 146 combined years for the shows. The fact that circuses like Ringling Brothers have such a history is testament to their success, said Peter Shrake, archivist at Circus World Museum in Baraboo.

      “I think like any successful, long-running show, it comes down to good management, excellent performers and a willingness to be flexible,” Shrake wrote in an email. “A successful show knows its audience and gives that audience what it wants. Clearly for 146 years, the Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Circus was able to do just that.”

      Our circus heritage

      The history of the traveling circus is about as long, and part of its storied past is linked to Wisconsin.

      More than 100 circuses got their start in the state. Nine called Baraboo home, including the one formed by the brothers Ringling, who grew up there.

      The site of their old winter quarters -- where they returned after each performing season to work on new acts and make repairs to wagons and equipment -- is now where the Circus World Museum stands.

      But when it came to a real circus city, Wisconsin residents need look no further than Delavan, which in the 1800s was home to 28 circuses.

      That’s when one of the most famous circus promoters, P.T. Barnum, organized his circus in 1871.

      Barnum’s traveling circus underwent several incarnations until Barnum teamed up with James Bailey to create the Barnum and Bailey Circus.

      Barnum’s circus is memorialized downtown in Tower Park where it is among three statues that commemorate the great traveling shows.

      The statues include a giraffe named Ginny and Romeo the elephant, rearing up on its hind legs to a towering height of 20 feet.

      The real-life Romeo, a 10,500-pound elephant owned by the Mabie Circus, had a reputation as a rogue and was connected to the death of five handlers.

      Standing beneath Romeo is the 6-foot-tall statue of a clown who represents Lou Jacobs, a Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey performer whose famous face was plastered on magazine covers, posters and even a U.S. postage stamp.

      By 1907, Barnum had sold his circus to Baraboo's Ringling Brothers, which ran them separately until finally merging in 1919 and forming the now famous Ringling Bros. and Barnum and Bailey Circus.

      Before Barnum, Delavan’s earliest circus connections date back to brothers Edmund and Jeremiah Mabie, who raised horses on their New York farm. Many of the Mabies’ neighbors were circus performers, and in 1840, the brothers jumped on the circus bandwagon themselves, creating a tent show.

      In four short years, the Grand Olympic Arena and United States Circus had grown to 27 wagons and 150 horses. By 1847, decades before P.T. Barnum or the Ringling Brothers, the Mabies had the largest traveling circus in America.

      That year, en route to Janesville from a performance in Milwaukee, the Mabies stopped their circus wagons in Delavan to rest and -- according to one newspaper account -- hunt prairie chickens. Impressed by the area’s verdant woods, plentiful streams and prairies, the brothers decided they’d found the perfect spot to house their show during the winter months when they weren’t on the road.

      They set up the first permanent winter headquarters in the Midwest, purchasing 400 acres and two barns for about $3,000. The land was most of what is now Lake Lawn Resort, adjacent to Assembly Park and Inlet Oaks.

      Word of Delavan as the Mabies’ winter quarters got around, and by 1858, four different shows followed suit, finding Delavan’s central location and access to grazing land, water and timber a great asset. Delavan-based circuses multiplied.

      Many of those circus owners and performers bought homes, got involved on civic boards and city projects and became neighbors, said Patti Marsicano, president of the Delavan Wisconsin Historical Society and author of two books on Delavan.

      “The circus was part of the community,” Marsicano said. “The Mabie brothers invested financially in the area, purchased a mill.”  

      She said there are few photographs of circus life in Delavan because residents found sights like elephants walking down Walworth Avenue or zebras grazing near Lake Comus so common.

      Circus people made an impact on the area in another way, spending money at grocery stores, hotels, blacksmith shops, wagon makers and feed stores.

      “I think in those early days that was a good revenue source for Delavan,” said Walworth County historian Ginny Hall. “There were a number of former circus people who settled in Delavan and Darien and helped the economy of those communities.”

       By the end of the 19th century, the physical imprint of the circus was disappearing from Delavan, but Hall finds traces of its presence decades later.

      She pointed to Delavan’s Spring Grove Cemetery, where dozens of circus performers and workers are buried with colorful circus markers on their graves.

      “I think it’s a source of pride that Delavan was considered a good spot for winter quarters,” Hall said. “When I came to the county in 1962, I still heard about the houses in Darien and Delavan where circus people had lived. And being that Delavan was the site where the circus stamp was initiated (in 1966) is a signal that the circus was still very important then.

      “Today, all you have to do is go around to the circus mural (painted by the Walldogs in 2015) to see that circus history is still alive.”  

      Shrake sees the circus’s influence in today’s popular big-scale productions.

      “Cirque du Soleil is a contemporary re-imagination of the circus. The Feld family, the owners of the Ringling show, are also producers of Disney on Ice,” Shrake said. “It is hard to imagine that the skills the Feld family developed while operating the circus did not in some way translate into their other entertainment endeavors.  

      “A number of notable movie stars, including Burt Lancaster, got their start in the circus,” he added.

      And even without Ringling, Shrake believes smaller circuses will still continue to perform.

      “The circus has always been a changing and evolving art form,” he said.


       

      From the Wisconsin School for the Deaf website

      In 1839, Ebenezer Chesebro moved his family from New York to the Delavan, Wisconsin area. The Chesebro family had a daughter, Ariadna, who was deaf and had attended the New York Institute for the Deaf and Dumb (NYI). In 1850 the Chesebros hired Wealthy Hawes to teach their daughter and a neighbor boy who was also deaf. Hawes, who lived nearby, was hard of hearing, and a graduate of the New York Institute.

      Ariadna Chesebro is known as The Face That Launched WSD.

      The Chesebros invited John A. Mills, also an NYI graduate, to take Hawe's place in 1851. With the area's increase in population, the school had grown to eight children and the Chesebros decided they could no longer afford to privately finance the education of their daughter and the other students.

      In 1852, with the help of their friends and neighbors, they submitted a petition to the Wisconsin legislature requesting the establishment of a school for the deaf. Franklin K. Phoenix, a neighbor and close friend of the Chesebros, offered to donate to the state all the land necessary for the school. The governor signed the law appropriating funds for a school building, staff, and general operating expenses on April 19, 1852.

      The Wisconsin School for the Deaf has been in continuous operation since its founding, and has operated since 1939 as a bureau of the state Department of Public Instruction. The school is a part of the state system of public education and as such has the same standards as those set forth by the Department of Public Instruction for all schools in Wisconsin. WSD also serves as a resource on deaf education for all Wisconsin school districts.