Text and Photography by Holly Leitner
It was 1913 and lakefront estates were well established along Geneva Lake. Although Lake Shore Drive had been completed in 1906, and access to homes was now possible via automobile, the wealthy demanded elegant and luxurious yachts to entertain guests on day trips or moonlit cruises or to be taxied to and from the train station in Williams Bay. It was with this spirit that Geneva Lake resident, Norman Harris, founder of Harris Bank, commissioned a grand yacht he would name Normandie, as a tribute to his Norman heritage and ancestors in Provence, France.
Harris, who had built his grand estate known as Wadsworth Hall (now the Driehaus Estate), was so intrigued with neighbor William Wrigley’s gas engine yacht that he was inspired to use this design for the mechanics of Normandie. Once completed, the 63-foot-yacht, built with only the finest materials and attention to detail, would be a well-known sight on Geneva Lake for decades.
Over the years, Normandie changed hands several times. In 1920 it was purchased by John Borden, adventurer and explorer and owner of Snug Harbor, an estate on the north shore, followed in 1927 by L. E. Myers, president of Wisconsin Power and Light and owner of Alleghany, a south shore estate. After Myers’ passing in 1939, it was purchased by Nathan Hunt, a Lake Geneva bachelor and descendant of the founders of Starline Inc. of Harvard, Illinois, and a homeowner on the north shore of the lake. Finally, in 1955 a young kid from Northwestern University approached Hunt to buy the boat.
That kid was Larry Larkin, who today is recognized for several boat restorations, two published books on the subject and was recently awarded the coveted Director’s Award from the Wisconsin Historical Society for his preservation of the history of Geneva Lake and its people. Normandie was Larkin’s first boat — the place where he met his wife on a romantic cruise after he had begun restoring it. After the painstaking restoration project was completed last summer, Normandie finally was back on Geneva Lake’s waters, looking as though she had just been christened by Norman Harris over 100 years ago.