History - Legends
Legend has it that the Potawatomi Indians, the original tribe of the area, called the lake “Me-shay-way-odeh-ni-bis” or Great Elk Heart Lake. It was so called because of its general shape resembling an elk’s heart.
The Native Americas also believed the water of the lake to have curative powers. If they bathed in them, they would be “rejuvenated and handsome again.” To this very day, because of those tens of thousands of springs that feed the lake, it is still considered to be one of the cleanest lakes in Wisconsin. Statistically, Elkhart Lake is approximately 120 feet at its deepest point; the perimeter of the lake measures approximately 4 miles covering about 292 acres and is the 4th deepest lake in the State of Wisconsin.
Train Travel to Elkhart Lake:
Before the introduction of the railroad, Elkhart Lake was a remote spot and difficult to reach. Visitors came by horse and carriage or on horseback. In the 1860s, the Mississippi Railroad to Glenbeulah was completed. Many people would take the train there and then travel to Elkhart Lake by stagecoach.
In 1872, the Milwaukee and Northern Railroad pushed northward and Elkhart Lake was added to the route. Direct access to Elkhart Lake created an enormous opportunity for development of business and resorts in the community. America enjoyed the prosperity of the “Gilded Age” as fashionable travelers pack steamer trunks and sought respite from the summer dust and heat of the city. City folk from Chicago, St. Louis and Milwaukee were taken with the idea of traveling north by rail for a summer holiday. More than 2,000 visitors weekly poured into this tiny village in pursuit of a place beside the fresh, spring-fed lake. As the population grew and required its own post office, Elkhart Lake was platted in 1875, and by 1894 it was incorporated as a Village.
Elkhart Lake Becomes a Resort Destination:
By the dawn of the 20th century, six resorts had emerged in and around Elkhart Lake offering a quiet, clean, healthy solitude from the hectic bustle of city life. The boom continued well into the 1900s, fueled by the 1909 inauguration of interurban service into the village. Today, Elkhart Lake remains the enchanting retreat for relaxation and rest as it was at the turn of the 20th century.
Peter Sharpe came to Elkhart Lake in 1855 and purchased 80 acres of land. He built Sharpe’s Cottages with accommodations for 50 guests. By1867, son Terret C. Sharpe, built the first hotel named Sharpe’s Hotel. He also built a new billiard room and bowling alley. Over the years, additions were made to the resort including a spacious dining room and dance floor. Today, those cottages are privately owned summer and year-round homes.
Victorian Village Resort’s History
In 1872, William Schwartz erected a hotel named the Rustic House. In 1876, additions including a dining room, sitting rooms, a parlor and a 100-foot pier. In 1879, brother John took over operations of the resort and promptly renamed it the Lake View House. It was located on the north side of the lake and could accommodate 100 guests. This hotel was destroyed by fire in 1890 and rebuilt in 1891. In 1881-1882, William began constructing a new building on top of the hill. According to the Plymouth Sun, “The building will be eight stories with a piazza on every story. There will be water in every one of the 28 sleeping rooms and it will also include a dining room, parlor and kitchen.” In 1890, the building was destroyed by fire, but was rebuilt and completed in February of 1891. In 1896, it was renamed The Schwartz Hotel by its new owner Sigmund Bloomfield. In the 1980s, it was known as Barefoot Bay. Today, this building is known as the Grand Victorian Lady at the Victorian Village Resort. Its current owners, Judy and Ken Salzwedel purchased the resort in May 1999 and completed the amazing renovations that make this lakeside resort so special. The front office is a renovated century-old cottage with a charming screen porch.
