South River Lane was considered the “slums” of Geneva before the 1920s. Around 1925, Kate Raftery began buying properties on the street as part of her River Lane Beautification Project. Collaborating with her architect son, Howard, she transformed the area into a desirable neighborhood, marketing it through The Little Traveler Almanacks.
The structure at 413 S. River Lane was designed by Frazier and Raftery and constructed by August Wilson and Son in 1931. Built for George Chamberlain, an assistant superintendent at Commonwealth Edison, the building’s recognition did not develop until Robin Dienst owned the property. Dienst and Helen North opened a one-room book department inside The Little Traveler, but outgrew the space by 1938 and moved the business to a two-bedroom cottage on South River Lane. This was a bold maneuver because it was one of the first retail establishments off the main thoroughfare of State and Third streets. It proved to be a successful venture as more than 700 customers attended the formal opening.
Michael Lambert, city of Geneva historic preservation planner, will describe the transformation of River Lane at 11 a.m. May 6 at the Geneva History Museum. Visit www.GenevaHistoryMuseum.org to register for the program.