Fashionable Chicagoans (and a few mobsters, according to local history books) have been packing their steamer trunks and taking the Milwaukee and Northern Railroad railway north to this little respite away from the heat of the city since the Gilded Age.
With a spring-fed lake, sandy beaches, and an abundance of natural beauty, it quickly became the “it” destination for travelers of that era.
One of the first resorts to serve this affluent clientele, the Osthoff Hotel, opened in 1886 and remains one of the iconic anchors of Elkhart Lake. Much of the resort’s original buildings have been demolished but the Osthoff was resurrected in 1995 and continues to be the ultimate luxury retreat.
Siebkens Resort followed in 1916 and is also going strong and evolving to meet the discriminating tastes of its guests. Another popular mainstay, Victorian Village, was recently purchased and renovated to become The Shore Club.
Those three resorts, along with one bed and breakfast and multiple vacation rentals, are now fully reopened for business—cultivating an aura of old-world glamour that’s evocative of another time.
A must-see on any history tour is Elkhart Lake’s Historic Depot and Museum at 80 Square Street (in the Village Square), which stands as a reminder of what made the village a first-class resort destination. Look for original depot furnishings, photos, and other memorabilia in the restored structure.
There, you will learn more about how the train line’s arrival in 1873 brought sophisticated vacationers and race enthusiasts (as well as notorious gamblers and gangsters) from Chicago, Milwaukee, and Green Bay. While the train no longer stops at the depot, with a little imagination, you can almost see passengers from a century ago stepping out in their Gilded Age finery.
The museum is open 8 a.m. to 12 p.m. on Saturdays during the Farmer’s Market. For more information, call 877-355-3554.