Friday, October 20, 2017

A Kewaunee County Mystery: A Hamlet Called Peot




Peot: Town 24, Range 23, Section 25, Kewaunee County


Peot is a well known surname in Kewaunee and Door Counties. Few, however, know that for a time it was a Kewaunee County community. Peot never achieved the importance of other long-forgotten county places, and in some ways it is surrounded by mystery.

Very little of Peot’s history exists, and most of what is known comes from requests to open a U.S. post office. In January 1873 Cyrill VanRankenVanBarnker filed a request for a U.S. post office to be located in the NW ¼ of Section 25, Town 24, Range 23, Kewaunee County. VanRanken said the post office would be on Route 13097, the direct route from Mishicott* to Casco, with Ira H. and C.B. Drake serving as the mail contractors.

In filing his request, VanRanken said Casco was 4 miles southeast of the new post office and that Ellisville was two miles northwest, however Casco was the closest by direct road. Kewaunee River was the most prominent area river and the Scarboro was the closest creek. He further said the post office was on the west side of the river, and two miles from it, and one mile north of the creek. VanRanken expected to serve 250 customers.

Oscar** Thibaudeau filed a new document in May 1881. Filing with the Department of Post Offices was mandatory as Thibaudeau intended to relocate the office which, he said, would be on route 25365 between Mishicott and Casco. The new office would be off the direct route by a mere 80 rods on the east side of the direct route. The mail would be carried once per week by contractor Anton Bowman. Oscar Thibaudeau is listed as taking over the office on June 22, 1881. Another Thibaudeau also filed a document for Ryan, only a few miles away. Oswald Thibaudeau was the Ryan postmaster on March 26, 1892.

Thibaudeau noted that the contractor’s trip would be increased by 160 rods, about a walk across a 2017 city residential lot and back. Thibaudeau said the contractor would leave the direct route in the northwest corner of Section 25 and again intersect with the route in the northwest corner of Section 25. Thibaudeau differed with VanRanken in saying that Ellisville was the nearest office “on the other side” of the proposed office and that Ellisville was 6 miles southwest. Thibaudeau said the Kewaunee River was 1 ½ mile from his post office and that Scarboro Creek was a mile away. In the 8 years since VanRanken’s filing, Peot did not grow as Thibaudeau also said he would be serving 250 customers, the same number VanRanken expected to serve. Kewaunee postmaster A.D. Laughlin examined Thibaudeau’s document and attested to its accuracy.

VanRanken clearly signed his name on the site request and Laughlin verified it, however on another U.S. postmaster list for Kewaunee County, and their dates of service, Cyrill Vadboncouer is listed as the postmaster on February 14, 1873 with Napoleon  Vadboncouer  taking over on June 4, 1877.  An April 1878 Ahnapee Record announced the opening of Cyrille VadBunker’s new meat market at 3rd and Steele in the building owned by this blogger’s great-grandparents. Subsequent papers carried his ads while the December 19 paper carried notice of his death on the 16th. He had lived in Ahnapee about 18 months and died of dropsy, congestive heart failure in 2017. It appears that Cyrill VanRanken/Van Barnker, Cyrille Vadboncouer and Cyrille VadBunker are one and the same.

In the middle of Section 25, about a mile north of Scarboro and 3 miles east of Luxemburg* on County Highway A, one finds Sacred Heart Church Cemetery, also known as Bunker Hill Cemetery. The cemetery has nothing to do with Revolutionary War battles but has a lot to do with the Verboncouer family which was often called Bunker or Boncour.

In an area well populated by Thibaudeaus, Felix Verboncouer married Adele Thibaudeau. The pair offered a hillside on their property, about ½ mile east of Sacred Heart Church, as a church cemetery. It is felt that Felix and Adele made the gesture when her brother Simon Thibaudeau’s 2 year old son Alex died in 1863. Alex was the first to be buried in the new cemetery.

The church at the hamlet once called Peot served the Scarboro Valley though it was away from the village of Scarboro. Somewhat obscure deeds indicate the mission church was also erected on Thibaudeau property, but history does tell us Father Edward Daems blessed the new Sacred Heart church in 1875.

Father Daems had a significant impact on Northeast Wisconsin Catholics, most predominantly with the Belgian churches. It was Daems, a Crosier priest who had come from Belgium in 1851, who encouraged the 1856 Belgium immigrants to locate on the Peninsula near Robinsonville. Daems was hard-working and zealous, working in the 14 churches that made up his parish. At the time the area was part of the Milwaukee Diocese. Green Bay Diocese was formed in 1868.

Sacred Heart Church was more well known as Bunker Church or the French Church. Parishioners were said to be mostly French Canadian with a sprinkling of Germans, Bohemians and Irish. The Peot family lived across the road from the church and was highly involved in it. Mrs. Peot led the rosary each Saturday in May as a part of devotions and the Peot sons served as altar boys for years. Peots’ involvement led to the church also being called Peot Church, however there are no Peots recorded in the burials in Sacred Heart Cemetery.

In a church reported to be populated by a large number of French Canadians, one would expect a large number of burials of those with French sounding names, however Sacred Heart Cemetery appears to contain a large number of Bohemians. A compilation of Kewaunee County cemeteries tells us there are 13 Thibaudeaus, 4 Verboncouers - all of whom died before the age of 35 - 5 Bunkers and 4 Boncoers. When Napoleon died at age 35 in 1887, his marker was "Verboncouer. Two of his children predeceased him and one died a year later. The children do not have stones but are recorded as Boncoer. Felix and Adelle Verboncouer's family is also listed under various spellings.

A search of area newspapers yields little about Peot, however Algoma Record Herald carried an article covering the silver wedding anniversary of Mr. and Mrs. Peter Vanouse in 1917. They started off the day with "mass at the church in Scarboro" before going to Novak’s Hall for a celebration. That church was Sacred Heart at Peot. It was torn down a few years later.