C.V. Pettibone of Fond du Lac built a third hotel, Hotel Pettibone, in 1879. He built one cottage after another until he had a group of cottages that would house 250 guests. It was later renamed Pine Point Resort. The Pavilion at Pine Point was a popular gathering spot that hosted orchestras, dances, graduations, picnics and theater groups. It was raised and is now home to Point Elkhart Condominiums
Siebkens Resort History
In 1883, William Schwartz built the three-story Belleview House to accommodate 75 guests. This resort included an opera house and a greenhouse that provided greenery for his two resorts. He also built a boathouse on the lake. In 1916, Herman Siebken purchased the hotel and renamed it Siebkens Resort. It became known for its warm hospitality and good food, including the serving of Spring Chicken, Duck and Geese every Sunday. In June of 1918, boasting reservations from NY, IL, and AK, they offered swimming lessons at the Siebkens pier and picture shows every Sunday, Tuesday and Thursday evenings in the Elm Park Theater. It also became tradition that groups of German singers spending the weekends would serenade the guests. The singing groups provided entertainment for the local residents as well. Over the years their arrival was eagerly anticipated. Usually arriving by train and several coaches, they sometimes formed a parade down Lake Street to the hotel. The tradition of singing groups would continue for over 70 year. Herman’s daughter, Olive (Ollie) returned to the resort to help after Laura (Herman’s widow) died in 1941 and in 1946 she became the sole owner. Her love of antiques turned the entire hotel into a large antique store; guests of Siebkens Resort enjoy her fine taste in antique furnishings today. She ran the resort until 1977, when her daughter, Pam and husband Douglas Lueck purchased the resort and continued its German heritage. Today, Ollie’s Opera House offers antiques for sale in the old theater. Ollie’s granddaughters, Laurie and Lisa, now operate the hotel and continue the legacy.
Osthoff Resort History
In1885, German entrepreneurs Otto and Paulina Osthoff came to the area from Milwaukee. Mrs. Osthoff had suffered a nervous breakdown and a physician recommended that she be sent to this place (Elkhart Lake) to recover. Otto had been the manager of Milwaukee’s Schlitz Park. They purchased a farm here at the foot of S. Lake Street from two brothers, Henry and Daniel Carver who were not fond of the family farm and moved west to prospect for gold. Otto built a large summer resort; Otto Osthoff’s Hotel, which opened in 1886. The hotel could accommodate 120 guests. The parlor and dining room were on the first floor with a broad flight of stairs leading to a large dancing and assembly hall on the second floor. Its large pier was said to be a great improvement to the lakefront. An amusement hall was added the second season and increased the capacity to 150 rooms. A pavilion was later added which provided for additional rooms and dining space. In 1940, they opened The Funspot, a beautiful art deco bar and dining spot with the obligatory gambling devices then present in Elkhart Lake.
In 1955, Osthoff’s was sold to Sulie and Pearl Harand of Chicago. The Harand Camp of the Theater Arts specialized in teaching drama, song interpretation and ballet. Through the years, thousands of children attended the camp, learning how to be at home on and off the stage. Plays were performed at the camp and at the Forrest Tucker Theater at Siebkens. The camp continued operating until July of 1989 when Dairyland Investment Company purchased it to build The Osthoff Resort. The camp was demolished in the spring of 1990. South Lake Street was rerouted to create the beautiful lakefront, beach, pond, gardens and brick-walking path, which are now a part of the resort. The new Osthoff Resort opened in June 1995.
Camp Brosius History
In the late 1880’s William Schwartz built a cottage near the outlet. Food and refreshments were served to the visitors, brought to the resort by Schwartz aboard the steamer, Hope. William Fleck purchased the cottage in 1899 and renamed it Fleck’s Resort. This property is now known as Camp Brosius and is owned by Indiana University. It was purchased in 1921 by the Normal College of the American Gymnastic Union to offer summer physical education courses to its students. Named for George Brosius, long-time Normal College director, the camp continues operations through and beyond the college’s 1941 merger with Indiana University.
The Villa Gottfried Mansion
Undoubtedly influenced by others in the brewing world, Matheus Gottfried, a retired millionaire brewer from Chicago, built the Villa Gottfried mansion and 600-acre estate at a cost of $200,000 in 1890. It was modeled after a castle in Rhine. Anchored in front of the main building were a floating cottage and pavilion. The grounds boasted a game preserve, zoo, conservatory, fishpond, green house, palm house and a well-equipped theater among numerous other extravagances. Performances were given twice a week by some of the best German actors in the country. A track for racehorses, a grandstand and stable, built where the school now stands, were open to everyone. Matheus was probably the most important figure in the progress of Elkhart Lake having donated $15,000 to construct the first electric power plant. He created many jobs and was involved in the community and county. He planned to build a hotel but died at age 79 leaving an estate of approximately $1,400,000 and gave large sums of money to hospitals, old peoples homes, an orphan asylum, home for the friendless and the German Society of Chicago. His widow did not have the interest in building and began to sell off property. Eventually the property was razed and the home’s contents were sold at public auction. Dismantling began in 1946 and soon the grandest estate ever to sit on the shores of Elkhart Lake – disappeared.
The Legends of the Lake (Information taken from Looking Back . . . Recollections and Remembrances by The Centennial Book Committee April, 1994 and A Photographic History of Elkhart Lake (2002) by Peter Laun.