Geneva, Illinois, is often referred to as picture-postcard beautiful, and this charming destination, with its preserved historic districts, idyllic parks and array of activities, delivers on its reputation. Located only one hour west of Chicago and accessible by auto or Metra train, Geneva offers a rare blend of small-town allure and big-city amenities.
Geneva retains a large number of its mid-to-late 19th-century homes in many architectural styles, such as Italianate, Greek Revival and Queen Anne. Many of the older homes share a common vernacular and were built, in some part, with locally quarried stone found along the river. These separate styles blend together to create an atmosphere of refined and understated elegance, reflecting the taste of the New England roots of Geneva’s earliest settlers.
The Illinois and Prairie Potawatomi tribes inhabited the Geneva area during the 17th, 18th and early 19th centuries. White settlers first entered the area around 1830. Daniel Shaw Haight, of Dutch origin, was the first settler in Geneva. He built a cabin near a spring by the Fox River in 1833, and the settlement was called Big Spring. Haight sold his claim in 1835 to James and Charity Herrington, who were very influential in the creation of the town of Geneva.
By 1840, Geneva had a courthouse and jail, a post office, a classroom and teacher, a bridge, a sawmill, at least three general stores, a doctor, a furniture and coffin maker, at least two blacksmiths, two hotels and a tavern. There were log cabins and some modest frame and stone houses.
The coming of the railroad put Geneva on a main passenger line, as well as providing freight lines in 1853, and established a strong relationship between Geneva and Chicago. Well-to-do city people discovered Geneva as an idyllic place for outings and country homes.
Geneva’s first free public school was built and opened in 1855. By the mid-1850s, churches were built by the Methodists, the Congregationalists, the Swedish Lutherans and the Disciples of Christ. The Unitarian church of 1843, the Congregational church of 1856 and the Disciples of Christ meetinghouse of 1857 still stand.
After laboring to construct the railroad from Chicago to Geneva, many Swedes returned to Geneva to live. By 1895, half of Geneva’s citizens spoke Swedish as their first language. Several Swedish lodges were formed in Geneva, dedicated to the preservation of Swedish traditions, including Good Templar Park, which was developed in 1925 and still stands today.
Beginning in 1925, a Swedish Day festival was also sponsored in the park each summer. In 1949, Swedish Days became a city-sponsored summer festival, held every June. Last year marked the 60th anniversary of the Swedish Days festival being held in Geneva.
The Fabyan Villa Museum was home to Col. George Fabyan and his wife Nelle from 1905-39. Frank Lloyd Wright remodeled their home in 1907, and the estate soon became a showplace, with fountains, gardens, a Dutch windmill and more. The museum includes the Fabyans’ private collection of Asian artifacts, natural history specimens and many surprises. The museum, windmill and 100-year-old Japanese gardens are available for tours by appointment.For more about Geneva’s history click here.