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Lake Lawn History

Lake Lawn is home to a rich history that began long before Midwestern vacationers discovered its lakeside charms 130 years ago. From Native Americans to Mabie’s Circus and Menagerie, Lake Lawn celebrates and continues to build upon its affluent history. Traces of the past can still be found throughout the resort today.

Lake “Waubashawbess”

Lake “Waubashawbess” or “Swan Lake” was the original name for Delavan Lake, given by the ancient Native Americans who called it home from 600 – 1200 A.D. Excavations throughout the last century have revealed the largest collection of effigy mounds in southern Wisconsin with over 40 mounds still remaining on the property. Further excavations in 1911 led to the discovery of hundreds of Native American artifacts ranging from spearheads to pottery pieces.

The Native American’s occupied this land until Col. Samuel F. Phoenix staked claim near what is now the fourth green on the golf course in 1836.Clowning around at Lake Lawn

Let’s Join the Circus!

Once the new town was established, Edmund Mabie and his brother Jeremiah deemed the Lake Lawn site as the perfect place to board their traveling circus for the winter of 1847.

Nicholas Thorne, one of Delavan’s founders and owner of the property, sold 400 acres to Mabie’s circus, which was the largest in the country. This famous group called Lake Lawn their home for many seasons and left behind gifts of their own, including the invention of Pink Lemonade.

Vacationers Discover Paradise

By 1878 the famous circus had dissolved, leaving the property to be divided up between the Mabie daughters. Anna Mary Phillips, part owner of the property, knew that it was too precious to keep to herself, so she opened a modest guesthouse on the north shore of the lake.

Piano player at dinnerStarting with only 50 boarders, popularity grew and eventually led to the construction of the original hotel in 1883. As travelers flooded to this beautiful area, the hotel expanded, and added new amenities with each passing year.

The continued success of this once modest guesthouse caught the eye of the Commonwealth Edison Company, and in 1923 the property was purchased to use as a vacation retreat for their employees. Under the care of the company, a PGA golf course, ballroom, great room and lounge were all added along with additions to the main hotel building in 1929.

Borg Brings Beauty

During the height of the depression, Lake Lawn changed hands. George W. Borg, credited with developing the clutch on the automobile, purchased the property with the objective to open a resort to the public.

In addition to some aesthetic improvements, Lake Lawn gained national recognition when it became host to the Mutual Broadcasting Network. The network routinely broadcasted live performances from the newly renovated ballroom. Even Lawrence Welk made Lake Lawn a regular stop on his tours.

Reader, Zilisch and Babcock Buy

The resort changed hands again and by 1942 Lake Lawn had become so popular that it was decided to keep the resort open year round. Under the care of partners Reader, Zilisch and Babcock, visitors were now able to enjoy all of the things winter had to offer at Lake Lawn, including Saturday night dances and New Year’s celebrations.

Lake Lawn Continues to GrowDining at Lake Lawn

During the ‘50s and ‘60s Lake Lawn continued to grow and prosper under various owners, but throughout all of the renovations, additions and changes, it remained a family destination providing recreation and relaxation to it’s patrons.

In 2010, Lake Lawn closed only to be reopened in 2011 by a group of local investors. The new owners stepped in and quickly restored the resort to its former glory with more than $4 million in renovations and capital improvements. While Lake Lawn continues to evolve and prosper, we look to the resort’s heritage as something to share with our guests in hopes that we call can commemorate and cherish the rich history the resort is built on.