Wednesday, January 3, 2018

Kewaunee County Christmas: 1941

On Friday December 5, 1941, Kewaunee County residents were preparing for Christmas. The "Christmas Season" had not yet started, but folks were thinking of it. It would be another year before the Bing Crosby-Irving Berlin hit White Christmas, however there was a lot Christmas music to be hummed and sung. Although the political situation and the war in Europe was in the minds of most adults, generally things were upbeat in Algoma.

Algoma Businessmen were encouraging all to participate in the second annual lighting contest, offering prizes of $5 as first prize, and $3 and $2 to 2nd and 3rd place. That kind of money was quite an inducement following the ravages of the Depression, and the businessmen knew there would be incurred electrical costs for such participation.  Lighting was just getting off the ground when, two years later, residents were asked to reduce their use of such lights.. A cadre of local men used the Dug-Out as a place to fashion street decorations, further adding to the city’s Christmas 1941 celebrations.  Algoma High School Dance Band played for a hop at the Normal School that weekend, a party that also included a play. It was the day the elementary school announced characters for the musical Hansel and Gretl. Mr. and Mrs. Claus were checking prices two or three times and found Kohlbeck’s advertising leather jackets for $6.95 and up. Hansen’s gloves were nearly 3 dollars though.  Heine Wiese sold Wembley ties for $1.00. Wiese's ties did not wrinkle like the 50 cent sellers. The future was in Algoma! Katches had all one could possibly want, including a visit from Santa the next day, December 6. Fashionable women could opt for a new hairdo at Marione’s  and get it for under 4 bucks. The state even had money in the treasury and roads would be improved.

The downer was that the State Draft Chief was in Kewaunee County attempting to improve selective service, however there was also a military-related upper: R.J. Ihlenfeld was given a government award honoring his late grandfather, Cavalry 2nd Lt. John Ihlenfeld, for his service at the Battle of Vicksburg. Late though it was, the award meant much to the Ihlenfelds.

It was Algoma 20 days before Christmas, and all was well.

The unthinkable happened only 2 days later, on December 7, a day President Franklin D. Roosevelt said would live in infamy. Pearl Harbor was attacked. But when the Record Herald came out on the 12th, there were no screaming war headlines. The front page carried an article about men serving in the Pacific and another article about 1-A men leaving for their physicals. It carried an article saying war bond purchases skyrocketed during the week, that county Civilian Defense was seeing volunteer activity, and that Red Cross was raising money.

To read the paper, it almost seemed Algoma was oblivious to war in the Pacific. Countless men had been drafted within the previous year or two, and the Plywood had gone to a war time production that figured in Lend-Lease.  Maybe city residents were listening to their radios and Gabriel Heater provided all the news. Who knows? But things changed when the December 19 paper reported Kewaunee County’s first casualty. Radioman 3rd Class Joseph Muhofski was a seaplane crew member killed near Hawaii. In an article announcing his death, the paper noted that Joseph’s parents received a Christmas gift from him the following day. The Record told readership that Algoma was one of the Wisconsin places showing war movies. 200 attended. It didn’t forget to remind patrons that carrier boys would be collecting before Christmas Eve while stressing how fast the boys worked to provide such conveniences.

Christmas went on, and the following day the paper noted the death of Irving W. Elliot, Kewaunee County’s last Civil War veteran and Wisconsin’s oldest Mason. The same paper carried what was felt to be the last picture of draftees as there was an information clampdown regarding quotas, calls to service and photos, although eventually the pictures returned to the paper. American Legion Auxilary purchased a mobile hospital unit, and the scouts were praised for collecting toys for needy children.

The U.S. got a war for Christmas 1941. Perhaps so few were touched by it before December 7 that they just didn’t give it a lot of thought. There was no "Peace on earth, goodwill to men" to men that year, and yet, Christmas was celebrated in Algoma as it always was.

Christmas 1942 was far, far different, however, that's another story.

Sources: Algoma Record Herald, Images: The postcard comes from the Kannerwurf, Sharpe, Johnson and the painting is is from NLJohnson. Both are copyrighted and used with permission. The photo of men departing for their physicals was found in Algoma Record Herald.