An exhaustive search of Algoma Record Herald failed to produce more than a mention of Peot. Older residents feel the church was torn down in 1923, however it doesn't appear to have made the news. The place is mysterious. The cemetery is understandable given the circumstances, but why the church? Why the U.S. post office? Scarboro was close and - until a flood destroyed so much of it - was a vibrant community with a sawmill, blacksmith, mercantile, hall and more. When the documents were filed requesting the post office, both VanRanken and Thibaudeau expected to serve 250 folks. That number included Scarboro. Why Peot? Was it the cemetery that prompted the church and post office?
The approximate site of Peot in 2009

Notes: Only the top portion of the site documents are shown.
To see VanRanken on the site document, the name could possibly be interpreted as VanBarnker, however a man requesting a post office had to be literate. Cyrille filled out the document and signed his own name.
* For some time Mishicot was written as Mishicott; Luxemburg was originally Luxembourg and then changed to Luxemburg because of the post office. Within those years, the spellings were interchangeable.
**The 1880 census lists Mr. Thibaudeau as Oskar, not Oscar, and lists him as a shoemaker. Oskar was born in Canada in 1859 and lived with his 18 year old wife Belinda.
Verboncouer was rarely spelled consistently.

Sources: Ahnapee/Algoma Record/Record Herald; Here Comes the Mail: Post Offices of Kewaunee County, c. 2010; postal documents and the current photo are from the blogger's collection,




Thursday, September 14, 2017

Days of Alphabet Soup: Algoma & the Depression

Algoma's Most Visible Reminder of the Days of Alphabet Soup

Kewaunee County folks felt the Great Depression as badly as it was felt across the U.S. If rural Wisconsinites were better off than their big city cousins, nobody knew it. What they thought in November 1932 was that a vote for Franklin Delano Roosevelt would offer a path out of such wretchedness. At the depths of the Depression, at least 1 in 4 was unemployed.

Roosevelt’s election brought his New Deal, and with it came civil and relief agencies charged with alleviating the economic suffering of the country’s citizens. Known by a plethora of initials, the programs were lumped into “Alphabet Soup.” For some, the days of Alphabet Soup were much like the stone soup fairy-tale in children’s storybooks. There were the CCC, WPA and NRA among others. Some such as SSB, SEC, FHA, FCC, FDIC, FCA and TVA are still operating. With the exception of Social Security in 1935, the agencies were created in 1933 or 1834. Kewaunee County didn’t experience the TVA – Tennessee Valley Authority - but it could easily have been the only one.

Crescent Beach work
In charge of the CCC – Civil Conservation Corps – in Kewaunee County, Alice Krauss provided information and ran early enrollment certifications for the agency. Physically fit, unemployed men to age 23 were eligible for a six month enrollment. They could re-enroll for a period of 2 years, provided they were under 23. Originally a relief agency, CCC was redefined to also provide education, thus offering men a chance to improve themselves. Most of the work was out-of-doors where men learned such things as forestry, soil conservation and park development. CCC changed and accepted men to age 25 for a period of 6 months. The government paid $30 a month in addition to offering food, clothing and lodging.

Algoma’s Milton Blahnik was one who took advantage of the program. He was at Bloomington in August 1935 where he played first base on the camp’s baseball team. Blahnik’s athletic prowess made news. Playing an all-star team from Grant County, Blahnik scored 3 hits in 5 times at bat. Not only was he recognized for his long hits, but he also had a defensive game at first base.

During June 1936, 7 county men were enrolled for CCC service. There were exams to pass and Kewaunee’s Erwin Suchocki, William McCalvy and Joe Muchoski made it. So did Algoma men Glen Welnick and Harvey Rudie, Lester Huber of Carlton, and Frank Swifka of West Kewaunee. Algoma’s Louie Wautlet wanted to enroll but had to wait for discharge papers from an earlier enrollment. By November 1939 Rupert Pagel and his brother Lester had just returned to the CCC Camp at Minoqua following a week’s vacation with their parents.  Vincent Charles of East Rosiere had 10 days off about the same time.

Opportunities existed during the Depression and young men were taking advantage of them even though March 1934 marked the end of CWA in Kewaunee County. Several programs were begun in November 1933 and with the end of the CWA, some of those programs would go unfinished. That was most unfortunate. Kewaunee’s hill was being terraced and work at the airport had just begun. Remodeling the county farm came to an end. The work on Algoma’s park came to a standstill, but the park could wait. That park was a swamp that would be known as Perry Field. Plans were to fill in the swamp with 20,000 yards of fill at a cost of $12,000. Trees, shrubs, piping, culverts and more were part of the earlier scheduled work. As for the county home, it was expected that the building would rest on new foundations before time ran out. Since Kewaunee’s hill was part of the state highway system, it was hoped the state would step in.

Just as stone soup was made, something else generally got thrown into the pot, however the additions were often no more palatable to Kewaunee County municipalities than they were to others throughout the state. FERA was a late add-on. Kewaunee County was stymied as it didn’t have cities over 5,000 people, and that’s what FERA required for participation. County officials including Board Chair O. H. Bruemmer, Algoma Mayor Harry Heidmann, Kewaunee Mayor William Karsten and A.D. Shimek in the Wisconsin Assembly fired off a telegram of protest to FERA. The kicker was that community participation required community funds, and that meant that the decision to participate would be in the hands of any community, whether or not the smalls were included.

No doubt there were some who felt some Kewaunee County potatoes could be thrown into the stone soup. As it was, to hear the word “bootleg” when talking about potatoes seemed like a stretch. But, to officials, it was not. September 1935 saw the attachment of “Potato Control” to AAA. Every farmer who raised and sold more than 5 bushels of potatoes was affected by regulations that required packing potatoes in containers of sizes determined by the Department of Agriculture. Each container would bear a government stamp. Each farmer had a potato production quota and those raising more were charged a 45 cent tax on each bushel in excess of the quota. There were temptations to exceed quotas but anyone caught buying or selling non-stamped potatoes was liable to be fined $1,000, or even imprisonment for a 2nd offense.  At the time potatoes were selling for about 60 cents a bushel.

