Mail Jumpers and Mansions at Lake Geneva, Wisconson

Walworth Mail Boat; photo courtesy of Cruise Lake Geneva.
Walworth Mail Boat; photo courtesy of Cruise Lake Geneva.
Captain Neill and Molli the mail jumper aboard the Walworth on Geneva Lake.
Captain Neill and Molli the mail jumper aboard the Walworth on Geneva Lake.

Lake Geneva is a serene and very beautiful town in Wisconsin, known for its magnificent mansion estates that were summer homes for tycoons of industry from Chicago and Milwaukee. It also has one of the most interesting boat tours that you can take anywhere: the Lake Geneva Mail Boat postal service cruise that delivers mail to homes around the lake. Not only that, but the delivery method is quite unusual, and quite entertaining to watch.

Geneva Lake Mailboats

U.S. Mailboats such as the Walworth make postal deliveries by water to homes around Geneva Lake. The boat never stops; a captain drives, pulling up to the dock where the delivery carrier — known as a “mail jumper” —  hops off, puts the mail in the box, and jumps back on the boat (hopefully without landing in the water). This is one of the oldest continuously operating mail routes in the country, operating since 1916.

And anyone from the general public can tag along for these athletic displays of mail delivery. The boats accept around 160 passengers daily to go along on the ride and witness this unique service.

On the cruise I took this week, Neill Frame captained the boat (he’s a 45 year veteran, so he knows a thing or two about this), while Molli was the “mail jumper.” Molli is a 17 year old high school junior, and this is her second year as a mail jumper.

In case you wonder where Santa Claus summers…check out the video below of our last mail delivery of the day.

In case you wonder where Santa Claus summers…we even delivered mail to him by boat this morning!The Geneva Lake mail run by boat. Molli is a "mail jumper" — delivering mail to the homes around the lake, the boat never stops. The jumper hops off, puts the mail in the box, and jumps back on the boat (hopefully without landing in the water). This is one of the oldest contiously operating mail routes in the country. Molli is a 17 year old high school junior, and this is her second year as a mail jumper.#visitlakegenevaWI #mylakegeneva #visitwisconsin #travelWI #tradingplaces #travelingourplanet #wanderlust #boat #deliveringmail #history

Posted by Shelley Seale on Monday, May 21, 2018

Mail Cruise Details:

Public passenger seats are open to the public on a daily basis from June 15 – September 15. The Walworth departs promptly at 10:00 a.m. every day with a load of passengers, mail and very unique mail person. The Mailboat returns to the Riviera Docks at 12:30 pm after its 2½ hour cruise around the entire lake. Adult tickets are $38, and children are $22. Booking and more info can be found at www.cruiselakegeneva.com.

Here’s Molli doing a mail package handoff for a community along the lake:

The Geneva Lake mail run by boat. Molli is a "mail jumper" — delivering mail to the homes around the lake, the boat never stops. The jumper hops off, puts the mail in the box, and jumps back on the boat (hopefully without landing in the water). This is one of the oldest contiously operating mail routes in the country. Molli is a 17 year old high school junior, and this is her second year as a mail jumper.#visitlakegenevaWI #mylakegeneva #visitwisconsin #travelWI #tradingplaces #travelingourplanet #wanderlust #boat #deliveringmail #history

Posted by Shelley Seale on Monday, May 21, 2018

Geneva Lake Mansions

Long the area for wealthy families to build elaborate summer mansions, Geneva Lake started becoming a major tourist destination after the Chicago Fire of 1871. Well-known names from business empires such as Wrigley and Schwinn built massive estates along these shores, among others, and many Chicagoans abandoned the city to make Lake Geneva their permanent homes.

As near as geologists can tell, Geneva Lake was formed about 20,000 years ago, as the last glacier traveled across North America. The lake is over 7 miles long from east to west and over 2 miles wide at its widest point, with depths reaching 142 feet just off Black Point in Fontana. The lake is fed entirely by underground springs, and has no surface inlets.

The largest single family home ever built on Geneva Lake is Stone Manor, built by Otto Young in 1901. It’s 7 levels, each one 11,000 square feet, with a rooftop pool. Today it’s been turned into six luxury condos.

Black Point Estate is the only grand dame historic house in Lake Geneva that’s open to the public. Built by the beer tycoon Conrad Seipp in 1888, it remained in the family for 4 generations until being donated for preservation in 2005. The main way to arrive here is by boat; although you can access it by car, the signage is very subtle and it’s the back entrance. Most visitors get here from the lake and walk up the steps to the home (you can use the Mailboats for this, asking them to drop you off or pick you up at various stops along the lake).

Black Point is unique in historic home museums, in that it was very much a lived-in and well-loved family home until just a few years ago. When the last generation left the home for preservation and public enjoyment, they left literally everything behind — from dishes and clothing to the medicine in the cabinets. The home hasn’t been stripped down and exquisitely renovated to its original glory; it’s very nice, but has a family home feel. The walls in the hallways along all three levels are painted a seafoam green that was done in the 1940s (popular at that time) and all of the furnishings are what the family left. This gives Black Point a unique perspective to experience; it’s not sumptuous and ostentations like Newport mansions or Biltmore, but it really gives a glimpse into the history of Lake Geneva, through the stories told by the guides and the objects inside.

Living room at Black Point historic house in Lake Geneva, Wisconsin.
Living room at Black Point historic house in Lake Geneva, Wisconsin.
Living room at Black Point historic house in Lake Geneva, Wisconsin.
Living room at Black Point historic house in Lake Geneva, Wisconsin.

Walking the Lake

There are approximately 22 miles of shoreline at Geneva Lake, and boat isn’t the only way to see it. The lake is very unique in that the entire circumference of shoreline, every foot of it, is open and accessible to the public. Those huge, imposing estates built by famous men looming beyond the swimming pools and boat houses? Yep, you can walk right across their property (as long as you stay on the shore path) without being a trespasser. You can also have the Mailboats drop you off or pick you up at certain points to allow for short walks along this amazing piece of natural beauty and history rolled into one.

A great tool is the Lake Geneva Shore Path Guide from the visitor’s center, and they also have an app you can download that will show you everything about the walk, from information on the homes you are seeing to practical information like where the access points are to/from the path, and where public restrooms are available. Walk, Talk and Gawk is another tool, for those who prefer something printed in their hands.

If you get a chance to visit beautiful Lake Geneva, I highly recommend you ride along on the fascinating Mailboat, and explore the lovely paths and homes around the lake.

Other Things to do around Lake Geneva

  • Have dinner or drinks at The Geneva Inn, for some of the most beautiful views of the lake. It also connects with the walking path, and the family-owned and run hotel has a lovely restaurant and patio.
  • Check out the Yerkes Observatory, part of the University of Chicago. Known as the birthplace of modern astrophysics, this observatory housed the largest telescope in the world when it was built in 1897, and today also houses a newer telescope that is the largest in the world now.
  • Get up close and personal with a magician at Tristan Crist’s Magic Show. Housed in a small, intimate theater (but he’s about to move venues), Tristan is funny and puts on a pretty great magic performance.
  • Rent a scooter from Scoot Jockeys, to ride around the charming downtown and boutique hop; or take a nice ride through the back roads along tree-lined streets with views of the lakes.
  • Get a thrill by ziplining with Lake Geneva Canopy Tours. With multiple platforms, winding staircases built around trees, and zip lines that’ll whiz you above the forest canopy — this is a very fun adventure!

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