Sunday, December 3, 2017

Ahnapee/Algoma and the Wind Ships

What a sight Lake Michigan must have been in the days of the wind ships. What it must have been like to witness 12 or 15 -  or even more - schooners riding at anchor in Ahnapee/Algoma harbor is nearly impossible to imagine. The likes of the Wren, Industry, Shaw, S. Thal, Whirlwind, Evening Star, Glad Tidings and Sea Star and more will never be seen again. However, the Lady Ellen lives on in the memories of those who remember part of her above the water near the southwest side of the 2nd Street Bridge.

As early as October 1866 Kewaunee Enterprise told readership that the amount of shipping in Ahnapee was "a revelaltion." In one day alone six schooners and one steamer cleared its bridge pier.

Lady Ellen sunk in the Ahnapee River

Built by respected Civil War hero Major William I. Henry, also Ahnapee’s most noted shipwright, the two-masted Lady Ellen was built of walnut that more than likely came from the area’s virgin timber. Henry built the schooner to join Capt. Bill Nelson’s Whiskey Pete in Capt. John McDonald’s stone trade, however she was used for lumbering operations, fishing and was also one of the Christmas tree ships. Put out of business by the steamers, the hardworking Lady Ellen was docked on the north side of the river about 200' feet west of the 2nd  Street Bridge where she eventually rotted and sank.

1883 Ahnapee Birdseye Map
It wasn’t only the Ellen. Henry designed the largest ship ever built in Ahnapee, the 105’, 173 ton Bessie Boalt. Henry’s shipyard was in a small bay, east of the bottom of Church St., behind what became the Algoma Dowell Co. and The Pallet Co., later Pier 42. It was Henry, the grizzled old seaman from Ahnapee, whose Civil War advances and retreats were carefully observed by the men from Ahnapee who credited Henry’s battlefield actions as saving their lives. Henry’s son William I. Henry, Jr. was another sailor, and it was he who sailed the Ellen for over 25 years, from 1871-1899.

The Ellen eventually sank in the river but was remembered by Algoma youngsters, such as Jag Haegele, who sat on the gunwales each winter while putting on ice skates. The schooner Spartan is another which sank in the Ahnapee River, forgotten until Jim Kersten began improving the lot on which Capt. K’s campground sits. Spartan remained where it sank on the southeast side of the 4th Street Bridge near the old Detjen dock for most of 100 years..
Removal of the Spartan from the Ahnapee River 

The Spartan, reported the Ahnapee Record in September 1885, was the oldest vessel plying the waters of Lake Michigan. Since construction in Montreal in 1838, the schooner had made all 5 Great Lakes and even sailed the Atlantic. By the time of the article, the schooner was laid up in the Ahnapee River, its final resting place.

It was only two months earlier that the Spartan was undergoing repairs in Ahnapee when a kettle of pitch on the cabin stove caught fire. Fortunately the damage was not severe, but when she was bound for Clay Banks two weeks later, exceptionally strong winds forced her to seek refuge in Ahnapee’s harbor for two days. By the 1st of October, the old schooner was allowed to sink in the Ahnapee River.

During 1890 the Advocate carried an article saying the Spartan was being broken up. Three years later the Record editorialized saying that the old Spartan was nearly rotted to the waters’ edge and that if it was not removed then, the work would be far more difficult. In April 1894, the paper again called for removal, this time saying that if much more was cut away from the old boat, it would not be self-supporting and that removal would be quite expensive. The paper felt that a powerful tug could lift what was left at substantial savings. The paper also encouraged the City to have the job looked at by one of experience. What the paper didn’t say was that there was too much diddling around by the City and failure to act was costing the taxpayers more as the days went on. As it worked out, it was Jim Kersten who took care of removing the boat in 1986, about 100 years after the boat was “laid up.”

Frank McDonald photo
As the photo indicates, Lady Ellen is west of the present 2nd Street Bridge and in some ice. Wenniger’s pump factory and saloon, last known as the Northside Tap, is the building with the high roof line right of center. The white building on the hill is Wenniger’s Wilhelmshoeh. By the time of this photo, Wilhelmshoeh was refurbished and sections torn off. It is now an apartment building.

The amounts of wood products to be shipped are evident in this Frank McDonald photo dating to before 1900. Writings prior to 1900 tell about wood products awaiting shipment as far as one could see all along the river’s edge from Ahnapee to Forestville. As the forest was cut, the river was left to bake in the hot sun and eventually seep into the surrounding area leaving the narrow, shallow Ahnapee River that exists today.

During the community's pioneer days - before the trees were all cut - it was possible to make Forestville by boat. Twenty years earlier, in 1834, Joseph McCormick and a party of men sailed upriver to today’s Forestville. Trees made the vast difference.