By September 1936 state newspaper headlines were shrieking that Uncle Sam was tightening relief monies before getting the approved 42 million Works Progress monies out. Wisconsin’s monies were cut in August, and September’s funds would be far less. State officials said things were muddled in Washington and advised the public to remain calm. The public was so worried that Governor Phillip LaFollette went to Washington rather than to the State Fair where there was a day in his honor. When LaFollette called from Washington, it was a call that put a smile on the faces of some. Sixteen million dollars were freed. By December, however, Wisconsin agriculture had received less than 21 million of the expected 80-120 million from WPA. Some blamed red tape though others said WPA just didn’t have the money.

Farm market roads were to have been improved before the 2 million tons of crushed lime and its distribution was far reduced. The hiring of 325 inspectors ensuring farm and dairy plant quality was so delayed that Wisconsin had only one man in position in 3 months. At the same time 33,000 farmers were dropped from drought jobs because of a lack in funding. There were other problems. A few days before Christmas in 1936, 33,000 drought stricken farmers got a one-month job. The same farmers had been dropped from WPA jobs a short time earlier due to dwindling funds. It was said 5,000 would get jobs while the others would get assistance grants. It was further said that by presenting their termination certificates, the farmers could get such assistance without additional red-tape.

Algoma sewer work, 1939
Early in 1938 the Record Herald commented that most workers preferred work relief rather than assistance. Algoma had plenty of work to be done but the city was not able to pay for all of it. The school was built and the new sewage treatment plant and its extensions were completed, although there was still work to be done. The city received about 45% of the treatment plant funding through the various programs. Cleaning the brush and the area around the treatment plant remained a must. During the previous summer broken concrete from another project was placed along the lake shore in readiness for a WPA project when funds were available. The idea was to supply dry semi-circular walls that would be filled in to provide additional places along the beach during the summer. Algoma’s magnificent Crescent Beach was enhanced during the days of CCC and WPA. It continues to be improved.

During the first 9 months of 1938, local groups were bearing 85% of their costs. Papers were editorializing that a return to private industrial expansion would keep the needy off the relief roles. Additionally, winter was coming, and just before Christmas 1938, state and local agencies faced even greater burdens in dealing with their own relief as reductions in WPA monies were felt. Algoma saw picketing at the home of Congressman Joshua Johns, left.

Winter did indeed come and jobs started coming available, though not entirely because of government funded programs. Projects needed finishing when German troops marched into the Sudetenland – and then kept on going. As did so many other manufacturing plants, Algoma Plywood and Veneer began increasing the workforce in what turned out to be “pre-war” production. Pre-war production continued into war production. Then came the rationing. As Alphabet Soup faded into the past, meatless days and meat substitutes brought a new kind of stone soup. But, that's another story.


The beach stone flag is at the bottom of south WPA stairway to Crescent Beach, Algoma's crown jewel. Nearly 80 years old, it is one of Algoma's civic reminders of the Great Depression and the men and women, and their families, who survived because of such projects.

Following are some the the Depression ear agencies:
CCC - Civilian Conservation Corp
WPA - Works Progress Administration      
FDIC - Federal Deposit Insurance Corp
TVA - Tennessee Valley Authority    
SEC - Security Exchange Commission   
FCA - Farm Credit Association
SSA - Social Security Administration which created the SSB - Social Security Board
CWA - Civil Works Administration
FERA - Federal Emergency Relief Act
NRA - National Recovery Administration
AAA - Agriculture Adjustment Act
PWA - Public Works Administration


Sources: Algoma Record Herald; family files. Black & white photos were taken from Algoma Record Herald; colored photos are the blogger's.



Wednesday, September 6, 2017

Rio Creek: John Albrecht and the Wisconsin Chief Fanning Mills

John Albrecht's patented Wisconsin Chief Fanning Mill

One hundred fifty years ago, millers and smithys enjoyed a certain prominence in their communities. Sawmills, grist mills and blacksmiths were indispensable to the early residents of Kewaunee County and a community that could boast all three had truly arrived. Fanning mills were of importance to millers and the farmers themselves, but what exactly is a fanning mill? Such an apparatus was used to clean and separate grains to be used for seeding. A fanning mill meant the farmer didn't sow a field full of weeds!

A year following the end of the Civil War, William Ansorge and John Fetzer opened their fanning mill factory on 4th Street in Ahnapee. Although its location is not clear, their farm implement business was Ahnapee’s first, located at the approximate site of today’s 513 4th Street, opposite the P.H. White residence. Presumably both parts of the business were at the same place. The fanning mill above was built in Rio Creek and much like that developed by Fetzer for manufacture in the business with Ansorge.

Will Palmer was another Ahnapee businessman who ran a fanning mill at his feed business until he sold it in May 1881 to A.D. and A.C. Eveland. Evelands planned to enter such a business themselves.

Grains handled byAlbrecth's Wisconsin Chief
There were fanning mills and there were fanning mills; however none seemed to equal what Rio Creek’s John Albrecht invented and, in May 1896, introduced to the public. His strongly constructed unit had upper shoe sieves of 20 x 24”. The under shoe was 24 x 26”. Albrecht felt his sieves were the finest on the market and offered 16 sieves, 9 of zinc and 7 of wire. Varied motions were regulated at will. The upper shoe could move from 3/16” to 1/3” in a hopping motion. The under shoe could move quickly or slowly, thus suiting the grain being cleaned. Each grain needed its own motion and the necessary amount of wind. Wind speed generated split peas flying over the sieves, or slowed so not one grain of timothy seed would fly out. Wind blew all through the upper sieves via an inside blast board tightened to the sieves when necessary.

