THE CAMP WANDAWEGA STORY
Prohibition-era speakeasy. Brothel. Church retreat. Summercamp.
The culmination of 10 decades of history.
A thing that is kept as a reminder of a person, place, or event.
SYNONYMS: keepsake - remembrance - memento - token - memory.
Camp Wandawega has a storied past - from a brothel to speakeasy, supperclub to summer camp. Each era left a bit of itself behind for us to discover and dust off. When we set out to rescue this humble hide-away, we found a treasure trove of original gear left behind by former inhabitants. We’ve spent just about every weekend since restoring Camp Wandawega back to its original charm. It’s become such a labor of love, we now consider ourselves as caretakers, moreso than owners.
Welcome to the Wandawega Camp Store, an old school souvenir stand reminiscent of simpler times. We’ve rounded up a few of our favorites for you to take home as a memento of your visit with us.
MEET YOUR PROPRIETORS:
Tereasa Surratt & David Hernandez
Pleased to meet you. We are the reluctant innkeepers & loyal caregivers to this place called Camp Wandawega. We purchased David's childhood summer camp in 2004, and have spent every spare minute since restoring it back to it's humble origins. We live and work in Chicago and escape to "Wandawega Lake Resort" on the weekends with our daughter Charlie and loyal rescue mutt Frankie in tow.
Chicagoans seeking to capitalize on the opportunity presented by Prohibition build "Wandawega Hotel"
The place was outfitted for the distribution of liquor, gun running, and gambling, including multiple exits, trapdoors, and hidden hatches to conceal stockpiles.
HOUSE OF ILL REPUTE
Although Prohibition would come to an end in 1933, the demand for "ladies of the night" would not. Wandawega Hotel remained a discreet place where the world's oldest profession could continue to thrive. "Little Orphan Annie's Bar"—named after the madame herself—became a popular hangout for everyone, from local law enforcement to Chicagoans looking for the company of the ladies.
Over the decades, a series of cabins was added to provide additional accomodations for guests. The restaurant and bar (pictured here), called "Little Orphan Annie's," was a local favorite.
LAKE RESORT, BAR & RESTAURANT
By 1951, the place finally goes legit when it's renamed Wandawega Lake Resort by its new owners, a Chicago-area Polish family. With the "ladies of the night" banished, the modest resort bar becomes an idyllic getaway for working-class Chicagoans looking for a convenient, affordable retreat. The bar remains open and serves as a popular hangout for the growing "year-round" community.
THE CATHOLIC CHURCH
In 1961, the property is purchased by the Latvian Marian Fathers, a Catholic Order of priests, who bless the property and move in a reliquary and other sacred vessels. Unable to return to Latvia due to the Soviet occupation, Latvian priests who fled war torn Europe intend to turn "Vandavega" into their retirement home.
LATVIAN CHURCH CAMP
The old resort becomes a summer gathering place for Midwest Catholic Latvians seeking to maintain a sense of community some 4,500 miles from their native land. The industrious moms organize an informal kids camp every summer for their children, complete with swimming, hiking, fishing, crafts, campfires, and a morning flag-raising followed by "calisthenics." My husband (pictured below, second boy from right) and his family spent all of his childhood summers there.
With Latvian independence in full swing, the Vatican instructs the Marian Fathers to sell the retreat and return to Latvia. By purchasing it, we keep the property "in the family" and restoration begins—a labor of love that continues to this day. We begin to uncover collectibles from every chapter of the old camp's many lives.