Twin Lakes, Wisconsin’s 6,000 year-round residents have one foot firmly planted in lake life with its endless recreation opportunities. The other foot has convenient access to Kenosha, Milwaukee, and Chicago, allowing residents to commute to work in a reasonable amount of time.
“People are tired of the rat race and want to get away from the insane pace,” says Marilyn Trongeau, the Twin Lakes Area Chamber and Business Association’s executive director.
Not only can Twin Lakes’ residents return home each night to a relaxing and rejuvenating respite, each of the town’s two lakes has a distinct character.
To the north, Lake Mary’s 297 acres lend themselves to waterskiing and wakeboarding. To the south, the 725-acre Lake Elizabeth “is more relaxed and has more fishing,” says village president and lifelong resident Howard Skinner. Anglers cast their lines for Largemouth Bass, Panfish, Northern Pike and Walleye. A small channel, navigable by canoe or kayak, connects the two lakes under West End Park Road.
Twin Lakes’ parks see frequent use from residents, says Trongeau. At Legion Park, people play basketball and baseball or hit the skateboarding park. Millennium Park contains a
soccer/football field, playground equipment and walking trails. Lance Park offers a boat launch, swimming beach, fishing pier and waterfront amphitheater.
In the summertime, Twin Lakes’ population increases by one-third as vacationers migrate over the border from Illinois and from all points in southeast Wisconsin to rentals or summer homes, where they enjoy lake life for a few precious days, weeks, or months.
“The attraction is the lakes,” Skinner says.
For residents and vacationers, Twin Lakes offers housing styles and price points for all budgets: modest bungalows in the mid-$100s; mid-century moderns in the $200s; condos in the $200s and $300s; new construction in the $400s; five and six-bedroom family gathering homes for over $500,000; as well as vacant lots available for new construction.
A little history
Twin Lakes got its name from the twin daughters and only girls of Mary Rae and Jonathan Ineson, early settlers in the area, who were married in 1837. After the two lakes were christened “Mary” and “Elizabeth,” what had been known as the “English Prairie” was soon dubbed “Twin Lakes.”
The lakes first attracted people not for summertime frolicking, but for the labor-intensive chore of ice harvesting. After the blocks of ice were cut from the two lakes, they were hauled by wagon to the nearby railroad, loaded onto train cars, and shipped to Milwaukee and Chicago.
In the design of its chamber of commerce building, Twin Lakes gives a nod to the importance of the railroad to the town’s history. In fact, the building itself is reminiscent of a train station, sitting adjacent to a colorful vintage caboose.
Once refrigeration replaced blocks of ice for keeping food cold, the trains adopted a different purpose: transporting vacationers to Twin Lakes in the summertime. By the end of the 19th Century, the first resorts had gone up around the lakes, among them Gertrude Staudenmayer’s The Lake House.
But even as the town’s character grew around its many lakeside recreation options, the surrounding area retained its small-town feel.
“I hear ‘charming’ a lot,” says Trongeau about what residents appreciate about Twin Lakes.
A place for meeting friends
Unlike other lake communities, Twin Lakes does not have streets full of stores with boutique shopping. What it does have is a wealth of restaurants and bars where people spend long hours in conversation over food and drink.
“It’s a big draw to meet friends at one of the bars,” Skinner says.
Skinner lists some of Twin Lakes’ longtime favorite gathering spots: Mad Dan’s in downtown Twin Lakes with its sandwiches and pub fare, the family-style Wild Child on Lake Mary, the Pink House on Lake Mary with an all-you-can-eat fish fry, and the Sand Bar and Island Grill on Lake Elizabeth with its Florida-inspired tiki-bar vibe and seafood specialties.
Skinner’s personal recommendation is Manny’s Snack Shack, a classic diner right off Lake Mary. “[They serve] the largest portions I’ve ever seen in my life,” Skinner says.
New to the area and sparking much excitement in town, Trongeau says, is Cup O’ Joe. The coffee shop hosts sidewalk concerts and takes reservations for seats on the couch that is a replica of the one in Central Perk on the television show Friends.
Should residents or vacationers want to venture away from their peaceful retreat, opportunities abound. Due to Twin Lakes’ proximity to two large Midwestern cities, people can drive to Milwaukee for Summerfest or board a train in nearby Kenosha to head to Chicago for a Cubs game.
While such trips can serve as occasional treats, many locals prefer to take advantage of the small-town events closer to home. Some examples that Trongeau has on hand include flea markets, farmers’ markets, and county fairs in neighboring towns like Salem, Burlington and Lake Geneva.
For nature lovers, the Richard Bong Recreation Area is a 20-minute drive northeast. Its 4,500 acres offer hiking, mountain biking, ATV sports, fishing and hunting. Also nearby, the 26-mile Prairie Trail takes hikers and bikers from the Wisconsin state line through eight McHenry County communities in Illinois.
If there’s one event that Twin Lakes is best known for, it’s Country Thunder, an annual four-day music festival. Its dozens of past acts have included such famous stars as Blake Shelton, Lady Antebellum and Keith Urban.
Skinner, who is a wealth of Twin Lakes knowledge, says the little-known truth is that the festival grounds are technically in Randall, Wisconsin, but the location is easier to find by saying ‘Twin Lakes.’ Over 5,000 people attend each day of the event.
“It’s a good thing for your community to have that influx of people,” Skinner says.
Anchored to home
Like many small towns, Twin Lakes cherishes the annual traditions that draw the community together. Twice a week during the summer, the Aquanuts put on free water skiing shows off Lance Park on Lake Mary. On other summer nights, the Lance Park amphitheater hosts free movies in the park. The last Saturday in August is set aside for a classic car show, and Harvestfest in September brings crafts and hayrides to town.
Memorial Day, the Fourth of July, and Christmas each has its own parade. Skinner says that the route for July’s Libertyfest parade is packed with spectators from Main Street to Lance Park. And Christmas celebrations include not only the parade, but a Christmas tree lighting, decorated tree competition, gingerbread houses, an ugly sweater contest, and an elf hunt “that has taken off like crazy,” says Trongeau.
Other lake communities might tout their glamor or action-packed summers, but Twin Lakes residents are comfortable right where they are.
“Twin Lakes is comfortable and friendly,” says Trongeau. “It’s easy.”
Skinner seems to agree “[Twin Lakes’ charm is its] the rural feel and the hometown appeal,” he says. We couldn’t agree more.
By Susan W. Murray
Photography by Jen Schildgen