The Little Traveler has been a landmark of the Geneva, Illinois shopping district since 1922. It all began with one of Geneva’s most prominent families, Mr. and Mrs. Edmund Raftery. Born the daughter of a Mississippi riverboat captain, Kathryn married Edmund and moved from Kentucky to the Fox Valley. At that time, the Fox Valley was burgeoning with trade, including the foundry where Edmund was employed.
The Rafterys purchased a magnificent Victorian home at 404 S. Third Street in Geneva. This two-story home had four rooms on each level with fireplaces in the spacious parlor and dining room. Beautiful gardens and walkways graced the exterior. History tells us that Edmond and Kate Raftery enjoyed a wide circle of friends and were known for entertaining at their home with flair.
Around 1922, Mrs. Raftery’s close friend, Lucy Calhoun moved with her husband to Peking, China. Mr. Calhoun was an important emissary of the United States to the Court of the Last Dowager of China. Lucy began sending her good friend Kate bolts of Imperial Tribute silks, fur robes, pewter deers and ducks, jade ornaments, and festival lanterns.
Mrs. Raftery was delighted with her friend’s finds and knew others would be too. She asked her to send more of these unusual items, and her collection grew. She displayed these Oriental treasures on the grand piano in the living room and sent invitations for an afternoon tea and sale. The tea was a success and more were held.
As the collection continued to grow, so did the Rafterys’ reputation. Other friends began sending treasures from around the world. From London, Count Bensington sent Georgian china and silver, Elizabethan and Regency furniture, and other English antiques. Items also arrived from France, Spain, and Italy. Soon, a portion of the Raftery’s home was formally opened as a shop.
Because travel to Geneva could be an all day affair, Mrs. Raftery, always the gracious hostess, continued to serve tea and lunch for her guests in the in the intimate surroundings of her home. While her friends enjoyed lunch, Mrs. Raftery saw to it that their drivers were served a simpler fare in the courtyard, now the Atrium Cafe. By 1925 the shop, dubbed “The Little Traveler,” was frequented by the carriage trade. The small shop expanded into a regency of arcades, Victorian corridors, captains walks and wings, green gardens, and courtyards.
While The Little Traveler was Mrs. Raftery’s most celebrated accomplishment, it was not her only. She was most certainly the originator of Third Street as a unique shopping environment. Many of Geneva’s other businesses can be attributed to Mrs. Raftery’s encouragement.
As an accomplished business woman, Mrs. Raftery was influential in residential development as well. At one time, Geneva Lane (now River Lane) was an area of shanties and small homes. She would purchase these modest houses, tear them down, and encourage her friends to build beautiful homes overlooking the Fox River. This area is now one of the prettiest streets in Geneva.
Today, downtown Geneva is still known as one of the most unique shopping districts in the Midwest, maintaining a tradition of hospitality, charm, and character. The Little Traveler has remained the cornerstone of this tradition. The shop has grown considerably since the original Italianate Victorian residence (which now serves as the center section of the shop) to thirty-six rooms of treasures. You’ll be greeted by a caring staff and amazed by the never-ending array of items brought back by our modern day little travelers.
It all started as a simple idea and evolved into a one-of-a-kind shopping experience. Still locally owned and operated, The Little Traveler is a Geneva landmark that has been enjoyed for generations.