No doubt John Albrecht celebrated more on New Year’s Day 1897 than he did the night before because it was on January 1 when he received his Wisconsin Chief fanning mill patent approval from Washington, D.C. A few days later, the Record told readership that the mill was a thing of beauty and that Albrecht was already enjoying a lucrative trade because of it. When Albrecht took a load of his patented fanning mills to a new agency in Green Bay during March 1898, the Record opined that he was doing such a lively business that he’d have to enlarge the Rio Creek plant.

J, Albrech's namet, Rio Creek & patent number
In September 1899, the Green Bay Advocate carried an article on Albrecht’s invention saying his Rio Creek manufactured fanning mills had captured a great deal of attention at the fair.  The paper went on to say that the mill included 13 different sieves for cleaning and sifting. Two of five sieves were used to clean any kinds of grain, wild peas, cockle, wild oats, field oats, mustard seeds and more from wheat, rye, barley, peas, etc. Round and heavy seed could be separated from the oats by passing through the machine once. For several years his were the only fanning mills that were sold in the northern area of the county. 

Farmers liked the machine because of its extensive range and possible adjustments to it. When Albrecht was doing demonstrations at the fair, farmers felt it was the best fanning mill they had ever seen. Sometime later while Albrecht was taking his mills to Brussels, he stopped in Rosiere where he sold everything he had. A short time later the Green Bay Advocate noted that Albrecht was displaying his mills at Herman Smits’ shop on Main Street. The paper said farmers looked at “the novelty” daily and those who had seen it work pronounced it a “good machine.” Just before Christmas the Sturgeon Bay Advocate carried an ad saying Wisconsin Chief was the best on the market and that farmers could give it a try. The paper also ran an article about Jacksonport’s Jos. LeMere  who was closing out his wagons and buggies while saying that Wisconsin Chief fanning mills were the best on the market.

Albrecht’s large Rio Creek factory employed several men turning out the new Wisconsin Chief fanning mills daily. During the fall of 1900 the company was giving Algoma Foundry steady employment as the fanning mill company had ordered enough iron to complete 100 new mills.

Gustav Haack was also building fanning mills in Rio Creek by 1899, a time when Algoma’s Perlewitz Bros. were advertising the full line of wire and perforated sieves they kept in stock for farmers who needed such sieves. Types of grain were varied and each required its own gauge of wire to ensure foreign particles would not drop into the cleaned seed supply below.

As late as 1921 J.F. Wota, the man in charge of Wisconsin’s county agricultural agents, touted the efficiency of fanning mills when he said such devices promoted production by enabling 2 men two hours to clean 25 bushels of oats. Wisconsin Chief’s usefulness apparently came to an end by the advent of World War ll. During the 1940s, the machines were frequently found in the lists of farm auction items.

Albrecht’s Rio Creek-made Wisconsin Chief fanning mill are about 120 years old and few are left. Door County Historical Society’s Heritage Village has one in its granary. Check the website for hours and step back in time touring several historic homes, a church, one room school, blacksmith shop, store and granary.  Albrecht’s invention and those of the Hamacheks made a significant impact on Wisconsin agriculture and beyond. Hamacheks’ drawings and patents can be found at Kewaunee County Historical Society museum and research center.


Sources: Ahnapee Record/Algoma Record/Algoma Record Herald; Green Bay Advocate; Sturgeon Bay Advocate. Photos were taken by the blogger.

Tuesday, July 4, 2017

Classroom Magic: Wisconsin School of the Air

Static. Crackling. Whistling. The radio was on. Chairs were scraping as they were pulled across the floor. Kids sat straight with hands folded. And then - Professor Gordon's Journeys Through Musicland was on the air. It was almost magic.

To know what it was like, one had to be there, and all over Kewaunee County kids were. There are memories and more memories. In an era of instant communication, a time when cell phones record and play videos,Wisconsin School of the Air seems like a stretch. Or maybe a figment of one’s imagination. But it wasn’t.

We were in a split 3rd – 4th grade combination and were filled with expectation knowing Professor Gordon would be on in seconds. He was fun so it was hard to understand a few years later when we found out he was educational too. How could so much fun teach us something? To sing with Gordon’s Journeys Through Musicland was the best. Although we didn’t know it then, we were among the 90,000 kids singing with Gordon that year. We had the soft-cover songbooks, but who needed them? We knew so many songs by heart. “Oh Matelli, Oh Matelli, pray tell me where’s your home. My home it is in Switzerland, it’s made of wood and stone…..” Maybe it was, “Reuben, Reuben, I’ve been thinking what a strange world it would be, if the boys were all transported far beyond the Northern Sea………”  Could it get any better than that?  Not only was Professor Gordon popular with the kids, he was a highlight of a Door County Teachers Institute when he spoke in September 1946.

We city kids sat in our desks, however some kids from the rural schools talked about gathering around the radio and watching it with rapt attention, listening carefully, and then singing their hearts out with Professor Gordon. He was a voice inside radio, but what did he look like? The only male grade school teachers in Algoma then were Mr. Sibilsky at the public school and Mr. Kuether at the Lutheran school. The Catholic school only had nuns in those days. For those who never experienced a male teacher, what Gordon looked like was a big question. At 10 years old, the only male singers we knew were Gene Autry, Roy Rogers, Rex Allen and the other singing cowboys frequenting the Majestic’s movie screen on Friday nights. “I’m Back in the Saddle Again” was a far cry from “Ruben and Rachel.”

Back in the 1940’s and early ‘50s, a classroom radio was big.  School boards – especially rural – were loath to spend a dollar on the non-essential so it had to be the opportunities offered by School of the Air that prompted boards to purchase that little Philco or RCA.  A $50 radio ensured that Gordon taught us music while Mrs. Fannie Steves taught rhythms and games to the little kids. Professor Gordon’s Journeys had huge enrollments as did Mrs. Steves who broadcast for 35 years, about as long as many of the area teachers stayed in their classrooms.

