Thursday, August 11, 2016

Put on the Dancing Shoes and Cut a Rug

Cut a rug. Roll up a rug. That didn’t happen only in a flooring store. It happened in parlors and dining rooms all over Kewaunee County, at least for those who had rugs.

If there was anything the county’s hard-working Germans, Bohemians and Belgians looked forward to, it was their music. And their beer. When Harriet Hall was interviewed about the early settlement called Wolf River, she said any time there was a fiddler around, there was a dance and plenty of homemade beer to quench the thirst.

It wasn’t only in Wolf River. It was all over Kewaunee County, outside on the grass, inside homes and, eventually, in the halls that sprung up though out the county.  Halls such as Fellows’ in  Foscoro, Barta’s at Kodan, Feldman’s at Forest Hill,  Woracheck’s at Krok or Schauer’s at Norman were only a few of the popular spots. There were far more bands than are remembered today. Ramesh, Froelich, Gosz, Mahlik, Stahl, Schlies, Slovan and Petrosky’s Polish band were a few. Better known among the present generation are Reckleberg, Kulhanek, Nejedlo, Karman, Kohlbeck and Zimmermann. Family members played in the Two Creeks Farm Hand band, the Rhythm Boys, Hunsaders and the Penguins.

Hunsaders’ band, which included Grandpa on violin, cornet or tuba, played in many private homes including his own where the dining room was the scene of dances into the 1920s. Those who could afford real rugs in the parlor or dining room rolled them up. Who would chance having a rug damaged by shoes and dancing? Besides that, rugs slowed down dancing feet much as grass did generations earlier. Shoes slid more easily across the floors of halls where corn meal was sprinkled. Sometimes those shoes slid so fast that the person wearing them went down, spraining an ankle or even breaking a leg.

Those who had pianos in the parlor didn’t need a dance band. There was always someone to tickle the ivories and provide entertainment, whether for singing, dancing or just plain listening. A typical old German family planned for the oldest child to be musical. In Grandpa’s family it meant he would play a violin and both he and Gus would master the brass instruments. Sena played piano and organ, and played for church as well. Then came the player pianos and their rolls. As long as one could pump his feet fast enough to keep the music going, it did. Pumping one’s feet meant being able to read music or play by ear was unnecessary. Piano rolls provided the music that sound-mixing and programmed electric pianos do today, 100 years later.

In this day of earbuds, playlists and CDs, one hardly thinks of Ahnapee/Algoma being a place to buy a piano, a Victrola or phonograph. In this day of earbuds, playlists and CDs, the younger set doesn’t recognize the words Victrola and phonograph. Those who could afford Victrolas probably felt as if they’d “arrived.” As radios, phonographs and record players came into existence, who was going to crank up the Victrola?  Fifty years ago, old Victrola trumpets were found in barns being used as funnels for filling tractors and other machinery with oil. By then technology had moved to 8-track tape recorders and transistor radios, ensuring a party anywhere.

Buying a piano today means a Kewaunee County resident must travel to Green Bay, however August H. Klatt was selling Kimball pianos in Algoma by the turn of 1900. Victrolas and Ambrolas followed. C.A. Guth was another popular Algoma music merchant. A few years later Jirtle’s Music Store sold player pianos and their rolls. One might find them in county antique stores today.

Oldsters who complain about young people and what the loud music is doing to their ears could have harped on the same thing during their grandparents’ youth.  Just under 100 years ago, in 1921, C.A. Guth installed a Magnavox Victrola in his music store. It was said that in still weather the thing could play music loud enough to be heard as many as three miles away! Guth planned to play new records on the instrument and felt it could eliminate the need for orchestras  at public dances. 

To stop at Guth's to purchase a recording of a group such as the Rankin Band and have it for home use was a marvel in itself. Early records were about a half inch thick and were stored in the cabinet area below the turn table on which the recording was played. The arm was set so the needle would be in the first groove in the record and the magic followed. Needles had to be kept free of dust to minimize sound distortion.  If needles stayed in the same groove of a scratched record, it produced the same sound over and over until it was moved. Record players were “the bee’s knees” in technology 100 years ago and for more than 50 years after. Now all one needs is a Smart phone. Nobody cranks it. There is no investment in a Victrola or record player itself, nor needles and records. Besides that, it fits in one’s pocket and is always there.

What was it like when “cutting a rug” didn’t only happen in a flooring store? A lot!

Sources: The Commercial History of Algoma, Wisconsin Vols. 1 & 2. Photos are the blogger's.

Saturday, July 16, 2016

Dr. Levi Parsons, Wolf River's First Physician

August 12, 1856 was heralded as the best day in the fledgling hamlet called Wolf River.  It was the day Dr. Levi Parsons stepped off the Cleveland.

Levi Parsons served Wolf River/Ahnapee/Ahnapee and all of Kewaunee County for at least 40 years until his death on October 20, 1897. Not only was he Wolf River’s first physician, the man who graduated from Buffalo Medical College was also Kewaunee County’s first Register of Deeds. He served as a physician in the Civil War and was county coroner. It was said Parsons had such a good heart that it did not matter if one had the money with which to pay him. It was further said that he was eccentric and not concerned with his appearance. Parsons spent a lifetime treating others before he was confined himself with the painful boils of Job's Ailment in 1889, however he recovered and was soon back at curing others.

