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Barrett Memorial Library is the main repository of the photographs, scrapbooks, yearbooks, newsletters and other historical artifacts that document the village of Williams Bay's rich history. The "Williams Bay Treasure: 'Bay Leaves' 1933-40" digitization project makes available to the public Williams Bay's historic recreational camps; world-famous Yerkes Observatory; the Belfry Theater, Wisconsin's first summer stock theater; and the names and activities of both the year-round and summer residents who have influenced the appearance, culture and tourism of the village.
The village of Williams Bay, settled in 1836, is unique among the towns and villages of Geneva Lake in that the land it was founded on remained wild long after other lakefront property had been settled. Potawatomi Chief Big Foot buried two of his wives and a child on what is now a historical landmark directly across from the library. Between 1874 and 1898, five recreational camps were established. In 1895 the Yerkes Observatory was constructed on a 53-acre site in Williams Bay, selected because of its remoteness and clear skies. For more than 100 years this facility, owned by the University of Chicago, has been devoted to astronomy and astrophysics and contains the world's largest refracting telescope. Its presence has drawn many renowned scientists over the years, including Albert Einstein. Barrett Memorial Library was established in 1907 by Storrs Barrett, administrator of the Yerkes Observatory. Belfry Theater, the first summer stock theater in Wisconsin, was active from the 1930s through the 1970s and hosted the likes of a young, unknown actor named Paul Newman. Williams Bay also has a rich sailing tradition, and at one time was known as the Ice Capital of the World for its excellent ice sailing. The Lake Geneva Yacht Club, one of the oldest yacht clubs in the nation, has boasted many Williams Bay sailors as its members through the years.
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