Today is the 143rd anniversary of the Chicago Fire. On that fateful day in 1871, much of Chicago burned, as did Peshtigo, Wisconsin, with the greatest loss of life in any American fire, as well as the fellow upper midwestern cities of Holland and Manistee, Michigan, all on the same day! Many wealthy Chicagoans, displaced by the fire, used the recently opened railroad to move their families to new estates along the rocky, un-farmable shores of Lake Geneva (some call it Geneva Lake), while the city was being rebuilt. Many stayed, at least to enjoy the lake as a summer home. Millions, then billions were invested to turn rustic Lake Geneva into what came to be known as “The Newport of the West” for the wealthy and a tourist haven for the multitudes of Chicago and Milwaukee and Rockford. Would the Lake Geneva of 2014 have been better off without the Chicago Fire of 1871? Good question. While much of the shore of the lake is still beautifully wooded, and the deep, spring-fed waters remain fresh, increasing numbers of white McMansions break the natural shoreline, and hundreds of boats, increasingly fast power boats criss-cross the lake. Yet lake area residents are more and more sensitized to what environmental conservation means to the importance of their natural inheritance. The modern concept of “re-wilding,” or restoring natural surroundings and native wildlife is taking a foothold.

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