The “remember whens” bring up Ranger Mac, a program the “country kids” knew most about. For some reason, he wasn't a part of our curriculum. Maybe because he would have brought us too much fun bringing his nature studies to city kids. He was held in awe by our rural cousins. After all, he was chief of the Junior Forest Rangers and how could you be a Junior Ranger without his program? We didn't know it then, but when we got televisions a few years later, we could write for a ring and become part of Rocky Jones Space Rangers rather than a Junior Forest Ranger. At least we could be rangers in something.

Let’s Draw was another of the programs. Art teacher James Schwalbach encouraged creativity, not that we knew what it was at the time. Our teachers showed us how to re-create what they were doing while we used hinged paper cut-outs for figure drawing. We imagined with Schwalbach because that’s all we could do “on the radio.”   Schwalbach’s “Let’s Draw” invited students to Madison each year. Children chosen were those who had done superior during the year; those chosen probably did not have to re-create their teachers’ work. In addition to the welcome and tours, the chosen students recorded a program with Schwalbach, a program that was broadcast the following week when the students with bragging rights would be basking in the glow in their own schools.

Fifteen years before we started singing with Pops Gordon, the Advocate told readership on September 26, 1935 that Wisconsin’s “major instructional programs by radio” were beginning the following week. Educational programming would include School of the Air and College of the Air via WHA, the state-owned radio station. Ten college programs were offered to those wishing to continue their education. Programs for grade school kids would supplement and assist curriculum.

When Hainsville School kids submitted their educational radio experiences to the Advocate in 1937, they told about enjoying School Time every morning. Every Monday they heard world news. On Tuesday it was music appreciation and then on to a factory on Wednesday. Thursday was a visit to another country and Friday brought lectures on issues such as character building. The wonders of radio!

In March 1960 Casco High School gym was one of the state's five sites hosting a "Let's Sing" and "Let's Draw" festival. About 1,700 kids from all over Northeast Wisconsin crammed into into the small school which was "rockin'" till it was over at 3. By 1960, Kewaunee County was no stranger to television. By then the paper's community correspondents weren't writing about the education filmstrips and movies that kids were "treated" to. Time - and technology - were marching on.

Though programs were carried on WHA, WMAM (Marinette and Menominee) and Sturgeon Bay’s WOKW were among the non-state owned stations to carry the programs according to the schedules listed in local papers. Programming went beyond the educational for youngsters and young adults. It included music, programs for farm families, “Chapter a Day,” weather and almost whatever one wanted.

Fast forwarding 50 or 60 years, Wisconsin Public Radio and Public TV are every bit as important to the grown-up kids as Professor Gordon was way back when. WPR sttod the test of time. It's 100 years old this year, but there is nothing old about it!

Sources: Algoma Record Herald, Door County Advocate; conversations and memories.


Sunday, June 4, 2017

Memorial Day Tributes at Mt. Olive Cemetery, Southern Door County

Goetz Post at Mt. Olive Cemetery

It was called "the war to end all wars," but it wasn't. What came to be called World War l was followed by World War ll. Whether they were called wars, police actions, skirmishes or anything else, who can count the number of such actions since 1945? The Doomsday Clock is today at 2 1/2 minutes to midnight. One hundred years after the war to end all wars, the clock is ticking.

World War l led to the organization of the American Legion, a group serving veterans, those in service and communities. It was the Legion that encouraged patriotism, won benefits for veterans and supported then and their families. The Legion originated in Paris in 1919 with a few members of the American Expeditionary Force. Six months later it was chartered by Congress, and today the legion boasts between 2.4 and 2.5 million members in American Legion posts across the world. One of the thousands of posts is American Legion George Goetz Post 372 of Forestville.

Originally called Decoration Day, the traditions of decorating the graves of fallen soldiers that began with Southern women following the Civil War quickly spread to honoring all veterans. Ahnapee - now Algoma - residents celebrated early Decoration Days with ceremonies befitting the veterans both alive and dead. The celebration in 1871 was no exception when the graves of deceased soldiers were decorated with flowers and evergreens. About 200 people visited the cemeteries, a number limited only by the capacity of the conveyances. Chief Marshall Major William Henry was assisted by Michael McDonald. Both men had served in the 14th Wisconsin. Captain F.W. Borcherdt, 21st Wisconsin, commanded the firing party. Rev. Henry Overbeck gave a prayer and brief address at each grave. Flowers were scattered by 30 young ladies dressed in white, and Ahnapee's Liederkranz sang appropriate hymns. After it was all over, the Enterprise made the comment that "no village its size gave more to the soldiers than Ahnapee."

The following year was much the same. Major Henry again served as marshal but prayers and remarks were given in German only as Rev. S.H. Corich, who was to give prayers and remarks in English, was absent. Four hundred people and 37 teams were in the 1873 parade. At the services Michael McDonald commanded the column, J.H. Leonard was the Officer of the Day and Chauncey Thayer commanded the firing squad. Elder T. Wilson gave the address. Decoration Day continued and in 1884 Forestville’s Nelson Post took charge of the activities. Nelson Post 97 was established in Forestville during 1883, quickly growing in membership and sponsoring activities in Door and Kewaunee Counties.

As the Civil War faded into the past, so did the Nelson Post. Forestville today boasts the George W. Goetz Post 372, a group that works to ensure that the rest of us won’t forget. On Memorial Day the firing squad appeared at each of Southern Door County’s cemeteries. The gun salute followed the invocation. Taps was sounded and the echo was played. Most thought of those who served, those who were lost and the veterans buried at each cemetery.

Of the twenty-seven vets buried at Mt. Olive Lutheran Cemetery on Shiloh Rd. south of Sturgeon Bay, 16 served in World War 1 or ll.  



Mt. Olive Church & Cemetery



Sources: An-An-api-sebe: Where is the River? c. 2001; Ahnapee Record/Algoma Record Herald; Door County Advocate, Door County Democrat; Mt. Olive Cemetery.




Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Grandlez: An Early Kewaunee County Community


Grandlez/Lincoln, 2009 

Few have ever heard of Kewaunee County’s Grandlez. Even fewer know where it was.  A hamlet in Kewaunee County, Grandlez was a Belgian community once comprising the western part of the Town of Lincoln and the eastern part of Red River Town, the place now called Lincoln. All that is left of “downtown” Lincoln is St. Peter’s Church and Susie’s Place, however 100 years ago the thriving community boasted general stores and saloons, a blacksmith, cheese manufacturing, a post office and, surprisingly, a notary.

1876 map; Fetts Corners is now Gregorville & Bottkolville
was renamed Euren
Grandlez got its name from the place of origin of its first immigrant settlers, the Belgians who came to Kewaunee County between 1850 and 1860. Wikipedia describes today’s Grand-Leez, Belgium as a place in the town of Gembious in the Province of Namur.

The Belgians who named their new home Grandlez were like so many others of their immigrating countrymen: they were destitute, near starvation and in wont. As important as their Catholic faith was to them, in the efforts to keep themselves alive, it took until 1862 to organize their congregation and to build a church. They did, however, practice their faith.

Visiting priests and monks from Holy Cross at Bay Settlement attempted to meet the needs of the growing community, but there were no roads and travel was nearly impossible at times. It was in 1862 that what is now Robinsonville was assigned a priest, Father Wilkens, and it was he who came to Grandlez once each month. Two years later when Father Crud was assigned to Robinsonville, he was put in charge of the entire Belgian area in addition to the new Irish congregation at Casco. It was Crud who superintended building of churches at Rosiere, Walhain, Thiry Daems, Delwiche, Little Sturgeon Bay, Dyckesville and Marchand. Crud also oversaw the building of a convent near the chapel dedicated to the Blessed Virgin at Robinsonville.

Grandlez was in need of a larger church by 1865 and, again, a new church - 30’ x 50’ - was built. When statues of St. Peter, the Blessed Virgin Mary and a bell were purchased, the church was dedicated to St. Peter. The Belgians in the area were overwhelmingly Catholic, but there were a few apostates, or Evangelical Protestants, who wanted a protestant minister at Robinsonville. It was said these few apostates tried to attract the “faithful” though failed to do so. The group that became known as Presbyterians, or sometimes, Baptists or Millenarians, built a church at the corner of Townline and Martin Roads. Known as San Sauveur and Lincoln Presbyterian, it was also Plymouth Brethren Church. Wikipedia says the cemetery is called Gospel of Truth Church cemetery today.

Catholicism in what is now Northeast Wisconsin dates to at least 1634 and the coming of Jean Nicolet and Father Marquette. In essence that was the beginning of the Diocese of Green Bay which came about when it was created by Pope Pius lX in the spring of 1868. Joseph Melchers was appointed bishop. The new diocese and Bishop Melchers affected Grandlez and the entire Belgian area.

Father Crud’s writings speak of Belgian farmers “addicted” to the faith of their fathers and the “fashions” of their homeland. By the 1870s a German community developed between Lincoln and Ahnapee in the area now referred to as Euren and Gregorville, and the long-forgotten Boleslav. Some of the Germans, and Bohemians who also lived in the area, supported the church at Grandlez and even learned the Belgian language. In deference to the Germans, preaching was periodically offered in that language, sometimes with assistance from the priest at Ahnapee. Although Grandlez lacked a Catholic school, Crud said the pastor exercised control over a Catholic education for the children and also instructed them in music. As soon as a convent could be built, Crud knew a Catholic school would be a reality. In 1878 he reported a congregation of 107 families, most of which were young. Crud reported 40 baptisms but only 4 marriages. There were 16 funerals that year.  Births far outnumbered deaths in the growing Catholic community..

Father Mickers was another of the priests who, in 1896, wrote a history of his work in the area. Mickers told about his journey from Hoboken to Chicago and finally to Green Bay where he had dinner with the bishop. Then it was on to Martinville and finally Rosiere. Father Mickers lamented the mud and the rain, but he spoke warmly of the men from the area parishes and arriving at Rosiere where the bells were rung to herald his arrival. He talked about American liberty, equality and fraternity among what became his flock.

Mickers described his house, which was quite substantial. The 2nd floor even had a balcony. There was a horse barn, a chicken house and a woodshed. Mickers was impressed to find so much of comfort in the area that was still a wilderness. Rosiere had a post office and there was even stage coach service a few times a week. Mickers was also impressed with his brick church, its 75 pews and its side altars, but he planned to build a sacristy. The church lacked a baptismal font and a place to keep the holy oils, but it did have an abundance of chasubles in various colors.

When Mickers celebrated his first mass at Rosiere, a number of folks came from nearby Misiere, another parish in which he periodically celebrated mass. Mickers’ biggest problem initially was with language. He did not speak English fluently nor did he understand his housekeeper’s Flemish, although she understood his Dutch. The housekeeper also understood French but could not speak it. When it came to speaking Belgian, Mickers wrote that he did “not understand what here they call Belgian.”

Without the strong faith and the indomitable spirit that is so uniquely Belgian, many would have never survived. During their first 50 years, the destitute and insular Belgian immigrants dealt with disease, death, abject poverty and discrimination. Somehow they dealt with the incomprehensible, devastating Great Fire of 1871. They persevered and prospered to the point at which Mickers found them just before 1900.

As several other early Kewaunee County communities, though the name "Grandlez" has faded far into the past, the community remains.

Stones in St. Peter’s cemetery tell stories of its people, and if walls could talk, there would be more. Letters, such as this one from Father A. Belle to The Rt. Rev. S.J. Messmer, 4th Bishop of the Green Bay Diocese, was postmarked in April 1904, tell more of the story. The letter was posted 7 months before the Lincoln post office was with the advent of RFD in Kewaunee County on November 30, 1904.


