Kane County History: How Kate Raftery Transformed Geneva's 'Slum-Like' Riverfront

Kane County History: How Kate Raftery Transformed Geneva’s ‘Slum-Like’ Riverfront

  • Editor’s Note: This article is part of a weekly series on Kane County’s amazing history. Today’s article was submitted by Terry Emma, executive director of the Geneva History Museum. Images are courtesy of the Geneva History Museum.

Like every other old town along the water course, Geneva had its traditional riverfront, a hodge-podge of shacks, a hangover from the days when boats plied the stream and when stage coaches pulled in and out at regular intervals.

Fox River, 1909

While it may be difficult for us to imagine River Lane lined with run-down shanties in yards strewn with tin cans, rubbish, and other household debris, that is exactly how the street appeared a century ago.

In fact, the homes were so dilapidated that the Sanborn Fire Insurance Company did not record most of the structures along the roadway, deeming that the structures were unworthy of insurance coverage.

Mrs. William Lance, 31 South River Lane, early 1900s

The rise of the automobile and paved roads — such as the Lincoln Highway — allowed more mobility and a desire of many small town civic leaders to showcase their community as modern, up-to-date, desirable places to visit or a place to call home.

Increasing numbers of tourists travelled through the Geneva area, and the Chamber of Commerce worked to improve the local business community.

Into this environment entered Kate Raftery, a visionary who established her own business, The Little Traveler, while encouraging other women to open businesses and to work together to make Geneva the best community possible for residents and visitors alike.

Her most ambitious undertaking was the redevelopment of the “slum-like” atmosphere of South River Lane along with her architect son, Howard Raftery.

Kate Raftery

You can learn more about Kate Raftery’s River Lane Beautification at noon Tuesday, May 8, at the Geneva History Museum.

Michael Lambert, city of Geneva preservation planner, will share the story of Raftery’s transformation of River Lane from shanties to summer homes.

This program is part of the museum’s celebration of the 100th anniversary of The Little Traveler, Geneva’s most iconic shop, and includes admission to the museum’s galleries “100 Years of The Little Traveler” and “Geneva’s Story.”

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