Wisconsin’s first Black-owned resort property receives historic marker

After World War I, an area around Lake Ivanhoe was built as a resort by wealthy Black Chicagoans wanting a place to vacation.

Wisconsin is home to many lakes, but none share the same history as Lake Ivanhoe. The rich past of the state’s first Black-owned resort property is now being acknowledged thanks to those fighting for years for a historical marker from the Wisconsin Historical Society.

According to the Wisconsin State Journal, wealthy Black Chicagoans founded Lake Ivanhoe in 1926. Most of the 30 properties in the community back then belonged to African Americans yearning for lakeside living close to their residences in the Chicago region.

In 1972, Samuel L. Gonzales, a student at UW-Whitewater, maintained in his thesis that the region around the lake was built following World War I as a resort for Blacks looking for places to vacation with their families and avoid racial hostility.

Peter Baker, Lake Ivanhoe resident
Peter Baker advocated for years for a historical marker honoring Lake Ivanhoe; the longtime resident finally got his wish. (Photo: Screenshot/YouTube.com/Milwaukee Journal Sentinel)

Peter Baker, a retired machinist, originally came to the area in 1965 with his best friend’s father. He claimed he had no idea such properties existed before arriving as a 10-year-old African American youngster from Chicago’s South Side.

“I went home (back to Chicago), told my parents about the community, and the next week they came up and bought a home,” said Baker, according to the State Journal. “I’m just glad things went the way they went.”

Baker built and sold homes in Lake Ivanhoe after finishing high school, including his current residence on Crispus Attucks Drive, a house he built in 2007. The street bears the name of the former slave of African and Native American ancestry who escaped enslavement, known as the first American colonist murdered during the American Revolution.

In collaboration with others, Baker’s efforts helped cement Lake Ivanhoe’s place in Black history with a historical marker.

“I came into an environment that was completely different from where I was growing up, even though I lived in a real nice neighborhood, in a very big house and had a big back yard,” Baker recalled, the State Journal reported.

The Wisconsin Historical Society situated the historical marker outside the Lake Ivanhoe Property Owners Association clubhouse in Burlington, Wisconsin. The 599th marker in the state’s program, it’s a component of a three-year initiative by the historical society to create a more vibrant and accessible monument program that better reflects Wisconsin’s diverse history.

Only nine of the approximately 60 properties on Lake Ivanhoe, which is no longer a vacation destination, are occupied by African American families.

“It was definitely a hidden gem,” said Baker, the State Journal reported. “I really feel proud of this and the recognition and look forward to it being remembered for what it was and how wonderful of a place it was.”

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