Lake Ivanhoe to be recognized as Wisconsin's only Black-founded town
LAKE IVANHOE, Wis. (CBS 58) -- Peter Baker could be considered the human encyclopedia of Lake Ivanhoe. A resident since 1966, Baker figures centrally in a new effort to preserves the town's unique origins for posterity.
"I'm hoping this story will one day be in the history books," said Baker.
Lake Ivanhoe is located in the Town of Bloomfield in Walworth County. The most recent census data counts a population of about 400 people. At nine years old, Peter fell in love with the great outdoors that Lake Ivanhoe has to offer and has been here ever since.
To truly understand Peter's passion for Lake Ivanhoe you have to go back in time, long before his family settled in the area.
"It goes back to 1926 when it was founded," said Baker. Lake Ivanhoe is a rich part of Black history in Wisconsin. The community was the vision of three black men from Chicago in the 1920's. They were Jeremiah Brumfield, Frank Anglin and Bradford Watson.
"These guys were prominent Chicagoans. It was a lawyer, a politician, and a businessman," said Katie Green, who has family ties to Lake Geneva.
Katie Green became interested in sharing the story of Lake Ivanhoe after learning how close it was to Lake Geneva. Green is working with Baker to spread the word about the historical significance of Lake Ivanhoe.
"Reading about it, it’s a remarkable story of these men coming up here and saying we're going to create a place that’s open to everyone," said Green.
Brumfield, Anglin, and Watson were seeking a safe place away from racial tension in America's 1920's. It was the times of segregation and sundown towns, when Black people were not welcome in some places after dark.
"The three gentlemen who decided to do this were having a hard time going anywhere and enjoying the ability to fish," said Baker.
Looking for a place where they could vacation with their families without worry the three men decided to create their own community.
"They searched out the property, they bought the property, they set up the street signs and the streets, and had someone draw up the architecture," said Baker.
With the help of investors Black and white, they purchased 80 acres of farmland on Ryan Lake in Walworth County.
The lake would later be named Ivanhoe and the community was built as a resort town with streets named after famous African Americans. Quickly, Lake Ivanhoe became a vacation destination many viewed as a getaway from Chicago.
"At that time there was a lot of racial strife going on in Chicago," said Baker.
At its inception, it thrived as an entertainment destination. "1926 to 1929 was like the hay day when it was a resort area. They had Cab Calloway play for their opening reception. It was a high-end resort," said Green.
"The [Great Depression] came in 1929 and put an end to it," said Baker. By the 1970's, Lake Ivanhoe lost its resort town status but still remained an important community.
Now, Baker is working to spread the word about Lake Ivanhoe's history and to ensure the community is given the recognition it deserves on the state level.
"I was one of the people that sought out and really notified everyone and sought out a historical marker," said Baker.
And it's finally happening. Wisconsin's Historical Society has approved Lake Ivanhoe to receive one of nearly 40 historical markers that will be placed around the state over the next three years. The Historical Society says this effort is part of a larger project to support historically marginalized communities and elevate their history.
"This story needs to be told," said Green. She created social media pages to help get the word out and preserve the history of Lake Ivanhoe.
"This is a community that's basically in my backyard that I never knew about and now my life has been so much more enriched since meeting Peter and learning the story and being able to share it with others," said Green.
The historical marker is expected to be placed before the end of the year.
"I am really, really excited right now. I'm just sorry that the majority of people have passed away that were involved with this community and were the support and encouragement and role models for me that are now gone. I wish they could all be here to see it," said Baker.