Note: The Door County community today called Namur was renamed to honor the Belgians who came from that area. Once known as Fairland, in addition to other names, Namur was another formerly thriving, viable community. The recently opened Belgian Heritage Museum at Namur brings a new prominence to the community. The Peninsula Belgian meeting house and St. Peregrine’s roadside chapel are also on the property. 

For over 50 years the Peninsula Belgian Genealogy Society has kept the Belgian culture and history alive. Its tremendous website is a boon to Belgian genealogical research. Checking the local history and genealogical resources on the Sturgeon Bay Public Library leads to more. Door County and Algoma newspapers have been digitized and are free to users. Google or check either library’s website.  The papers are key-word searchable.

A trip to the museum and the area's roadside chapels, followed by a stop for burgers and a beverage at any of the local watering holes is sure to provide an enjoyable day trip.

Sources: Ahnapee Record, Algoma Record, Algoma Record Herald, Door County Advocate, Here Comes the Mail: Post Offices of Kewaunee County, c. 2010; Yours Truly from Kewaunee County, c. 2013;Belgian  files in the Area Research Center at UW-Green Bay; Wikipedia.  The photograph and the postal cover are  the blogger's files. Lincoln Town was taken from the 1876 Kewaunee County map.

Monday, April 10, 2017

Outhouses & Bathrooms: Cesspools, Septics and Sewer Systems

Outhouse at Crossroads Village, Sturgeon Bay
"Enjoy the go." Charmin's TV commercial toilet-paper-selling-bears suggest that will happen for those using the product. Whatever would the folks of yesteryear - those who used facilities such as those on the left - have thought?

As recently as the 1940s – and even into the ‘50s - living in rural Kewaunee and Door Counties often meant having an outhouse. Country kids went to a most up-to-date rural school if they had indoor chemical toilets, but most had outhouses. Kids “held it” on freezing cold days just as they did in pouring rain. Algoma's sewer piping was in place early in the 1900s thus making indoor toilets and running water available to those who hooked up, however it took most of the next 50 years for rural populations to have such conveniences.

Some folks had cesspools that came first. Cesspools were in-ground containers into which waste water was pumped, although it was more often a hole in the ground rather than a container that held the decomposing waste. For those on a hill, that waste ran down into a pasture or wooded land. Some of that waste water found its way to the lake. Today it is seen as a travesty when a city’s overflow seeps into Lake Michigan, however diverting waste water into the lake was common for municipalities of yesteryear.

The door with the window is the outhouse.
Cesspools were up-to-date must-haves in the early 1900s and Kewaunee County jail was on the cutting edge. However, the things were known to overflow and needed attention. Such was the case in 1911 when the County Board Committee on Public Property, a committee consisting of William Nesemann, Michael Arendt, and J.J. Kulhanek, let a cleaning contract to Bohumil Pavlat. For such work, he was paid $20.00, which sounds like nothing today but was something in 1911. The jail cesspool couldn’t have been quite so bad in 1915 because Math Petrie was paid only $12.25 to do the same job. The jail was in a residential area, only steps from where it is today. It is not hard to understand what might have been happening in the neighborhood!

Even though Algoma had a city sewer system, some residents wondered why they should spend the money hooking up when they had their own means of sewerage disposal? Sometimes citizens were almost forced into hooking up as Fred Leischow was in 1916. After the city health office condemned his cesspool, he requested an extension of the 2nd Street sewer. Others offered a petition requesting the same, but Mayor Shilbauer said there would be no consideration of extension unless the majority of property owners signed the petition. The decision put Leischow between a rock and a hard place. It happened again in 1942 when Otto Hafeman was warned by Health Officer Dan Corry. It seemed Hafeman’s 7th Street neighbors complained about his outhouse. Hooking on to sanitary sewers were the answer to the nuisance and the answer to Hafeman’s problems.

Sturgeon Bay had similar problems even though that city also offered running water and sewers. It was June 1924 when the American House said it had to continue using the outhouse as city water was not available to the hotel. When the situation was brought to Council’s attention, it was referred to the Board of Health which was to report at the next meeting. Council apparently didn’t see the issue as requiring immediate action.

As today, school boards had any number of issues to deal with, but today outhouse cleaning is not one of them. When Lincoln Graded school board let jobs for bid in 1940, cutting grass and washing the school house were bid at $3.00 and were accepted. Norman DeVillers bid $1.60 for cleaning the outhouse and got the job. One wonders what it was exactly that merited so little.

Outhouses contained all kinds of things. Pits are surveyed by archeologists looking for pieces of pottery, tinware, seeds and more, all telling a story of previous generations. Outhouses told other stories as well. A young Manitowoc woman was arrested and jailed for infanticide. The family employing her knew she had given birth, but there was no child in evidence. A police investigation found the new-born in the outhouse pit, dead of strangulation. Some outhouses had other stories such as in 1877 Orleans, France when a drugstore clerk was presented with a gold medal for showing up for work daily for 50 years. Regarded as most significant was that the period included German occupation when, for 22 days, the man lived in an outhouse!

Although Algoma and Kewaunee had sewer service before World War l, other county communities didn’t. Casco made news in 1920 when the plumbers from August Bohne’s Kewaunee company were digging a cesspool at the bank. Then farmers got on board. Frank Miesler of Luxemburg and Steve Swekar of Carlton were putting in septic tanks during August 1929. The entire cost was about $25 for materials since County Agent Lathrope had the forms for concrete, thus significantly cutting expenses. 

Septic systems were a new idea in offering rural residents what their city counterparts had. Septic systems differed from cesspools in that they were not open, preventing bacteria from easily slipping into the surrounding soil. County Agent Lathrope felt that outhouses themselves did not offer the contamination that the cesspools did. Miesler and Swekar brought the number of farmers with septic tanks to 10 prompting Lathrope’s speculation that with the number of farms in the county, installing septic tanks would enhance farm living conditions in addition to making the farm a safer place.