Prior to Parsons arrival, Simon Hall and Old Doc Savage, better known as “Indian Joe”, were taking care of the few ills that arose. Joe was especially adept at using herbs to cure complaints when sarsaparilla didn’t work.  It wasn’t only Joe. Pioneers had to be their own doctors, and many families owned a “doctor’s book” which listed remedies and cures that could be made with berries, roots and bark. Plants were dried and packed away until needed for pain, stomach discomfort and more.

In the early days, illnesses were few in a young population, and a scattered population meant epidemics didn’t travel fast. As the area grew and settlements moved farther from the rivers, wells were dug. Eventually the outhouses built near the shallow wells were breeding grounds for disease. Frequent epidemics were related to well water, although popular opinion was that disease came from the environment and had nothing to do with sanitation. By 1879 it was accepted that nine out of 10 cases of typhoid, diphtheria and scarlet fever were caused by filthy water. Lister, Pasteur and others had made significant advances in sanitation and medicine by the time of the Civil War, but those advances were slow to catch on in the U.S.

During his first years in the area, Parsons was mostly called into the woods and to sawmills. Logging and sawing meant fractures, severed fingers and more. Sometimes logging and sawing resulted in death.  William Cook was one Parsons treated at Foscoro after Cook was injured by a falling tree. Cook died. Luke Stoneman was another treated at Foscoro. Stoneman had a finger taken off and two mangled by the circular saw in the mill. It was said the mill was a good coffin when a young man was struck in the shoulder by a ten-pound piece of iron that got loose and flew. Though the iron entered the man in the shoulder, it came out through his throat.

Jerome Reince lived to tell about his accident. He didn’t even call a doctor. A Brussels area resident, Reince was working in the woods in 1877 when he cut off his big toe. He put the toe in his pocket and walked home, later writing to the Record to describe the incident.

Not all accidents were mill-related. Fred Busch’s son broke both legs when the pile of logs he was climbing on toppled. Wenzel Wacek’s three year old daughter’s hand was nearly severed when she got too close to her mother who was chopping kindling. Jim Tweedale slipped and badly cut his hand while sharpening a saw. The list goes on.

As the population grew, Parsons’ workload increased as he began treating typhoid, diphtheria, scarlet fever, small pox and cholera. Measles, summer complaint, and ague were other conditions he began seeing.  

It was nearly 20 years before Parsons got some help. Dr. William Netzer and Dr. H.C.F. Perlewitz were welcomed on St. Patrick’s Day in 1878. All three men were kept busy.  A few months later 6 members of the Charles Hardtke family had diphtheria. During an 1879 epidemic, a Nasewaupee (Door County) family lost 7 children in 3 weeks. Ahnapee had 19 fatal cases of diphtheria in 5 weeks. Often the deceased were rolled up in their bedding and buried. During the winter fires were built to thaw the frozen ground enabling graves to be dug.

Diphtheria always seemed to be rearing its ugly head and as early as 1862 the Enterprize was offering cures. Readership was told that ordinary pipe tobacco would help if a live coal was placed in the bowlAfter a little tar was to be placed on the coal, the patient was to draw the smoke into the mouth and nostrils. Years later the Record advised people to swab their mouths and nostrils every half hour with a mixture of golden seal, borax, salt, alum, black pepper and nitrate of potash. The slime on the swab was to be removed when the swab was taken from the mouth. Who knows about the slime from the nostrils! Following that, a liniment of turpentine, sweet oil and aqua pneumonia was to be rubbed on the throat. The paper reminded folks that the bowels had to be kept clear with castor oil. 

01-03-1878 Record
Diphtheria was known to be contagious and schools, lodges and churches were often closed during outbreaks. The published remedies didn’t help young Frank Youngs or Rachel and Mary Ann Tweedale, wives of Jim and Ed. They all died in January 1863. (Note: Mary Ann was the first to be buried in the Tweedale Cemetery, just above the Lake St. hill on the east side of the highway. Some accounts give Mary Ann dying of typhoid in 1871.)

Scarlet fever was common and that led to another published cure. A poultice of burdock boiled in milk was to be applied to the neck of the one suffering. The earlier it was used, the faster the cure, but it didn’t help William and Mary Boedecker’s son who died in the outbreak in 1871. When Jim McDonald got the disease in 1877, the Advocate said he was “old enough to know better.”

Then there was black smallpox which a mixture of cream of tartar, rhubarb and cold water was supposed to cure. The Enterprize advocated vaccinations and Dr. Parsons said, “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” By 1872 the Health Officer was issuing smallpox regulations that included quarantines and warnings on homes with cases. In January 1894, the State Board regulated that children or teachers would not be allowed in schools unless they had smallpox vaccinations.

Cholera was especially bad on children and in 1885 the Record printed information describing the pamphlet available from the State Board of Health describing prevention of cholera and other diseases. Cholera was spread by infected food and water. Cholera patients were always thirsty and in a day of drinking water pails and use of a common dipper, infections spread fast.

Though Parsons was Wolf River’s first physician, by the time the community was called Ahnepee* (1859) or Ahnapee (1873), more physicians were drawn to the small community. E.M. Thorp was one of them. His family was prominent in the development of Fish Creek. Dr. John Minahan served the community around 1900. He had business interests within the county with brothers Hugh and William. William.went down on the Titanic. Known and loved by the community and beyond were Doctors Emil Witcpalek and Herb Foshion. It was Foshion who brought the first hospital to Algoma, The second hospital is now Long Term Care.

Any number of doctors were well regarded and are remembered. Then there was Dr. Joel Toothaker. Did he miss his calling when he served as a physician rather than a dentist? A name like Toothaker probably wouldn’t get it for a dentist.

