After nearly two decades of advocating for historic recognition of his hometown, Peter Baker on Saturday unveiled a marker from the Wisconsin Historical Society recognizing Lake Ivanhoe as the state’s first Black-founded resort community, established in 1926.
While the population has shifted over the years, residents past and present reunited Saturday at the Lake Ivanhoe Clubhouse to share memories and thank Baker for fighting to remember their community. Baker hasn’t left.
“When I stepped foot on Lake Ivanhoe I knew I was home, and I don’t have any intentions of leaving this community; it’s something that’s in my heart,” Baker said.
Baker, inspired in the early 2000s when he read the 1972 master’s thesis about Lake Ivanhoe by University of Wisconsin-Whitewater student Samuel Gonzalez, has been giving presentations for years about the history.
He helped untie a red ribbon Saturday to reveal the sign that he helped write in collaboration with the historical society.
It is the Wisconsin Historical Society’s eighth marker focused on Black history, out of over 600 in the state.
The historical society plans to erect about 40 new markers in the next three years focused on “underrepresented histories,” supported by a grant from the William G. Pomeroy Foundation.
Historic markers, which can cost up to several thousand dollars, have traditionally been conceived of and paid for by local organizations, so cost has been a barrier, said Fitzie Heimdahl, Historical Markers Program coordinator.
The grant allowed the Wisconsin Historical Society to fast-track the Lake Ivanhoe marker.
“It fills in the history of who African Americans are in Wisconsin,” said Angela Titus, assistant deputy director for the Wisconsin Historical Society. “You tend to hear one-sided stories, not the full complexity of people’s lives, having this wonderful place to come away and be tranquil and be with family.”
Marking the state’s first Black-owned resort community
Baker first saw Lake Ivanhoe in 1966. A pre-teen growing up in Chicago, he visited the nearly all-Black rural subdivision on a fishing trip with his friend Keith Woods and Woods’ grandfather.
Upon hearing about the community, Baker’s parents bought a home there soon after. Like many residents, Baker didn’t learn the community’s history until stumbling across it years later.
Lake Ivanhoe had been founded in 1926 by Chicago Black men who wanted a safe place to vacation amid segregation and sundown towns — white communities where Black people were not welcome after dark.
The men — attorney Jeremiah Brumfield, business executive Frank Anglin and politician Bradford Watson — purchased 86 acres and built up a thriving vacation destination through the 1920s.
While the businesses suffered in the Great Depression, Lake Ivanhoe saw a revival in the 1950s and ’60s when families like Baker’s rediscovered the area as a safe haven.
Some of those families still live there. Others have moved away but return for regular visits.
Serving barbecue at the event Saturday was former resident Anthony Madison, whose grandparents came from Alabama and ran a restaurant down the road until the 1970s. Madison now lives in Milwaukee but said he comes back frequently and works on renovation projects.
Madison said he was grateful to Baker for pushing to remember the history and motivating residents come back together.
“It means a lot that this is not a lost, historical place for African Americans, for us as Blacks,” he said. “People do not understand how much that means to us, being out here in the middle of predominantly non-Black area. For us to be out here is very important.”
Woods, the friend who first brought Baker to Lake Ivanhoe, has always returned to the community. As a teen, with his family still living in Chicago, he would visit Baker every other weekend and for the summers. He left for college, then moved to Lake Ivanhoe after college. He spent 13 years in California, then moved back and doesn’t plan to leave.
Like many people at the event Saturday, Woods said he didn’t know the history until he heard about it from Baker.
Titus said the goal of the historic markers is to help more communities uncover forgotten histories.
“Often people don’t know the history of their local communities because it’s been hidden or people have migrated out of the area,” Titus said. “Even for here at Lake Ivanhoe, I’ve met people today who had no idea until someone else mentioned it to them, and they were shocked that in Wisconsin there was this lake community for Black folks.”
Lake Ivanhoe is one of the first Black settlements in Wisconsin
Lake Ivanhoe, one of the first Black settlements in Wisconsin, in Walworth County, is the vision of three prominent Black men from Chicago.
Mike De Sisti, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
How to get a historic marker
Titus said the Lake Ivanhoe designation is “just the start of telling more of these stories.”
She said the historical society has brought on more staff to make the process faster and easier for more communities to apply for markers.
To apply, fill out a form on the historical society website or contact Fitzie Heimdahl at 715-471-0770 or email@example.com.
Contact Rory Linnane at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter at @RoryLinnane.
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