While wind ships have faded into the past. work, vessels such as lake freighters more than make up for them. One hundred years later, it is the old postcards telling the story.

Tow through Sturgeon Bay

Sources: An-An-api-sebe: Where is the Riverc. 2001; Ahnapee Rcord Algoma Record Herald, Door County Advocate; Kewaunee Enterprise. .
Photos: Frank McDonald; Kannerwurf-Sharpe-Johnson Collection

Friday, November 24, 2017

Ahnapee's Bastar Hotel

An 1883 Ahnapee Record called the Bastar Hotel, at the northeast corner of 4th and Clark Streets in present-day Algoma, fine for men and their horses. Built by William Bastar, a native of Bohemia, just after the Civil War, the Bastars sold the hotel to Mr. and Mrs. Fred Kirchman early in 1903. Thirty-three years later the Kirchmans sold the hotel to their granddaughter Millie and Jim Rabas, her husband-to-be.

Millie Kirchman Rabas was born on January 20, 1913. She had just turned 89 at the time of an interview with this blogger and two others. Millie was exceptionally observant and one much interested in Algoma’s history. Delightful story-teller that she was, Millie held us captive as we poured through old maps and postcard streetscapes. As a small child Millie spent a great deal of time at the Kirchman Hotel. As a young woman, before and after her marriage to Jim Rabas, Millie worked in and ran the hotel.

Millie explained this picture of the Bastar Hotel, taken a short time before it was purchased by her grandparents The pump is on the Clark Street side of the building where a trough enabled watering the horses. Looking at the picture, one sees a little shed connected to the barn along Clark St. It was a public outhouse that smelled awful during the summer even though lime was used to control the stench. It was not the only public outhouse in town. Before the days of the auto, hotel guests were able to stable their horses. That meant horse manure piled up behind the hotel during the winter. When spring was in the air, it was not only the sweet smells one thinks of today!

Millie talked about dusty streets with trees scattered along them. Sidewalks were boardwalks until they were replaced with concrete walks sometime before streets were paved in 1915 or so. The streets were packed hard in dry weather, however wet springs ensured that buggies sunk to the wheel hubs. At times even horses sunk. The area around the hotel was higher than the swamp now called Perry Field. Fremont and Washington were not so swampy - no doubt why Fremont and parts of 3rd were upscale residential areas. Indications are that beach gravel was used on the streets, but Millie didn’t remember that.

Until 1937, the hotel lacked bathtubs. Before the days of indoor bathrooms, rooms had little commodes and under-the-bed chamber pots for nighttime use, however the hotel residents generally used the outhouses in the backyard. Separate outhouses were maintained for men and women. Maids' duties included emptying washbowls and chamber pots into a pail, carrying the pail to the outhouse and dumping the contents. Imagine how things changed when flush toilets became a hotel reality in 1937. Before Millie installed a bathtub, hotel boarders had to bathe at the barbershop. Even into the 1950s, Stanley Timble’s Steele Street barbershop advertised “shower baths.”

With its big lobby, big dining room and big kitchen, the wooden floors were scrubbed at least twice a week and swept and dusted daily. When floors were washed, it was done on hands and knees with a scrub brush and soap. Walls were washed twice a year because of the soot from coal and wood stoves, although dining room and lobby walls were washed more. Millie felt the calcimine painted walls looked nice for a time but the calcimine came off after a few washings. She said larger local buildings such as St. Paul’s Church were also painted with calcimine.

Hotel meals were served according to work schedules and men ate breakfast early. During the Depression fishermen had the most money because fishing was especially good in Algoma. As early as fishermen got out on the water, they were always accommodated at the hotel. Supper - the old word for what most today call dinner - was served at 6 as most men finished work then.

1940s dinner pail
Feeding 50 to 60 people a day, during the war Millie was also tasked with making up 35 dinner pails in assembly line fashion, always aware of tea and coffee preferences. Baking bread and made six pies daily, Millie also supplemented her supplies by buying a wash basket of bread from Rivers’ Bakery. Meat was purchased from Westfahl’s across the street on the southeast corner of Clark and 4th, or was delivered by Kashik’s, which was on Steele. During the 1930s, she patronized Studlander's Meat Market in the building across Clark Street.  The building was later turned into a bar called the Owl’s Club, before being known as Al Vandertie’s Tavern, the Pilot House and, today, a 5-star restaurant called Skaliwags.