Note:  The Enterprize became the Enterprise in 1865.

Sources: An-An-api-sebe: Where is the River? c. 2001; Commercial History of Algoma, Wisconsin, Vols. 1 & 2, c. 2006 & 2012; Ahnapee Record; postcard from the blogger's files.

Monday, June 6, 2016

Lake Michigan and World War ll: Submarines, Aircraft Carriers, PT Boats and Fighter Planes

With a population of just over 3,000, Algoma would seem to have been too small a place to have any kind World War ll prominence, but it did. Though Kewaunee wasn’t any bigger, that city also had a huge impact on the war. So did Sturgeon Bay and Manitowoc. Each of the Lake Michigan cities had a profound effect on winning the war.

In today’s world it is hard to imagine Lake Michigan having any kind of military role, especially one as early as the War of 1812. The Louisiana Purchase was fewer than 10 years old and, although there was some westward expansion, Lewis and Clark completed their epic exploration only 6 years before.

Early in the 1800s the British sloop Felicity is believed to have been patrolling, years before the War of 1812 started. One story is that the sloop was supposed to prevent the Potawatomie from joining the Americans. Another is that the patrolling ship’s captain had reason to believe the Potawatomie near today’s Two Rivers had large stores of corn for which he hoped to trade rum and tobacco and then take the corn to the garrison at Mackinac. Histories mention the British ships Welcome and Archangel sailing Lake Michigan serving in similar capacities. 

One hundred thirty years later, Lake Michigan was again supporting war efforts, however somewhat differently than most would think. Cloaked in secrecy, roles played by the lake shore communities were not widely known until well after the War. Nobody knew who was trustworthy, and it was assumed that enemy spies were everywhere.

One of the most well kept secrets is the subject of a soon-to-be released TV documentary, one which will appear on WPTV in mid-June. This blogger was among the privileged who saw the documentary at Sturgeon Bay Maritime Museum in late May.

Well before World War ll, tour boats were popular on the Great Lakes. As touring by auto and train got easier, interest in the tour boats began to wane. At the advent of World War ll, the Navy had 7 aircraft carriers and not enough planes or pilots. That the Pacific aircraft carriers Enterprise, Lexington and Saratoga were not at Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941 was miraculous.

Lt. Col. Edwin Goetz
Aircraft carriers are ocean-going ships, not Great Lakes side-wheel excursion vessels, but that’s where and how pilots learned to land and take off from a carrier. The Navy purchased two of the old cruise ships, removed the top levels and built a flight deck on each. Reconstruction expected to take 4 months was accomplished in two. Bomber pilots, some of whom were trained in Alabama by friend Ed Goetz, were sent to Glenview Naval Air Station in Illinois, just north of Great Lakes Naval Training Station.  

It was there on Lake Michigan that men such as future U.S. president George H.W. Bush completed training by taking off from Glenview and then practicing landing and taking off from the tour-boats- turned-aircraft-carriers.  After 8 or so landings and take offs, the crews were on their way to the Pacific. The Lake Michigan program was secret and when the war was over, it was estimated that over 17,000 pilots, signal officers and other personnel had trained aboard the two tour-boats-turned-aircraft carriers.

Crashes killed men in the planes and men on the deck crews. Seventy years later, planes on Michigan’s bottom are being located, raised, towed into Chicago and refurbished. These important pieces of history are being preserved in museums throughout the country, monuments to those who served and gave their lives so we might have ours.

Even before the bombing of Pearl Harbor, Algoma’s U.S. Plywood production was gearing up for war production. As men were drafted, women who had never before worked in manufacturing positions took over the jobs. Estimates are that the Plywood “boat works” was made up of no less than 85% women. Algoma-made plywood was used in the PT motor torpedo boat that in 1942 rescued General Douglass MacArthur, his wife, their son Arthur, Arthur’s Chinese nurse and other military personnel, taking them from Bataan to Mindanao.  Hulls from the boat works were sent elsewhere to be finished. Airplane wings and nose cones constructed at the Perry Street plant were also built from Algoma plywood.

An August 1943 Algoma Record Herald reported that five Japanese planes had been shot out of the air over Guadalcanal by Lt. Murray Shubin flying a Lockheed P-38 Lightening plane for which Algoma Plywood supplied parts. The article pointed out that not only was it a red-letter day for Lt. Shubin, but also for the Algoma Plywood. The workers received a pat on the back in a telegram from the assistant chief of the Army's Air Force staff, Major General Giles. In the telegram, Giles praised those on the production line who "had done your work exceedingly well and I thought you would like to know it."  Algoma Plywood was also awarded the Army-Navy “E” for Excellence. Where did Shubin get his training? On a Lake Michigan aircraft carrier?

At 17 when he graduated from high school, Algoma’s Jim Evans was several months too young to enlist in the Navy so he got a job in Sturgeon Bay as a welder at Laethem-Smith Shipyards. Living next to St. Agnes-By-the-Lake, Jim had a perfect view of what was happening on the lake, and sometimes it was seeing a submarine surfacing. A sub on Lake Michigan?  The deepest part of the lake is off Manitowoc and to just south of Algoma. Subs built in Manitowoc were retrofitted in Sturgeon Bay and there were days Jim was leaving for work only to see a sub surfacing, also on its way north. Jim’s welding brought the young man a new awareness: he knew what a faulty weld would do to a ship, and to the men on it who were already giving their lives. In the years to come, it was something that often crossed the mind of the young seaman.

