"We descended a long, sloping knoll and by a sudden turn came in full view of [a] beautiful sheet of water…. Bold, swelling hills jutted forward into the clear expanse, or retreated slightly to afford a green level nook… On the nearer shore stretched a bright gravelly beach through which coursed here and there a pure sparkling rivulet to join the larger sheet of water. A shout of delight burst involuntarily from the whole party; as this charming landscape met our view. What could be more enchanting?" - Juliette Kinzie, May, 1831
John and Juliette Kinzie were on a U.S. Military expedition, traveling from Fort Dearborn to Fort Winnebago, when they stumbled upon Geneva Lake. In her memoirs, Juliette described her first view of what would later become the Village of Fontana. This was the first-ever recorded visit of white settlers to the area.
For many years before their visit, the shores of Geneva Lake, or what was then known as Kishwauketoe or "clear water," were inhabited by bands of Potawatomi Indians. Led by Chief Big Foot, the three bands enjoyed the abundant wildlife and clear stream-fed pools, and traversed a path around the lake to hunt and fish and move from village to village. The main village was located just minutes away from the resort's entrance, and the path is still in use today.
Though much has changed since the days of the Potawatomi and the arrival of the Kinzies, the property on which The Abbey resides has always been recognized as a natural treasure.
This portion of the land on the west end of Geneva Lake was purchased by Dr. Henry Clark in 1839 at a hefty rate of $1.25 per acre from the government land office. It was then named "Fontana" because of its wealth of springs and fountains, which are thought to be the largest source of Geneva Lake's water supply.
By the late 1800's, the land was purchased by Chicagoans N. Kellogg Fairbank and Levi Z. Leiter. Later, in 1923, the Geneva Lake Improvement Association purchased approximately 700 acres from the Leiter estate, and this low, marshy land would be transformed into a place of relaxation and rejuvenation to be enjoyed by people from families to celebrities.
Building a Legacy
Construction of the resort in 1962-63 was anything but simple. The Abbey Harbor was excavated by hydraulic dredging of 242,000 cubic yards of earth, which in turn was pumped back onto The Abbey property, raising the land six feet. The official groundbreaking in 1962, presided over by Gov. Gaylord Nelson, was the beginning of a $4 million undertaking. Plans included a 225 room hotel, convention facilities, a 250 slip marina in the manmade harbor, and indoor and outdoor pools.
One journalist calculated that over 1,068,000 board-feet of lumber were used in construction and 4,644 gallons of paint applied. To complete what was the Midwest's largest resort, it took approximately 105,000 man-hours by carpenters, masons, laborers and others; 12,000 man-hours by plumbers; and another 9,900 hours by electricians. In all, 65 firms from Wisconsin and Illinois had a hand in the project.
THe Abbey Opens
When the resort opened in 1963, the resort's design was celebrated for its blend of influences. Its northern European chalet style and sweeping Polynesian roofs were both aesthetically pleasing and practical for the deep angles, which prevented the snow from accumulating. Its 80-foot A-frame was named Outstanding Wood Design of 1963 by the National Lumber Manufacturers Association.
Guest rooms were designed to create an atmosphere reminiscent of guest quarters in a "luxurious yet simple country estate" with the influences of French provinces. Amenities included The Blue Grotto which included a heated indoor pool, a thermal hydrotherapeutic pool, and The Roman Baths, a health club that had steam baths, a sauna and heat lamps. The Tour de Bois, French for "Wooden Tower" was a private dining club housed in the A-frame, open to members only.
Throughout its history, the resort has preserved a great sense of tradition while continuing to welcome change and improvement. In 2005, the now 90-acre, 334 room resort underwent a $40 million redevelopment. The final phase was completed in 2008 with a major investment in the all-new Avani Spa. In 2013, The Abbey Resort celebrated 50 years of hospitality with the completion of a $50 million renovation, including a transformation of the famed Abbey A-frame.
Dining options at the resort underwent major renovations in 2014, including the remodel and relocation of Café Latte to the lobby area, plus the debut of 240° West and Bar West. In 2015, the resort renovated secondary meeting space facilities and guest room lounge areas and corridors. In 2016, The Avani Spa pool and additional meeting space were renovated, and the Wedding Sales Office was created.
Further improvements in early 2017 are planned for guest rooms, plus a remodel of the Waterfront Restaurant, expansion of Café Latte, additional lobby enhancements and an all new activities center.
Less than an hour from Milwaukee & Chicago's Northern Suburbs
334 luxury guest rooms including 13 suites
Deluxe outdoor venue options
2 onsite restaurants as well as bars, cafes and lounges
90 acres of beautifully manicured grounds
The Geneva Lake Conference Center with over 6,000 sq. ft. of meeting space
Over 40,000 sq. ft. of flexible meeting & event space
35,000 sq. ft. Avani Spa facility with indoor adult pool and fitness studio
High speed wireless internet
Abbey Group Pursuits teambuilding activities for corporate group events
The only full-service resort on the shores of Lake Geneva, WI