Beach Street Bridge and Beach C.1930

 The History of Lake Delavan Highlands       
by Donald Jankovich

  Located in Wisconsin southern border with Illinois, a number of lakes formed during the last glacial period.  Among these is a 1,906-acre jewel called Delavan Lake.  Several subdivisions surround the lake.  If you drive to the intersection of County O and South Shore Drive, you will find Lake Delavan Highlands.

  The original deed to the land now incorporated as Lake Delavan Highlands Association was issue on January 1, 1848.  Labeled at that time, the southwest corner of Section Thirty – One, in Walworth County.  The United States deeded the property of John H. Topping, a 42-year-old farmer.  The next and somewhat peculiar transaction occurred for the acreage on March 16, 1872.  A Quitclaim Deed amounting to $1.00 arose between John H. Topping and Christian Dross.  At the time of the signing and six months later, when it was sold again, Christian Dross was declared” a certified lunatic” living in the Walworth County Poor House and Asylum.  Section 31, sold to William Morgan for $600.00, stayed in the family for over twenty years.  Section 31 remained farmland and had numerous owners until December 22, 1924, when Kate Thorpe sold the land to Neal T. Kelly, the eventual creator of what became Lake Delavan Highlands Association.

  A surveyor’s
certificate signed by H. H. Bremer submitted in January 15, 1925.  It stated that the S.1/2 of the S.E. ¼ of Section 31 consuming 80 acres subdivided and sectioned into 389 lots.  The lots would be 50X150 feet and sell for $350.00 and up.  An article in the Delavan paper further confirmed the plans of Mr. Kelly.  The article stated, “Plans are being made for the beautification of this subdivision.  The lake channel will have a gravel driveway on each side.  In digging this waterway, the dredgers struck seven springs.  A concrete base will built across the stream and fourteen-graveled street will be constructed.  The entire lake frontage will be given over to a park.  No building costing less than $1000.00 will be permitted on the subdivision.”

  The construction of the Highlands proved to be a difficult task.  A revealing article in the Delavan paper was entitled. “Frost delays $20,000.00 Canal.”  After completing two-thirds of the canal the ground froze.  At that point Fred J Roberts, the Burlington contractor, used $25.00 worth of dynamite a day to excavate.  On a good day, Roberts excavated 100 feet. 

  The article went on to say, “people who have not been out to the subdivision scarcely realize the immensity of this project.  The channel is nearly a half mile in length.  It is thirty-five feet wide at the  bottom and forty feet in width at the top. It is being dug six feet below the lake level which will give six feet of water in the channel at all times.  At the west end of the channel is a large lagoon 150’ in diameter.  When completed the largest boats on the lake will be able to come up the channel and turn around in the lagoon.”

  After the digging the channel, gravel was set in place, two major bridges had to be built to connect the upper and lower sections of the subdivision.  One was set on Beach Avenue, the other on Central Blvd.  The original bridges built in 1926 were very picturesque; constructed of large beams painted white.  Although they appeared indestructible, they were replaced by less attractive steel railed bridges in the sixties.  In 2010, the bridges again need massive repairs.  This time the homeowners voted on a more pastoral look.  The current bridges are made of huge rustic beams that fit perfectly with the charming beach and scenic lake. 

  An immense asset to the homeowners is the unique channel that splits the subdivision in two parts.  Piers have always lined both the sides of the waterway.  This was a convenient way for lot owners to dock their boats.  During the lake draw down in the 1980’s, the channel water level vanished.  This was a perfect time to refurbish the channel.  A massive project took place dredging and shoring up the sides of the channel.  The final touch came about when individual pipes secured near the channel banks afford the owners a uniform way to construct the maximum amount of piers possible.  Today, a visitor can stand on the rustic Beach Avenue Bridge and look down a stunning channel to see unvarying piers attached to well-maintained shoring.  To cap it off, in 2013, the entire expanse of the channel and other common areas received a facelift with professional landscaping including trees and ground firming plants. 

  If it came down to a vote, the number one blessing to the homeowners has to be our delightful beach.  Though the years, the subdivision’s main focus has been on the beach area.  Many trees were removed to develop a sport/recreation area that supports a baseball field, basketball court, large covered pavilion, picnic tables, benches, children’s apparatus, such as swings, slides and climbing equipment.