Finally old enough to enlist, Jim was beyond basic training, in Florida and enjoying a little liberty with his new shipmates. As the men watched a vessel come up river (inter-coastal waterway) one night as they returned to their ship, Jim was stunned to see it was built in Sturgeon Bay and one on which he had worked. The thing was, nobody believed him. After all, Jim was just a kid and a seaman who was out enjoying new-found liberty.

Sturgeon Bay’s yards built 257 vessels in 3 ½ years. The yards grew so fast that within 6 months the city’s population exploded, nearly doubling overnight from 6,000 to about 11,000 people. It has been said about 40% of the shipyard employees were women and young women meant child care. Clarice Chapman Reynard began teaching kindergarten in the Quonset at Sunset Beach, a few hundred yards north of the Laethem-Smith yard. The war meant a shortage of teachers and Clarice had 125-135 kindergartners in a class! Those kindergartners were not as old as 5. The old Quonset was the building on the south end of Sunset Park in which Ray Christianson began the museum that is now Door County Maritime Museum.

On July 5, 1944 Kewaunee Shipbuilding and Engineering was the county’s second company awarded with the Army-Navy “E” for Excellence. By the time of the award, the company had launched 70 boats from diesel tenders to cargo and transport ships, 64 of which had been delivered. The company’s employees were recognized for their morale, their excellence in production and the records they continued to beat. Noting that the company had a remarkable training program which transformed farmers, merchants and professional men into exceptionally skilled shipbuilding workers, the high ranking military officials had nothing but good things to say about it. Production in what was a strip of swampland began in late 1941 and was going strong by May 1942. Note: A similar project began in 1917 with World War l but it failed.

Algoma Plywood, now Algoma Hardwoods, Kewaunee Shipbuilding and Engineering, now Kewaunee Fabrications, Laethem-Smith Shipyard, later Sturgeon Bay Shipbuilding and now Fincantierie, Sturgeon Bay's Peterson Builders and Manitowoc Shipbuilding Co. were forces in the World War ll effort. Manitowoc Shipbuilding and Peterson Builders no longer exist, however the other companies continue to provide employment to residents of Northeast Wisconsin.

To learn more about World War ll pilots and carrier training on Lake Michigan, watch for Heroes on Deck, a John Davies documentary that will be broadcast in mid-June on the Wisconsin channel of WPTV. More about the war time roles of the industries of Northeast Wisconsin can be found in area newspapers, libraries and by Googling.

Sources: Algoma Record Herald; Sturgeon Bay Advocate; Women of the Plywood: The World War ll Years, c. 1996; earlier blog posts; Photos except where cited are in the blogger's collection.

Sunday, May 22, 2016

The Day the Circus Set Up in Grandpa's Hay Field

A few generations ago there were 10 year old boys whose ambition it was to run away and join the circus. Mothers probably thought they were living in their own three-ring circus with those kids, but the mothers, just as the boys, found a sense of awe when circus came to town. The big-top, the elephants, the trapeze artists, bare-back riders, the tantalizing smells of roasted peanuts and cotton candy…..Could anyone stay away?

Most of Algoma was under the big-top when the Kelly-Miller Brothers’ circus played on Grandpa’s farm field. Today it is hard to believe that America’s second largest circus would appear in a community as small as Algoma. But, it was August 1948 and things were a little different. Besides that, the circus needed a place to stop to water and feed the animals. Algoma was convenient. Tents that were set up in the field that is now the home of the Piggly-Wiggly and Subway were the scene of an afternoon show, however the circus welcomed residents as early as 9 AM to watch the feeding.

Kelly-Miller’s caravan included 35 double-length cars of equipment, 200 animals, 450 people and 9 acres of tents. The circus brought a hippopotamus and what was billed as a “herd of giraffes.”  It was noted that the giraffes were the first ever to appear in Kewaunee County and that few circuses traveled with them. The hippo was no doubt a first as well. The second largest herd of elephants in the U.S. remains etched in memory of those in attendance that day.

When Dad and I walked over early that Sunday morning, the elephants were already put to work raising the big-top. The memory of the elephants’ trunks curled around those huge tent poles lives on, as it does with the now-adult-neighbor-kids. The farm was along the lake and a wonderful place for cool breezes on a hot day. The lake offered a good place for a cool dip or perhaps a bath too for the sweaty circus workers on that hot day.  Grandpa’s cottages were rented and parents were frightened when those of strange ethnicities were running up and down the beach, basking in joy on beautiful Lake Michigan shore. It didn’t take long to know there was nothing to fear. People are people and those people had the most exciting jobs on earth. To a kid, at least.

With so many acts in all three rings in the big-top, it was impossible to watch everything at once. Was the man really lifted high above the crowd by his teeth? How could one stand up to ride a horse? Did you jump when the ringmaster cracked his whip? Did your parents buy you  some peanuts or cotton candy? Did you see it when that elephant did his business right in the tent? Did your mother yell when you were about to stick your finger in the lion’s cage? If you could be in that parade, what would you be?

The smaller tents had other remarkable shows including a magic show. The magician using a drop knife that split carrots asked for a volunteer brave enough to put his or her arm under the knife. Who was so brave? It turned out to be Peter Kashik who was a 4th grader in our school. Perhaps he volunteered himself or perhaps he was given a push, but our hearts stopped. Peter’s arm was going to be cut off. The magician raised the bar. Kids who couldn’t bear to watch heard the slam. Peter wasn’t bleeding and crying, he was smiling. He had an arm! What happened? How did we ever get so lucky to have a circus right there in Grandpa’s field? The stop that refreshed the animals refreshed all of us.

