Thursday, November 4, 2021

Beautiful Lake Geneva, Wisconsin--Home of Wealthy Lakeshore Dwellers and Gangsters.


By Pamela S. Meyers

The Lake Como Hotel around the
time of the gangster era. 
Source Lake Geneva News Net

I’ve posted numerous articles about the many mansions that line the shoreline of beautiful Geneva Lake and about the town of Lake Geneva where I grew up. 

Just north of Geneva Lake sits Lake Como a much smaller and shallower lake. Lake Como’s south shore has a rather interesting history. During Prohibition, notorious Chicago gangsters frequented a rather nondescript facility known as the Lake Como Hotel. Men like Bugsy Moran, Baby Face Nelson, and John Dillinger, among others, would travel twelve miles north over the state line to hang out at the hotel, which was run by Hobart Hermanson, a trusted sympathizer to the gangsters. 

If you are from around the Lake Geneva area or visit it often, you are likely familiar with The French Country Inn. Over the decades, the facility was known by a few different names, one of which was The Lake Como Inn. 

By the time prohibition began, the inn was owned by the Hermanson brothers. Hobart Hermanson managed the inn and ran The Sewer, a speakeasy and gambling operation in the Inn’s basement. 

Next door, an inn called Watersedge was also frequented by gangsters. The Gangsters gravitated to these places because they were just over the state line and warrants issued in Illinois were not enforceable in Wisconsin. Also, the proprietors of these facilities were gangster friendly. Another plus was a railroad track that ran from nearby Williams Bay through the town of Lake Geneva and all the way to Chicago went right past the properties. With a bribe or two, the engineers would willingly stop the train and let the gangsters load and unload bootlegged liquor. 
Watersedge as it appeared some
years ago.
Source: Lake Geneva News Net

Today, the Watersedge’s attached garage still has a concrete ramp that leads to the basement and the whiskey room where the booze was stored. A vault/safe room was also in the basement where the cash was stored behind a huge steel door. A third room, dubbed the casino room, provided storage for gambling paraphernalia, such as slot machines.

The original concrete and brick wall of the vault room
at Watersedge. Across the hall is the steel door to the old whiskey room. 
Source: Lake Geneva Regional News

Eventually, the FBI was able to issue nationwide warrants for the men which were valid in all states. Where local police could be bribed to look
Baby Face Nelson
Source: Legends of

the other way, that didn’t work with the FBI. One of the gangsters, Baby Face Nelson, managed to elude the feds for quite a while. The FBI knew he’d likely return to his favorite hideout, and staked out 
The Lake Como Inn. Nelson arrived there and caught the FBI off guard. He took off and a chase ensued until it ended with Baby Face’s death in a field near Barrington, IL. 

An interesting note: Hobart had been good friends with Bugs Moran and his wife Lucille. After the 1929 St. Valentine’s Massacre, the Morans divorced and Hobart eventually married Lucille. Hobart and Lucille are buried in Oak Hill Cemetery in Lake Geneva. I’ve never looked for their graves. Maybe I should put that on my to-do list. 

If you are from a small town, does your town have a connection to organized crime?

Pam Meyers lives in northern Illinois with her two rescue cats. She enjoys true-crime reality shows and old sitcoms, along with crocheting and reading. 

When she isn't in Wisconsin, nosing around for new story ideas, she can be found at her church leading Bible studies and worshiping on Sunday mornings. 

She's written a four-book historical series set in Lake Geneva, along with Surprised by Love in Lake Geneva and several contemporary novels. All are available on Amazon in print or Kindle. 


  1. Thanks for posting! I have no idea if there are any ties to mob activity in the sleepy Vermont town I grew up in. Now if you wanted stories of moonshine and bootleggers I could probably dig those up!!

  2. I never made it Wisconsin and the bits about Lake Geneva make me visit. Thanks for more interesting information about this part of the country.