  Of course, the elected members of the Highlands Board of Directors have proven to be extremely motivated and well capable in handling all the challenges that come with the endless jobs required to maintain the high standards.  To aid them, there is always a small army of dedicated volunteers who take particular pride in their small community.  These are members of the Beautification Foundation who through fund raising events have donated lamps, benches, rafts, bulletin board, plants, picnic tables, basketball backboard. 

  The Fourth of July is an especially busy time at the “Old Fashioned Fun Fair”.  There is always a large turnout to participate in great food, music, games, and the most popular the Patriotic Golf Cart Parade.  This is a Board of Director’s sponsored activity and all proceeds earmarked for beach improvements.  Other special events at our Joe Russo Beach Pavilion sponsored by the Beautification Foundation include Pig Roast, Chili Cook-off, Cinco de Mayo, Oktoberfest, bonfires and some Athletic events shown on our big screen television. 

  The latest addition to the beach is a huge brick patio that is used form bonfires and dancing.  In the spring of 2015, commemorative bricks will be added to the patio; the special engravings will continue to tell the history of the Lake Delavan Highlands Association.

  The members of the Lake Delavan Highlands Association take full advantage of the assets around them.  A professional web site is available that informs individuals of all the events that occur throughout the year, minutes from Board of Director’s meetings, history, infrastructure information, contact lists and much more.

  All members are invited to attend our special events, this is a perfect opportunity to meet your neighbors, bring your family to share a meal, music and good times.  The children especially enjoy these events, the day after the beach is filled with kids who meet at these events.  What a fun-filled way to unite our community. 

More - Lake Delavan and the Highlands History

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 atLake 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 in Delavan 6 times a day during the summer months. Livery buses took people from the train station in town
 to the resorts around the lake.


By the 1880s, Delavan had become a popular tourist destination and dozens of resorts were built to accommodate visitors. Ultimately, steamers and excursion boats with daily schedules were added to the lake for sightseeing and
 ease of movement between resorts. This additional influx of people needed entertainment, giving birth to Delavan’s ballroom era, which lasted until 1960.

Ash Street and South Shore Drive (Facing Channel), notice the trellis at the end of the street.  Millie Capp Wolfgram house on the right side of the street, the house still stands to this day.

Millie Capp Wolfgram was 6 years old in the early 1930's when her father built a home on the corner of South Shore Drive and Ash Street.  Millie said it took hours to get to Delavan in the days when the Highlands started to be developed.  Some of the early homes still standing are located on the corner of North Channel Drive and Cherry Street, South Channel Drive and Beach.  In the late 1930's Mr. Capp purchased property on Beach Street, where Millie and her family lived for years.  Some of us can still remember Mr. Capp sitting on his pier fishing during those long summer days.  The Capps suffer a tragedy during thier years in the Beach Street home, their son, capized a boat with 2 women aboard, he managed to help the women to the boat but lost his life.  

The Beach Street Bridge.  This house, built by the Capp family, sits on the northwest corner.

Mr. Capp rowing down the channel (c.1931).

Mary Stermer and her husband opened the Capitol Ballroom on the corner of South Shore Drive and County O.  This was a popular place during the late 1930's, during and after the war.  The Strummers built two homes in the Highlands, both on Beach Street.  Unfortunately, the Capitol Ballroom burned in the 1950's but the Strummers and her family stayed in the Highlands until her death in the 1970's,

Joe Russo, 4228 Spruce Street, said there was an ad in his Rockford paper for lots in Delavan at $99.00 each. He and his buddy knew the area because they had been coming to the Lake Lawn Ballroom and the Dutch Mill Dance Hall. Joe bought 2 lots on different streets, and in 1950, built his summer home on Spruce.  At the time, the beach property had 100 trees and brush as high as your head. Roads were 8 feet wide and made of gravel. Assessments were $5.00 a year for a lot, and $10.00 for a house on the lot. The kitchen building at the beach was erected in 1963, using money earned from the fun fair, and in 1974, the pavilion was built. Joe says the Highlands was organized in 1925 by Neil Kelly and Francis Geiss.3 




[1] City of Delavan website

[2] Delavan By Patricia Ruth-Marsicano 3Joe Russo,  July 2009



The association owns the beach, park, pavilion, bridges at Beach Street and Central Avenue, both North and South Channel roads, all roads north of the channel excluding Poplar and Spruce, and a strip of land located to the North of the sub-division. In addition, we own the posts used to mount the piers and the channel banks. The culverts and storm sewers located along LDHA roads and on the channel banks are owned and maintained by the association.