Kelly-Miller was Algoma’s first circus stop in 17 years. Circuses played in the city over the years and there were indeed 10 year old boys who wanted to join the circus and did! One was the popular Andy McDonald, Ahnapee’s showman.  McDonald, who managed the Ahnapee Theatre, advanced stagecoach reservations for those planning to attend Barnum's Great Show during the summer of 1871. In March, McDonald left town to become assistant manager of Barnum and Costello's Great Combination Show. Although the circus was known to stop in Ahnapee, Barnum's  big-top did never did.

Algoma had another association with the circus, Ringling Bros., Barnum and Bailey. That was Herman Ashby whose stage name was George Wilson. Herman was the 2nd of four children born in Ahnapee to Joel and Minnie Haucke Ashby. How he ever got to the circus is obscure but his super human strength is what provided his livelihood. At 4’ 10 ½”, Herman was another Atlas. The Advocate called him a “midget Sampson” when he put on a show in 1908. Some said the strength of his jaw and teeth were so extraordinary that he could bite a nail in half and hang on a high wire holding on only with his teeth. An 1899 Advocate reported on residents who saw Herman’s act in Chicago where he was billed as “the man with the iron jaw.” His muscular development was showcased in wrestling and weight lifting shows. Most astounding was that Herman only weighed 126 pounds at age 30. Herman’s wife Lizzie was an equestrian, riding bare-backed. She could also play guitar, and did. Whether she was one of the singers who augmented Herman’s program is unknown. Herman was raised in Sturgeon Bay and appeared on stage at a young age. He served as the advance man for the Bamboo Queen show troupe that regularly played in Sturgeon Bay.

After Lizzie died an early death. Herman’s sister and husband raised their only child. It was then that Herman left his touring performance life to spend more time in Sturgeon Bay where he organized a vaudeville troupe of eight, known as the Ashby Combine. Sturgeon Bay residents Emily Friend, Millie Colu and Clyde Stoneman joined Chicago professionals in Ashby's show. According to a 1906 Democrat, Ashby offered high-class vaudeville and circus acts that he planned to take on the road after the August 16th Sturgeon Bay opening. The Advocate reported that Ashby’s show was one of the best of the season with his talented performers. It said prices were popular and that Ashby “spared no pains” to offer the best and, because he was a city resident, he deserved support.

When the circuses such as Lemen Bros. did not meet expectations, the papers let the public know. Presenting shows at both Sturgeon Bay and Kewaunee in 1899, the Advocate told readership how disappointed attendees were. The “show was rank” and worse than some of the smaller shows on the road. Furthermore the crowd following it was made up of swindlers and robbers who used shell games and slot machines to separate “easy marks” from their money. That circus got what was due after it performed in Seymour where it left town in a “shower of eggs.”

Owned by Wisconsin Historical Society, Circus World at Baraboo is a Wisconsin treasure. Highlighting the history of the circus and the Ringling Bros. Circus itself, it offers a glimpse into the life of those such as locals Andy McDonald, Herman Ashby and into the memories of all those Algoma senior citizens who remember giraffes, a hippo, elephants, tents and clowns on the Sunday the circus came to Algoma and set up on Grandpa’s farm.

The Kelly-Miller Circus is in business and can be found by Googling,
Sources: Ahnapee Record, Algoma Record, Algoma Record Herald, Door County Advocate, The Democrat and family history.

Friday, May 13, 2016

From Normandy to Kewaunee: The Tug Ludington

Tug Ludington

When a man took a job during the Depression, what he expected to make was money, not history. And so it was with 23 year old Norman. Coming from a line of commercial fishermen, at 20 years old he had spent nearly that many years on the lake and bay, knowing the waters as well as anybody. Fifty years later he was still agile enough to jump on the roof of the wheelhouse of his own boat so he could turn the wheel with his big toe as he was setting the main. In between was when he served as captain of the tug that made history.

Norman was fortunate in 1932 when he got a job with the U.S. Corps of Engineers.He began shoveling coal, a menial job for an experienced seaman, but it meant a paycheck during the Great Depression. Fortune also smiled on him when, because of the Corps, he met his bride-to-be. On the water and away from home most of the time, he rose through the ranks, retiring in 1965 as Master, or Captain, of the sea-going Tug Ludington, pride of the Corps, and a vessel, with its complement, that was instrumental in the harbor building and reconstructions up and down Lake Michigan and in other Great Lakes’ ports as well. He was there from the tug’s beginning in 1946 when he and a few others were sent to Charleston to bring the World War ll vessel to Kewaunee.

Built at Jacobson Shipyard in Oyster Bay, New York, the 115’ tug was fourth in a series of eight sea-going tugs constructed during World War ll specifically for the war effort. Completed in October, the keel for the $369,400 vessel was laid in February 1943. After passing sea trials, the tug was accepted and christened Major William F. Browder by the U.S. Army which designated the tug LT-4. Up to then, privately owned tugs were being commissioned and converted for wartime use. The new tug’s armament consisted of two 50 caliber machine guns mounted above the chart room and pilot house. The guns don’t sound like much but the fire power was mainly for protection from airplanes. Tugs were often strafed by enemy planes and threatened by submarines, however the tugs were too small a target to waste a torpedo on. In early 1944, the ocean-going tug and two sister ships were taken to Southampton, England to participate in D-Day, towing ammunition barges across the English Channel. Having seen service the tug at Normandy and more, the tug now known as the Ludington surely has stories to tell. Ironically, Kewaunee County men were at Normandy and other wartime places where the tug was served, but years later, most would never know the vessel in Kewaunee’s harbor had anything to do with them.