County Agent Lathrope and Prof. E.R. Jones, chair of the University of Wisconsin Agriculture Engineering Department, were at Miesler’s to assist the day his septic tank went in.  They said every kitchen sink and laundry in the county needed a drain to carry the waste water away. Living would be far more convenient and far safer. They said indoor toilets needed a system to break up solids into soluble matter to be carried away, and that anybody with an outdoor toilet needed an enclosed, solid container under it. They talked about water systems and the convenience of not having to carry water to the house. Lathrope mentioned the county woman whom the previous week carried 25 pails of water the distance of a city block. A safe water system meant residents did not have to leave the house in inclement weather and it meant water did not have to be carried away. It was a win-win for rural residents.

Algoma Health Officer Corry investigated an outhouse in the downtown area as late as 1933. There were complaints. The nuisance was eliminated and indoor toilets were installed, a move putting smiles on faces in the neighborhood. During the demolition of the old school in 1935, Algoma residents were surprised to learn the old school had a cesspool. Piping, radiators, bricks, windows and frames had been taken away (and reused in other places) but as much of the junk as possible went into filling the cesspool.

During the late 1930s, WPA – Works Progress Administration – had relief workers build new toilets in the backyards of people who desired them. All home owners had to do was purchase the required lumber. Old pits were filled and families were good to go. Schools with funding were also serviced. The 1938 models approved by the state had longer slabs with risers set straight to allow more room inside the structure. The State Health Board said they were fly proof. Farrell Lumber Co. in Algoma and Casco, Luxemburg Mfg. Co. and Kewaunee’s Albrecht Mfg. had the approved plans which would work for anyone lacking public sewers.

It must have worked because in 1939 Mr. Moudry had a double outhouse up for sale. Ten years later Alvin Tlachac had a Fairbanks Morse shallow well pressure system for sale. He was selling an outdoor toilet at the same time, saying both were in excellent condition. Outhouses began new lives as garden sheds and animal shelters. One Southern Door County farmer took them off homeowners’ hands to use them as housing for his pigs. Those pigs had high classed digs. When the last, and least worn, of the stys came down in the 1990s, the property owner was surprised to find a maple tongue and grooved floor and wainscotting.

During the summer of 1950, Council ordered the removal within 60 days of all outhouses in places where residents could hook up to city services. About 6 months later, Council revisited the action, reducing the removal time to 30 days. Violating property owners were to be served with a copy of the ordinance. Perhaps the action lacked teeth because Ahnapee Town Hall was among the places that continued outhouse use. Located in Algoma’s Third Ward, it had access to sewers but was still served by an outhouse as late as 1951 when the health officer was directed to remove the thing following complaints of residents. It was a few months earlier, in February, that a Record Herald editorial brought up the sewer ordinances. City residents had continued to use cesspools and outhouses thus prompting the paper to say that the city was spending thousands on such systems and yet some chose to ignore the facilities. It was the paper’s opinion that “housekeeping” was part of a city’s responsibilities and proper sanitation was an important factor.

Council kept on dealing with sanitation, which to residents meant foul odors, flies, visible sewerage and health. Earlier generations were unaware of the correlation between epidemics and wells sunk adjacent to outhouses, however by the 1930s, Texaco and Phillips 66 saw potential in using bathrooms as a marketing opportunity.

Seventy years ago, the average gas station bathroom was such a breeding ground for disease that it was used only by the desperate. What a stroke of PR genius it was when oil companies decided to ensure the traveling public where they could expect to find a clean bathroom. Texaco, and then Phillips 66, certified bathrooms at stations meeting company expectations and then allowed those stations to advertise “clean bathrooms.”

Women were driving during the 1930s and bathrooms became a selling point. Texaco beat the others in 1938 it established the White Patrol, inspectors who traveled the country in white coupes monitoring bathrooms at stations affiliated with them. A year later Phillips 66 hired nurses who went to “restroom cleaning school” before going out onto the highways to ensure that restrooms would be as clean as hospitals. Called Highway Hostesses, the nurses went out teaching owners. Texaco and Phillips were well aware that most women knew little about gas, but that they did know clean bathrooms. Clean bathrooms translated into money. It is unclear how many Kewaunee County stations were certified, however Leo Seiler’s Algoma Texaco station appears to have been one of them.

Between 1910 and 1925, Wisconsin Board of Health saw deaths from typhoid plummet. In  1935 the Board said constant attention to water purity and sewer sanitation had eliminated health hazards as even private wells were being protected.

And, if you've ever wondered why the old outhouses had either a moon or star on the door, it was just the same as MEN or WOMEN today. In Colonial America where many couldn't read, the crescent moon denoted the women's necessary while stars meant the facility was for men. Both buildings were usually about 3 x 4' square and about 7' high. New England was the home of two-story outhouses, the 2nd story servicing the 2nd floor of the home by way of a walk-way.. Set back a bit, waste dropped behind the wall of the 1st floor outhouse.

Thought the day of the residential outhouse has passed, anyone desiring the experience can use a pit toilet at a state park of the fiberglass outhouses brought in to serve the public during big events. City sewerage systems are not the first thing one thinks of each morning - unless something isn't working.


Note: The outhouse picture comes from Crossroads Village, a delightful recreated historic village at the southeast corner of Highway 42/57 & Michigan Ave. in Sturgeon Bay. Vignes School, Green's Store, a church, working blacksmith shop, homes, a tool museum, garden and more. Crossroads is a great place to spend an afternoon touring the buildings, attending historical programs or hiking the trails.

Sources: Ahnapee Record, Algoma Record Herald, Commercial History of Algoma, WI, Vols. 1 & 2, c. 2006 & 2012; Cox-Nell Algoma House Histories, c. 2014; Door County Advocate; Ads are from ARH and photos are the bloggers.