(submitted by Beth Peters, Delavan Historical Society)
The Early Years:
The property known as Delmar Subdivision is located near South Shore Drive and Bailey Road. It has had many incarnations including an Indian hunting ground, pioneer farm lands, an upscale country club and finally a subdivision with access to Lake Delavan.
The Pottawatomie Indians occupied this area until the early 1800’s. At that time many tribes of the Midwest got caught up in the Black Hawk Wars. It was the Indians against the settlers and the federal troops, including Abraham Lincoln and Jefferson Davis. The Indians were defeated and relocated. Areas such as Delmar were surveyed and then sold off by the government.
Throughout the 1840’s new settlers arrived from the east. They were mostly “Yankees” from New England, attracted no doubt by the availability of cheap, fertile land, with an abundance of clean water and natural resources. The Phoenix brothers had laid claim to a large portion of what would become the Town of Delavan. At this time most land sold, including the Delmar area, sold for between $1.50 and $3.50 an acre.
The Delmar area had various owners over the next 60 years. The land was primarily used for farming until the early 1900’s when the newly arrived wealthy Chicago sportsmen saw a greater potential for this area.
The Country Club Years:
By the early 1900’s Delavan Lake was quickly gentrifying. Large summer homes were being built on the shores of the lake for wealthy Chicago families. The railroads made travel much easier and Delavan Lake was developing a reputation for superb sailing.
The first record of boating on Delavan Lake told of a steamer built by D.A. Olin in 1878. One of the first yacht races was recorded in the Delavan Republican as having occurred on August 14, 1889. In July 1892, a group of young men gathered on the pier of the Mettowee Park Hotel on South Shore Dr. At that time, there were three large sized sail boats on Delavan Lake. The boat owners termed themselves charter members of their race club. There was little formality in their organization, but it marked the beginning of today’s Delavan Lake Yacht Club (DLYC).
For about 11 years, from 1892 to 1903, the DLYC ran its races out of three places. Headquarters were at the Highland Hotel on North Shore, and depending on wind conditions, either the Mettowee Hotel, Highland Hotel or Lake Lawn pier was used to start the races.
By 1904 some members of the yacht club recognized the need for a permanent home. Money was raised under the leadership of Mr. T.A. Davis and a small lot was purchased on the south shore of Lake Delavan (future home of the Delmar Beach).
On May 26, 1904 a contract for the new clubhouse was let to W.B. Gates of Walworth. The club house was designed by Frank Lloyd Wright and built on the lake shore. Facilities would now be available for dances, card parties and the occasional dinner party. The building was considered simple, but adequate for the summer season. It flourished for many years with sailing, social activities and weekend regattas. It quickly became a hub for lake social activity.
Many DLYC members were also members of Chicago area country clubs and began thinking about the creation of a golf course nearer to their lake homes. By1911 the idea had gained support and the Delavan Lake Golf Club was organized. That year, the club purchased 37 ½ acres of land, (of which 17 acres were forested) across from the DLYC, bordering South Shore Dr. and Bailey Rd. (Delmar Subdivision Area).
The official grand opening of the Delavan Lake Golf Club was July 4, 1913. Operated as a private country club, membership initiation fee was $100.00 with annual dues of $35.00. The majority of members in the early years were Chicago residents, with homes on Delavan Lake.
Since many of the Golf Club members also belonged to the Yacht Club, in 1916 it was voted to consolidate the two organizations under one name, “The Delavan Lake Country Club.”
Following the merger, drastic changes took place at both the yacht club and the golf club. The unique Frank Lloyd Wright designed clubhouse was moved from its lakefront location to permit a terraced park extending from South Shore Dr. to the lake.
A much larger country club house was then erected at 2810 South Shore Dr., adjacent to the golf course, to be used jointly by golfers and yachtsmen. At the time, it was considered the most impressive building on the lake, containing among other things, an intimate café, meeting rooms and a dance pavilion.
In addition to the yacht club, the Delavan Lake Country Club also consisted of a nine-hole course during its first decade. In 1922 members voted to purchase the adjacent Buckles farm, of about 70 acres, to add a second set of nine holes. This opened in 1924.
The country club had no local competition during its first 12 years. Then Lake Lawn developed its first nine holes and three years later, Delbrook opened its 18-hole municipal course.
By the time the stock market crashed in 1929, the Delavan Lake Country Club was beginning to experience some financial problems. In addition, many of its members were aging and loosing interest in golf.
In spite of the depression and competition from other golf courses, the officers and directors made a valiant effort to keep the country club afloat. With the nation’s economic depression dragging on, things got progressively worse at the country club and on September 10, 1938, the property was put up at foreclosure sale. J. J. Phoenix assumed ownership of the country club.
The Subdivision Years:
After purchasing the future home of Delmar Subdivision for $14,500 the new owner, J.J. Phoenix, did nothing with the property until March of 1941. At that time he appeared before the Delavan Town board, asking for approval of a “high class subdivision, with restrictions.”
An advertisement circulated in 1945 shows lots for sale in the “Beautiful Delmar Subdivision” beginning at $250. About this time veterans of WWII were beginning to return home and faced a housing shortage of crisis proportions. Delmar Subdivision would seem to offer returning vets affordable housing in a new “high class” community. By the early 1950’s about 200 homes had been built. The homes however, were not necessarily being built on a par with other lake homes in the area. A petition, signed by 52 South Shore Dr. residents was presented to the Delavan Town Board in May of 1948, asking that building operations in the Delmar Subdivision be stopped. Representatives of the petitioners stated that “the buildings being erected on the subdivision are of such nature that the project will depreciate the value of other properties in the area.” The petitioners continued their complaints about “shoddy construction practices.” “Some homes are being built for $1000,” they stated. “And they resemble tar paper shacks!”
Fortunately, after the 1948 complaints, the quality of homes being constructed in Delmar greatly improved. Today Delmar is undergoing a second renaissance, with summer residents reaching retirement age and upgrading former summer cottages to substantial year round homes. Delmar is now the largest subdivision in the Town of Delavan with over 300 owners, consisting of both year round and summer residents. The “high class” subdivision envisioned by J.J. Phoenix almost 70 years ago is becoming a reality.