Previous to 1836, the site that was to become the Village of Williams Bay, was
occupied by the Potawatomi Indians. It was one of the favorite camps of Chief
Bigfoot. At the close of the Black Hawk war in 1832, the government set about
extinguishing the Indian title to the land they occupied. That the Indians had
been here for a long time is evidenced by the large number of arrowheads and
spearheads found by the thousands by the residents. It is recorded that no white
man visited this region prior to 1830.
Williams Bay is named for its founder, Captain Israel Williams of Connecticut, a
soldier of the War of 1812, who joined the great westward pioneer movement of
the 1830's in seeking a home for himself and his family. In the fall of 1835, he
came west by way of the Great Lakes and the Village of Chicago, where he
pushed northwestward into the almost unknown territory of what is now southern
Wisconsin. Reaching the southern shore of Lake Geneva he built a tiny log
cabin in the woods, where he spent the winter. Noting the superior desirability of
the land along the opposite bay, he moved there in the spring, built a cabin
among the Indian lodges along the western shore, and returned to Connecticut
for his wife and family of seven boys. Israel Williams became one of the first
justices in the County. His son Festus became the first director of the school
board when it was established in 1899.
In the 1860's, prosperous and wealthy citizens of Chicago began to make their
homes on the shores of the beautiful lake. Private yachts began to appear.
Back in 1873 the "Lady of the Lake" plied the lake to the delight of the visitors,
often carrying from 200 to 300 passengers. In 1889 the LADY was damaged
and a year later was demantled. In 1963, a new "Lady of the Lake" was
launched. This replica of a Mississippi paddle-wheeled river boat can be seen
daily throughout the summer as she travels the lake.
The most striking landmark that one notices approaching Williams Bay, either
by land or from the air, is the big dome of Yerkes Observatory. Started in 1895,
this institution of the University of Chicago is known worldwide as a center of
astronomical research. It houses the world's largest refracting telescope (40"
In many ways, Williams Bay is different from the ordinary run of communities in
this section of the country. Owing to its location- along one of the finest lakes in
the US- it is an attractive summer resort. Because of the presence of its
scientific research center at Yerkes, its diversified population, and the activity of
its numerous civic-minded groups, this Village has rapidly grown into an
interesting , thriving community. In the summer, the population more than
doubles with all the camps, motels and summer homes filling up. In winter, the
Village is more dormant, however more and more people are coming out to
enjoy winter sports which are plentiful in the area. All in all, Williams Bay has
proudly taken its place in Walworth County as a very nice place to live and visit.
|The History of the Village of Williams Bay
Harbor View Motel/Cabins