family owned since 1936

History of

Uncle Tom's Cottages

 

Maggie & Tom Kainaroi

When Thomas Kainaroi first visited Geneva-on-the-Lake seventy years ago, the resort village was a popular spot for vacationers, as well as local residents, but the lake front was still largely undeveloped.

While growing up in Pittsburgh, Tom first visited Geneva-on-the-Lake in 1934 in a Model T Ford.  It was at that time he decided to invest in the area when the opportunity  was presented.  The young teenager explained what started out as a fun thing turned into a business.  At the young age of twenty, Kainaroi was business-minded and he realized the resort would need more lodging for tourist.  He  invested every spare cent in real state. 
It was July 6, 1936 he paid $5 down and committed  himself to $5 per month for the purchase of a cottage and four lots on Francis Drive.  It was a big deal for the son of Greek immigrants born and raised in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.  He was working as a short order cook at the time.
 

After WW II, Kainaroi returned (Thanksgiving of 1945) to Pennsylvania and his manager's job with Gulf Oil.  He continued to work and live in Pittsburgh and purchased additional units on the lake.
 

He and Maggie both were from "The Burgh"  and were married in 1947. The couple was childless  for over seven years, and it was during this time, Kainaroi became known as "Uncle Tom" to the family and townspeople.  The couple and owners of the rapidly growing business assumed they were not going to have children of their own to carry on the business's name.

Many of the original cottages needed updating throughout.  The cottages quaint, beckoning, original names such as "Sunset", Water's Edge", and "Lake Breeze" remain the same to this day. 
In the former years tourists expected to "rough it" when they rented a cottage lake side.  An iceman made daily rounds to provide everyone with refrigeration.  There was no hot water.  Everyone would take turns at an outside shower stall.  People didn't seen to mind the lack of amenities.  Reservations were made well in advance, even at that time. 

The entertainment centered at the west end of the strip where there was a bowling alley, skating rink, hot dog stand and some amusement rides for children.  Several dance halls attracted the Big Bands, like Jim and Tommy Dorsey, Benny Goodman and Glenn Miller.  Vacationers would cruise the strip on rented motor scooters, or take a speed boat ride on the lake.  Foot long hotdogs were 15 cents and ice cream cones sold for a nickel!

Lake front property was first purchased in 1946, and each year Kainaroi's had another child they either built or bought additional property or cottages. 
It was in 1954 the couple had their first child.  Three children followed.  The Kainaroi's made unusual sacrifices to keep the business going while raising four children.  Tom operated a service station in Pittsburgh while Maggie stayed at Geneva-on-the-Lake all summer to manage their rental properties.  The family's summer home and hotel was constructed in 1953-1954 in and around the time of their first child (Vula).  For many years the building housed the family as well as guests.  (A misfortune occurred in June of 2001 when the family lost everything in a fire when it burned to the ground).  In 1958 when the Kainaroi's had their second child (Harriet) they built the first lake front motel to exist at Geneva-on-the-Lake.  So this was a real marking stone!  At that time the rooms rented for $21 per night.  In the 1960's and around the birth of their son (Tommy) the Kainaroi's invested $15,000 in jetties  recognizing the value of the private beach to their business. 

In retrospect this has proven to be a wise investment to this day, yet one the family hopes to address once again.  Additional cottages were purchased off the lake side with their son and their last daughter (Tammy) in 1963.  In 1978 the family began to renovate their old hotel  on the lakefront renaming it "New Haven".  The building is noted as one of the first homesteads built at Geneva-on-the-Lake in 1828.  Today it exists of three separate apartments, one of which the family lives and operates out of.

 

In 1994 Mr. Kainaroi loss his wife and it was at that time the children and their Aunt Ann became active and committed to the business.  After the sale of the family's private home residence, Kainaroi once again invested in lakefront property in 1995.  Four new lakefront units were built.  In 2000 the family loss their Aunt Ann.   The children were always active in the business while growing up and all learned a good work ethic at an early age.  The oldest child remembers when the couple would comment about the possibility of the family sleeping in the car if all the units were rented!  They all continue to work the family business and sacrifice personal time away from their separate homes and lives aside from the business.  Uncle Tom's continues to be strictly a family owned and operated business and it keeps the family working together as a team.  As in any business they have suffered many growing pains, but the rewards they receive from their appreciative customers they feel are worth the gain.  To date there are eight grandchildren.  Moving into this stream of "fourth" generations the business also continues to serve some "fourth" generations of family customers.  There is a continuum of guests and memories, as well.  There are families that have been coming to Uncle Tom's for over Forty-five years!  Many repeated reservations and customers exist a year in advance.  Most advertising is either by word of mouth or through the Geneva-on-the-Lake Chamber of Commerce.

 

Tom would often commuted for years, as his "day" job had to carry the burden of cottage payments, insurance, taxes, utilities and maintenance.  Especially, during the mid to late 1960's when the motorcycle gangs and riots scared clients away.  The press hurt the business with their threats of "contaminated" Lake Erie.  Even then and having traveled the world three times over Kainaroi kept the faith in Geneva-on-the-Lake.  He said it would return and that it certainly has!  But to quote, Mr. Kainaroi, "Success isn't guaranteed without hard work" and I have the children who work and know the value of the dollar.  It remains to be a "risky business" at best.  (Knowing there are eight good weeks July 4 through Labor Day to Mid September and if you don't make your money then you lose).  Uncle Tom continued to keep the faith in Geneva-on-the-Lake and his family.  There will always be those who return for the nostalgic stroll down the strip and a dip in good old "fresh water" Lake Erie.  Tom spent every summer of his adult life on the lake.  Uncle Tom Passed away December 2004.  During the off season he resided in Marco Island, Florida with his youngest daughter, Tammy and her husband Jeff.  His son, Tom and his daughter reside in Geneva-on-the-Lake all year round and hold down the fort. 
His daughter, Harriet resides in Ohio with her husband Mick and five children.  His oldest daughter, Vula lives in Virginia, and has two adult children and a grandson and a granddaughter.