150th Anniversary: 1873-2023
Gage Marine is excited to be celebrating our 150th anniversary this year! Since 1873, we have been living our core values, With a passion for fun, and a commitment to excellence, we serve our customers, colleagues, and our community. We want to honor our community for their support, celebrate our employees for their hard work, and thank our customers for their patronage and loyalty. Please join us for a year of celebration!
In honor of our 150th Anniversary, we are donating $150,000 to local community organizations! We will be awarding fifteen $10,000 community grants to local organizations who are making a difference and improving the lives of those who live within Walworth County. We ask that non-profit and civic organizations complete our grant application by March 31, 2023 for a chance to be awarded $10,000.
1870: Lake Geneva became a vacation destination for Chicago’s wealthy in the early 1870s. It was a way to get away from the city and enjoy life on a large lake with crystal clear water. Visitors from the crowded city enjoyed hunting, fishing, swimming, and simply breathing in the fresh country air.
1871: Two events changed the course of history for both Chicago and Lake Geneva. The first was the extension of the Chicago and Northwestern Railroad on July 6, allowing travelers to make the journey from the city to the lake in less than a day. The most significant event was the Great Chicago Fire on October 8th, which took two days to extinguish. Many people hopped on a train to get out of the city, with some coming to Lake Geneva to find a safe haven. Many of those people had lost their homes in the fire and stayed in Lake Geneva through the winter waiting for their homes to be rebuilt. After staying for that length of time, a number of them decided to make the lake a regular vacation spot, leading to more large estates being constructed along the lakeshore.
1873: By 1873, the need for transportation on the lake had outgrown the small privately-owned excursion yachts to get people to their homes, deliver mail and food, and get visitors to hunting and fishing lodges, camping areas, and smaller municipalities on the lake. That year, Ed Quigley launched the original Lady of the Lake. This ushered in the commercial excursion business on Lake Geneva, transporting people and supplies around the lake.
1875: Two years later, the largest boat launched on the lake had its maiden voyage. The Lucious Newberry was the most opulent steamer on the lake, able to carry over 700 passengers.
1879: John A. Wilson purchased both large steamers, forming The Anchor Line, which was the predecessor to Lake Geneva Cruise Line.
1880s: It was during this time that many of the wealthy homeowners commissioned personal lake steamers to be built as a means of transportation from their homes to points around the lake. These early lake yachts had many variations but were built in the general style of our two remaining vessels from that era, the Polaris and Steam Yacht Louise. Although we lost nearly all of these luxurious boats throughout the decades due to disrepair, fires, or other catastrophes, we are lucky to have these two jewels in our fleet. Early lake yachts were used for pleasure cruising but also for day-to-day errands, including transporting needed supplies from the city of Lake Geneva, picking up their owners from the train depot at Williams Bay, and retrieving mail from the local post office.
1898: The Polaris was built in 1898 for Otto Young, originally named Olivette in honor of his wife. The Youngs were the original owners of the Younglands, today known as Stone Manor. The Louise was constructed for John Mitchell and his wife Louise. The Mitchells were longtime residents on what is today known as Maytag Point.
1910: A road that led all the way around Lake Geneva was constructed.
1916: George Goodman, the owner of a small boat livery, won the government contract to deliver mail to the lakeshore residents, starting the tradition that survives today. The following year, the Wisconsin Transportation Company was formed, buying out George Goodman and acquiring the contract for mail delivery. They used the original Walworth boat to make the daily trip until it was retired in 1965. The current Walworth was launched that same year to replace its predecessor.
In that same year, the company purchased property in Williams Bay as a service and winter storage facility for their fleet of boats. It didn’t take long for boat owners to start bringing their boats to our facility for their service needs.
1958: Russell Gage purchased the excursion fleet, including the first Walworth, Polaris, and Steam Yacht Louise, as well as other yachts from the same era. He gave new life to the fleet by painting the boats vibrant colors and naming the vessels after local communities. Perhaps his greatest contribution was to begin rebuilding the large vessels that began the commercial excursion industry on Lake Geneva. The Gage family also kicked the marina facility into high gear.
1960: Gage Marine began selling Boston Whalers, largely because of the safety and unsinkable status that makes them world-famous today. We introduced the first indoor storage facility to the area in the 1960’s and, in the seventies, we brought the only travel lift onto the lake.
1961 to 1969: The Gage-Hacker was designed and produced.
1963: The new Lady of the Lake was constructed and launched, bringing back the feel of the turn-of-the-century steamers, although powered by twin diesel engines. It has been our iconic boat serving over a million passengers throughout her life.
Late 1970s: The Louise went through a complete repowering of the boat by stepping back in time and once again becoming a true steam yacht. Bill Gage Sr. oversaw the installation of a 1926 steam engine, which allows passengers to go back in time and get the true feel of gliding along, just like the wealthy landowners did during the turn of the 20th Century.
1972: Following the construction of the second Walworth in 1965, Russell Gage brought a different style of lake steamer to life with the Belle of the Lake. Instead of the iconic side or rear paddlewheels, it has a sleek look with a pointed bow and rounded stern. Today she is known as the Grand Belle.
1974: The Lorelei joined the cruise line fleet about twenty years after being constructed in Holland in 1954 and was part of their contribution to the 1965 World’s Fair in New York City.
1999: We added a piece of naval history to our fleet in 1999, when the Geneva was launched on the lake. She was originally a tender for the aircraft carrier USS Saratoga that spent much of her commissioned life in the Mediterranean Sea, as well as a tour in the Vietnam War. Her purpose was to transport cargo and troops, up to 150, when they were anchored in a harbor.
2004: Gage Marine helped bring boat manufacturer Chris-Craft back to life.
2006: The final addition to the cruise line came in 2006. Built in 1980 and known at that time as the Algonquin Princess, she was used on the Fox River for dinner cruises. Bill Gage Jr. acquired her in 2005. We totally refurbished the vessel, and she was relaunched as the Duchess in 2006.
2012: Bill Gage, third generation steward of Gage Marine, realized that adding a neighborhood-friendly restaurant to the Williams Bay campus would enhance the many lake centric services the 140-year-old company provides. This was the birth of PIER 290, Lake Geneva’s only on-water restaurant.
The Gage Marine property went through a three-year complete overhaul. The restaurant was designed to give a warm, comfortable lake feel with an abundance of windows and mirrors to capture lake views from nearly every vantage point in the dining room. Thoughtful details for the décor include the re-purposing of many antique nautical pieces, various doors, boards, bricks, fixtures and other recovered items from all over the Lake Geneva area. PIER 290 became not only an enhancement to the Lake but a true testament to generations of Lake Life on and around Lake Geneva.
2018: Santa Cruise was founded. It has gone on to raise over $500,000 for local charities.
2020: Lake Life Catering was founded.
2021: Gage Marine built a new storage building at the Highway 50, Delavan location. It is the largest of its kind in Wisconsin.
2023/Present Day: Our staff has grown throughout the decades from a small group to a large family. We have second and third-generation members of the company, including some staff as well as the owner. Despite the changes in our home city, our fleet of boats, and our schedule of tours, throughout our long history two things have remained constant; the crystal blue waters of Lake Geneva and the exceptional service from our outstanding staff.