U.S. Mailboat History

The Walworth became the official U.S. Mailboat in 1916 when a daily route was established and summer residents signed up for mail delivery by boat. Receiving the mail by boat was the most convenient way since the roads were very primitive.

In the early days mail came to the area by train.  All of the passenger trains included a mail car. Once the mail arrived to either Lake Geneva or Williams Bay it was sorted for pick up at the local post office.

In 1916 Tilford Stuyvesant launched the Walworth, which became the U.S. Mailboat. In 1918 he and Ernst Liechty bought Lake Geneva Steamer Line and formed the Wisconsin Transportation Company. This was the company that was purchased by Russell Gage in 1958 to become what is now Gage Marine Corp. and Lake Geneva Cruise Line.

For almost fifty years, The Walworth carried passengers and mail around the lake; she became a symbol of Lake Geneva. Modern economics, however, finally caught up to this historic link to Lake Geneva and, in 1965, she was scrapped. That same year, The Walworth II was launched, replacing the earlier well-known U.S. Mailboat. She continues to carry out mail duties to date, completing the second half of her 100-year tradition.

U.S. Mailboat Facts

The first Walworth launched in 1916 and could seat 75 passengers. The new Walworth which was launched in 1965 could seat 125 passengers. After lengthening and remodeling in 1979 the boat can now seat 160.

Mail delivery from The Walworth continued through both World Wars. For many residents along the lakeshore during those years it was contact with civilization and brought news from loved ones and the outside world. About all that was left back home were the women and children since many of the men were out of the country fighting the wars.

The marine deliveries were, and still are, separated out from the land deliveries at the Lake Geneva post office and picked up by the Mailboat crew every morning. The mail is then brought to the Walworth and sorted along with newspapers for delivery. There is no cost to residents for mail or newspaper delivery. They are only billed the cost of the newspapers that they subscribe to.

Mail that is sent to Mailboat recipients must be addressed to ìmarine deliveryî or the homeowner must forward their mail from their street address to the pier number. All piers on Geneva Lake are numbered starting with #1 in Lake Geneva and numbered counter clockwise around the lake, ending at the Riviera Docks, Pier 900. Mailboat crew are Lake Geneva Cruise Line employees, not employees of the U.S. postal service.

The Mailboat picks up outgoing mail along its route and the mail is hand cancelled on the boat with a special Mailboat cancellation stamp. No outgoing mail is excluded from this process, camps that have as many as 60 pieces of mail daily must be hand cancelled.

Mail Jumper Facts

In the earliest days of the mail delivery the mail jumpers were all male. It was not until the mid-70ís that a female asked to be given the opportunity to handle the jumper duties. After that time the jumpers were only females until about 2001 when a few males decided to try out. Since that time, there has been an almost even split of males and females every year. There have been siblings that have jumped over several seasons and some even the same year. There have also been second-generation jumpers.

There was not a formal “tryout” process for mail jumpers until the late 1990ís. Prior to that time Lake Geneva Cruise Line employees simply asked for the opportunity to “jump” mail. If there was a position open and they could handle the duties, they were given the job. As the interest grew, tryouts were added so that a fair process could be established for selecting the best candidates. Tryouts consist of evaluating the candidateís skills of jumping on and off a variety of piers and also their ability to give a quality tour narration. A panel of judges made up of past jumpers evaluates each seasonís candidates.

In the beginning, the Walworth crew consisted of the Captain and a mail jumper. Over the years it has evolved to include a Captain, mail jumper and snack bar attendant. Often the snack bar attendant is also a trained mail jumper and they can split up the deliveries or share duties.

Passengers often hope to see the mail jumper fall in the lake during their deliveries, but it does not happen all that often. All jumpers know the importance of their job and work to make sure that residents receive their mail and packages in good condition. If a jumper can’t make the jump back to the boat in time and remains on the pier, the Captain will circle back to pick them up. Over the years there have been a number of very minor injuries & scrapes, but bumps and bruises are part of the job!

Geneva Lake Facts

The body of water is formally referred to as Geneva Lake. The municipality on the east end of the lake is the City of Lake Geneva. The Villages of Williams Bay, Fontana and Linn Town Township are the other municipalities on the lake.

According to geologists findings, the lake was formed around 20,000 years ago as the last glacier scraped across North America. The lake is 7+ miles long from east to west and 2 miles wide at its widest point from Williams Bay to the Lake Geneva Yacht Club on the south shore. There are just over 20 miles of shoreline, and the surface area is 5,263 acres. It is the second deepest spring fed lake in Wisconsin, reaching a maximum depth of 142 feet. The average depth is 61 feet and 90% of the lake is more than ten feet deep. It is the 5th largest lake by acreage in the state.

Other than runoff from rain and snow and a watershed area, the lake is fed entirely by underground springs, having no surface inlets. The only outlet, the White River, in the City of Lake Geneva feeds into the Fox, the Illinois and the Mississippi Rivers.