Great Britain, Cargo light, 1938
After D-Day the tug went to Cherbourg, France to assist in harbor operations before going back to Plymouth until the wars end when it was returned to Norfolk, Virginia for assignments on the Eastern Seaboard. In October 1946, a cadre consisting of Norman, Loren Vandenberg, Alton Roubal, Virgil Michaels, Kenneth Olson and Joseph Kusbasiewicz picked up the tug in Charleston, most likely at the Charleston Navy Yard in the Cooper River, not far up-river from Fort Sumter. The men brought the tug up the Atlantic coast, into the Gulf of St. Lawrence, into the St. Lawrence River, through the Great Lakes and finally, after 35 days, to Kewaunee where it would replace the Corps' 48 year old Tug Cumberland. The direct drive diesel Tug Browder was the first of its LTV class to be transferred for service in Lake Michigan. As many of the other tugs, it was named after a Great Lakes’ port city and called the Ludington. Operating out of Kewaunee, the tug had a storied 40-year history in the construction and maintenance of harbors and breakwaters on the Great Lakes. Norman was there for its first 20 years.

In March 1947, a few months after getting the tug to Kewaunee, the men returned to work (following a winter hiatus) to ready the Dredge Kewaunee for April’s work in the city’s harbor. After that it was on to other Lake Michigan ports, ending the season in Menominee, Michigan. The dredge was joined by a new tug, the Two Rivers, which was being fitted out for towing and working with the dredge. At the time Norman was serving on the Two Rivers as Capt. Palmer LaPlante’s first mate. Harvey E. Conroy, who would retire in February 1950, was named captain of the Ludington. Conroy had been with the Corps for 36 years, having been a crewman on the Cumberland when he was promoted to first mate. His captaincy followed the retirement of Capt. Algie Alexander. When the Cumberland was retired, Capt. Conroy was assigned to the Ludington and was succeeded by Capt. Norman Johnson.

Ludington & Dredge Haines
April 1950 saw the Dredge Kewaunee moved from its winter quarters to begin the annual dredging of Kewaunee harbor. After that it left for South Haven, Michigan, joining the Barge Milwaukee which was carrying the construction materials. The Ludington and the rest of the construction fleet was on its way. And so it continued for the remainder of the Ludington’s life.

In a day without Smart phones and email, the crew and their family members depended on mail or long distance phone calls, something few used without a dire emergency. Radio station WKOW's “Breakfast Party” was new in 1951. The program offered women whose husbands were aboard lake vessels a chance to be interviewed and then allowed to call and say a few words to their loved ones. Two such people were Mrs. Drew Hickey and her daughter Darlene who got to call Mr. Hickey aboard the Ludington which was in Milwaukee. During the same program Mrs. Edward Velequette connected with her husband who was in Canadian waters on a Roen vessel. Conversations were not private, but it was thrilling to “talk over the radio.”

Wives and parents were often unsure where their husbands and sons were. In some ways the tug personnel often had little information themselves. At times there would be a change of orders with a two-hour notice to, for instance, leave Escanaba and head for Grand Haven. Men who thought they’d get home could easily have found themselves bound for Cleveland.

Harbor work in Algoma
The men on the tugs worked together and lived together during their season. They also knew just about everyone else on Corps vessels. Correspondence came from any number of men who had served on the Ludington or elsewhere in the Corps. Harold Knutson left the tug in 1951 but he kept up with the news. William Weinert was returning to school in September 1951 when he left the Ludington in Milwaukee. Weinert missed the camaraderie when he wrote to thank the captain and crew for their kindnesses. In 1954 Vern wrote from Ashtabula, Ohio to let the captain know Mr. Loemer had come over from the Tug Wilson. Joe W. Davies was on the Dredge Paraiso of Roosevelt, NY when he wrote to let the captain know about the Seaway Project. Edward Oertal had served and in 1963 he sent a Christmas card from his warmer “digs” in Bonita, Florida.

When Capt. Johnson retired in December 1964, Lt. General W.K. Wilson, Chief of Engineers at the Washington Headquarters of the Army noted a career of more than 33 years in federal service with the Corps of Engineers in the Milwaukee and Chicago Districts. Coincidentally, Elton Roubal retired at the same time. Roubal was on the Charleston trip and retired as dredge operator on the Dredge Kewaunee. A few other of the men who’d served in the Kewaunee Corps retired within a few months of each other. Ed Hohne was a dredge operator on the repair crew. Frank Kacerowsky was a former dredge operator on the Kewaunee and Buck Hessel had served as Master of the Two Rivers. The men had served from between 33 and nearly 39 years.

Though the Ludington’s work life is over, the tug with the proud past remains in Kewaunee’s harbor. For much of the year, the tug is an in-water museum available to be toured for a nominal fee. Touring Lake Michigan’s harbor cities is to know that the Ludington was there. Chicago and Milwaukee’s impressive harbors saw the Ludington and its complement do the work that gave rise to those harbors today. The tug began its life witnessing the pain of World War ll. It ended its life witnessing successes in the Great Lakes' harbors. If that boat could only talk. From Normandy, France to Kewaunee, Wisconsin, what a history!

Sources: On Land and Sea, c. 1995; Johnson family letters dating to 1932,  family scrapbooks and photos; paintings from NLJohnson Art.

Saturday, April 16, 2016

Red River: What Happened to Bay View?

