The Glorious and Notorious History of the French Country Inn

old photo

 

The guesthouse and portions of the main house including the solid oak hand- carved staircase and inlaid parquet floors were built in Denmark in the 1880’s and then transported by boat to Chicago as the Danish Pavilion for the famed 1893 Columbian Exposition.  Officially named the Columbian Exposition the fair celebrated the 400th anniversary of Columbus’ discovery of America. After the fair the buildings were purchased and transported by rail to its current location on shores of Lake Como just minutes from Geneva Lake and the city of Lake Geneva.

 

Prior to its transformation to a hotel, the Lake Como property was an ice storage house, then a private hunt club. During the early 1900s, the property became a hunting and fishing resort owned by C.N. Smith. In 1921 the Notter family sold the property to Christian Hermansen a native Dane who as a skilled carpenter is reported to have worked on the construction of the Danish Pavilion prior to its showcase at the 1893 World’s Fair in Chicago.


old photo of Inn

 

Hermansen’s acquisition of the property began a legendary period of ownership and management that spanned 50 years and 3 generations of the Hermansen family. Christ as Hermansen was known, along with his three sons Inar, Hobart and Harry also owned the Lake Geneva Hotel which they purchased in the 1930’s.

 

Although it remained a family-friendly lake resort, it was also a favorite getaway for such well-known gangsters as George “Bugs” Moran and Baby Face Nelson, as well as their molls, wives, and members of the John Dillinger gang. The inn’s secluded location and the owner’s discreet hospitality made it a perfect place to escape the summer “heat,” including federal agents.

 

The most interesting of the Hermansen brothers was Hobart. He was a friend of gangsters: Baby Face Nelson, Dillinger gang members Tommy Carroll and John Paul Chase. Hobart’s cohort Jimmy Murray, the bootlegger who delivered liquor to the famed Dillinger hangout “Little Bohemia” also supplied the Lake Como Hotel with beer during prohibition from his New Glarus Brewery. All of these characters vacationed or more likely “holed up” at the hotel in the 1920’s and 30’s.

 

Hobart himself was reputed to be the “Slot Machine King of Walworth County.” He ran a speakeasy and gambling den called “The Sewer” in the basement of the Lake Como Hotel.  But Hobart’s closet relationship was with Mr. and Mrs. Bugs Moran who visited the Hermansen property numerous times even after the Morans divorced following the St. Valentines Massacre and Hobart married Bugs’ ex-wife Lucille in 1932..

 

Hobart Hermansen along with his brothers and nephew Allen managed the Lake Como Hotel until 1971 when it was sold to Fay and Gene Leichtey who changed the name to The Red Chimney Inn. The Leichtey’s ran the property for several years then the property was sold once again. The Sal Argento Family owned and operated the hotel, which they also called the Lake Como Hotel Inn.