Bay View is another of the long-forgotten Kewaunee County hamlets. The crossroads community in the Town of Red River is where some would say, “on top of Dyckesville.” Others would say it was just over a mile southeast of Dyckesville. On a current plat map, the place would be located at the intersection of the SW corner of Section 17 and the NW corner of Section 20, an area originally populated by Belgians with names such as Boulanger, Wery, LaCourt and Van Dycke. Antoine Wery, however, was the first to patent land in 1858. Wery chose the SW ¼ SW ¼ of S 21 and a mere 20 years later was surrounded by other Belgian settlers and more Werys.

Belgian history in Door and Kewaunee Counties is recorded in volumes and, like anything else, it is the seemingly minor details that get lost. What preceded the coming of the Belgian settlers and the Indians who were there first is most interesting. Geologically, the town stands out. Before 1900 geologists knew there was a small strip of Cincinnati shale in the part of the town bordering the bay of Green Bay. In that the town differs from the remainder of Kewaunee County which is made up of Niagara limestone, though Casco and Montpelier have their own unique formations. More than 100 years ago scientists were aware of two small areas in both places made up of beds of pebbles left from a time when the rest of what is now Kewaunee Country was submerged by what became Lake Michigan.

The fascinating period of glaciations left the highest elevation in Kewaunee County in Red River. Bordering the Town of Luxemburg to the south and Lincoln to the east, Red River’s Section 36 is a point 285’ above “oceanic” Lake Michigan. In the 1870s, the county averaged from 60’ to 200’ above the lake, but only Red River's Section 36 was described as having chalybeate springs, water that was said to have health-giving qualities. The sulphur-smelling springs were supposed to be about 45 degrees and flow moderately. Perhaps there were area residents who bathed in the springs, but the waters were never known widely enough to bring health-seeking tourists.

Land speculator James Duane Doty was one of the first to patent land in the town in 1838, not long after the original survey. Doty was elected as the Wisconsin Territory's congressional delegate the same year and from 1841 to 1844 served as Territorial Governor. Doty’s investment covering Section 33 surely was because of the timber which had not yet been logged off by the time Slausson and Grimmer held title to much of the land over 30 years later. However, the thickly forested land had seen a sawmill by the time the Belgians began arriving.

Keenly aware of the potential, surveyor Sylvester Sibley patented Sections 5, 6 and 8. Recorded history says Guerdon Hubbard and James A. Armstrong patented the land with Sibley near the mouth of the Red River (Rouge Riviere), intending to build a sawmill, however legal documents show Sibley as a single owner who registered his land in 1837 during the territorial days of Wisconsin.  Apparently the sawmill did go forth. By 1840, General A.C. Ellis, whom some sources give as Wisconsin’s first newspaper publisher, Green Bay’s Daniel Whitney and Senator Timothy Howe were involved in the mill, but about 1850 Armstrong and Hubbard abandoned their interests. Eventually the mill site became Thomas Spear’s. It was destroyed by fire in 1864 and rebuilt, though by indications, it was smaller than the first.  A few years later, Charles Scofield bought the mill and Scofield's ownership remains the most documented.

It was to this region that Wery and the others came. Anton Delimont was one of the lesser known early residents, although the surname could be found on plat maps years later.

When Delimont arrived in the area, he came to a still virtually uninhabited place around what became Bay View. He said that in cutting down the immense trees to form a clearing, he was able to build a log home and a farm building. Delimont continued to clear land during the winter in order to have fields to plant come spring, but by spring he was discouraged and moved on, locating in Nebraska. Just over 40 years later, Delimont returned to his old Red River farmstead and found civilization. He also found the remnants of his log home and that prompted an interview. At his first  arrival in Red River, Delimont found the thrifty Belgians building a new Catholic church to serve at least 100 families. At its construction in 1876, the church was said to be one of the finest buildings in the county. If Delimont stayed in the area only a year, it would have been a few years after the great Fire of 1871. The devastation of Red River makes it seem unlikely that he was cutting such immense trees although there are buildings remaining today that were constructed with charred logs from trees not completely burned. One wonders why just one winter proved discouraging. Delimont was not alone in relocating to Nebraska nor was he alone living near what became Bay View . Old maps indicate others with his surname so he obviously had relatives in the area.

But leave, Delimont did, eventually to return to find the farm on which he pioneered both modern and prosperous. Delimont was told that Red River farmers were among the most prominent in Kewaunee County and often had pure bred cattle, but he countered that Nebraska’s weather was better and farms were much larger. He found the village of Bay View with a large cheese factory that was the jewel of the area. Bay View had a general store, a blacksmith shop, a new school – District #3 in the Town of Red River – and the town hall in the heart of the tiny village. Eugene Daoust built the store late in 1902. In 1909 Louis Smeesters, who made cheese with Toebe and Liebl in Luxemburg, accepted a position with Daoust who was also running the cheese factory. How long Smeesters made cheese is not clear, but he was drafted into what became World War l. He was serving the community 5 years later and  was the church treasurer. Bay View Farmers Coop operated the cheese factory for a number of years and Marvin Malcore bought Smeesters’ store. Malcore sold in 1948 to John Creviere and the DeBakers bought it from him.

The place Delimont left had three school rural school buildings by the time it was a two-room school absorbed into the Luxemburg-Casco school district. History says the first school was frame. Built in 1869, the sawn boards no doubt came from the Scofield mill. The second school was built a few rods south of the first and was another frame school.

Though Bay View continued to fade away as an enterprising hamlet, it sported a baseball team in the old Cherry League for years. The Bay View teams offered a chance for the community's residents to socialize and be entertained by teams that always made them proud. 1934’s powerhouse team was a stand out. Showcasing such men as Debaker and Moens on the mound with Junion, DeMoulin, Guillette, Gillis, DuChateau, Bader and Sell on the field, the teams eventually faded too. If Delimont could return today, he’d see cornfields and wonder where it all went. Bay View passed into history joining Zavis, Darbellay, Pierce, Casco Pier and more, some of which no longer exist even in memories.

Sources: Ahnapee Record/Algoma Record Herald; Door County Advocate; Here Comes the Mail: Post Offices of Kewaunee County, c. 2010; On Land and Sea c. 1997 (a family history); Wikipedia.

Saturday, April 2, 2016

Casco Cheese and a State-of-the-Art Plant

Casco Cheese Company, 1941
In early April 1948 the Casco Cheese Company invited the public to tour its new addition. The company was among the scores of cheese companies known to have operated in Kewaunee County, however with its new 52 x 118’ addition it was state-of-the-art. The brick and concrete block exterior housed an interior built with tile walls and floors. That was in addition to new equipment including stainless steel vats, filters and presses. There was a new can washer, pasteurizer, scales and more. Conveyors took the manufactured cheese to cutting, to storage and then to the railroad cars. The building’s basement held storage, space for processing natural cheese, and packing cheese into consumer-sized packaging. Casco had everything.

Fred Plinke was making cheese in Rankin in 1898
Wisconsin cheese was becoming popular in the first part of the 1900s and the Casco cheese was known far beyond Casco. Sold by First National, the New England grocery chain was affiliated with Evangeline Milk which was also connected to Casco Cheese. Though the cheese was shipped east, the cheese from Casco was popular in Wisconsin markets as well, a fact not lost on the approximately 60 cheese factories operating in the county in the years surrounding 1910.

Cheese making was important to Kewaunee County and quality cheese making even more so. Cheese
makers knew quality increased demand and demands caused prices to increase, something pointed out in 1907 by state inspector E.L. Aderhold. Aderhold said that the average consumption was 4 pounds per person annually while European countries averaged between 11 and 26 pounds yearly. Aderhold felt Wisconsin’s problem was under-consumption. He said creating an appeal to the palette would make the difference. Aderhold was back in 1926 pleading with farmers to cooperate with cheese makers. He advocated testing milk and said low grades of cheese were frequently caused by excess water. It was only a few years earlier when Casco’s manager John Fameree discussed the company’s new well. Good flowing water was found at 41’. Cheese makers surely listened to Aderhold because Wisconsin cheese is legendary.

During 1941, a few years before Casco’s upgrades, Kewaunee Co. cheese makers sponsored a dance as part of the campaign to increase cheese consumption. Profits from the dance at the Rondezvous in Neuren went to advertising the county’s most famous product. By then cheese makers knew they had to popularize their product at home before they could reach other markets. Cheese was a healthful product for the public. The economy offered by sales was good for both the cheese factories and the stores that sold it.

Founded 1876 and closed 1965, the Casco cheese factory had an impressive 90 year story. Albert Dworzak/Dworak was its first cheese maker. By 1882, a Mr. Filz owned the place.  As early as the 1860s, Joe Filz was engaged in cheese making at Frieman’s Corners, now South Luxemburg. Joe Filz had a store, was the postmaster and involved of numerous endeavors, but it is unclear if Joe was the “Mr.” at Casco.

Herman Sibilsky on his way to Swamp Creek cheese factory     H. Nell photo
Ten years after Filz’ ownership, John Carl built a new factory and hired Herman Witte of Ahnapee as the cheese maker. If the Witte name sounds familiar, it could be because Emil Witte was making brick with Frederick Storm in Ahnapee.  At the time of Frank Haack’s marriage to Mathilda Radue in October 1907, Frank owned the cheese factory and creamery. The paper seemed to opine that Mathilda was marrying well when it said Frank was honest and industrious. Frank doesn’t appear to have kept the factory for long because in April 1909 it was announced that the Casco factory opened with M.J. Koss as cheese maker. Although Joseph Koss and M. Burke owned the factory, Burke was renting his share to Koss at the time. Koss had attended dairy school in Madison and it was known he’d do a first rate job. During 1914, when John Koss married Mollie Kutzra, the wedding article said he was proprietor of the company.

Casco Cheese Co. had a long history. It frequently made the newspapers and it was very big news when the factory shut down for three weeks during August 1922. It is hard to imagine an idle cheese factory during the summer, but it happened when a lack of coal shut down the factory. While the time was used equipment repairs before wood became the fuel source, at least one truck load of milk was sent to the Sturgeon Bay condensery each day.

Over the years, the factory was relocated before it sat on its longtime location on the river, and on the southwest corner of the Highway 54 Bridge as one entered Casco from the east. The plant became one of the nine Van Camp’s operated in the Midwest in 1927 and a Lake-to-Lake cheddar producing facility in 1964 until it was repurposed in 1975 as a cold-storage building only. That lasted until 1983 when Bill Hanmann began using the factory for milling animal food.

Nearly 70 years after its open house, the building remains. If walls could talk, they would have much to say.

Sources: Ahnapee Record/Algoma Record Herald; Commercial History of Algoma, Wisconsin Vol 2, c. 2012; Here Comes the Mail: Post Offices of Kewaunee County, c. 2010; H. Nell interview.