Bruemmer's Mill
Kitchen help assisted with vegetables and more. Four to 500 pounds of potatoes and as much cabbage – to be used for sauerkraut - were bought in the fall. More of each was purchased later. The unheated hotel basement’s sand floor offered the perfect place for keeping vegetables, and carrots were left on the sand floor. Flour for all the baking was a local product from Bruemmer’s mills.

During wartime rationing when sugar and coffee were hard to get, Poly Fax and Nick Paradise helped Millie by giving her their ration coupons. Poly, a presser for Kohlbeck’s, lived at the hotel for 40 years, dying there. Paradise also worked at Kohlbeck’s store.

Public Service employees - all men - from Pulaski, Oconto, Oconto Falls and Coleman stayed at the hotel. They worked all week plus Saturday mornings before returning to their homes for the remainder of the weekend. During the World War ll housing shortage it was difficult find a place to stay and especially hard for Kewaunee and Stangelville people who worked at the Plywood and for the men transferred from the Birchwood Plant. Single men stayed in Algoma but the married men went back to Birchwood for weekends. The housing shortage meant men shared rooms, four men to a room, two men to a bed and 16 men in four rooms. Two nicer hotel rooms were reserved for salesmen. Those rooms were a little smaller than the other rooms and they were painted. When Millie didn't have enough room, she found other places for the men. When the hotel was so overcrowded, Millie gave up her own bed and slept on a sofa.

Bastar Hotel 2nd floor, 2002
Bastar Hotel was one of several Algoma buildings with a second floor dance hall. Many of the early halls were eventually condemned by building inspectors, however, the Bastar dance hall remains. Millie never saw the upstairs hall before February 2002 because her grandparents had converted the hall to rooms. She was aware of the globe-like stained glass area of the ceiling and that the dance hall was raised a foot, however Millie did not know why. 

Two side rooms flanked the hotel tavern, one for men’s card playing and the other for ladies’ visiting. Often a drink was brought to the women who did not enter the bar. Behind the ladies’ room was a big bedroom and closet for the owner’s living quarters.

Jim Rabas was able to trade a car for a refrigerator in 1937, but during the war, ice was still delivered. Iceboxes, the forerunners of refrigerators, were used for keeping things cold. Algoma Fuel Co. icemen brought ice daily for the bar room in addition to the ice needed in the kitchen during the summer. A scale on the back of the ice wagon weighed the ice that was sold by the pound. Drawing up close to the well, the iceman pumped water and thus wash sawdust off the ice. (Ice was packed in sawdust to keep it frozen.) Next to the well was a trough so people could water their horses. That public toilet was adjacent to the barn and near that pump.

Beer kegs in the basement were packed in ice, though beer was also sold in bottles. Henry (Heine) Damman who rented the tavern from Millie’s grandmother, was known to have high standards and did not like the beer either too warm or too cold. Chaff Braemer who cleaned spittoons in the tavern, did not have a steady job there but worked for drinks. Chaff, Mary and Louise, who became Mrs. Leo Buege, were John Braemer’s children and it was Mary who raised the raspberries served at the hotel. Women working at the hotel had responsibilities that would raise eyebrows today: the barn held three cows and it was the maids who milked them.

Before the Kirchmans installed electricity about 1913 or 1914, the hotel had arc lights and was heated with wood. Wood ash was something else that piled up in back the hotel before being carried away in the spring.

The huge woodpile behind the hotel was stocked with large loads brought in by area farmers. It was made necessary by a wood oven for cooking and several big round stoves for warmth at night. There was no central heat and buildings were poorly insulated. Chambermaids cleaned out the stoves regularly, however the hotel's chimneys were cleaned once a year. The dining room, lobby, tavern, the parts of the building rented out, and the living quarters all had the big round stoves that worked like garbage burners. Wood boxes stood next to each of the three stoves in the upper hall, and pipes were all around. The last one to bed put in more wood although coal was also burned at night. Salesmen’s rooms had little wood stoves and doors to the other rooms had transoms allowing heat to circulate. All rooms had woolen quilts. When the hotel kitchen and dining room were remodeled, burnt timbers could be seen in the walls.

Coal delivered to the hotel went into the basement via a conveyor that ran from the trapdoor in the sidewalk on the Clark Street side of the building. Garbage was picked up without charge, a fact prompting Millie to opine there were more services than in 2002. While hotel had its own well in the beginning, it had running water when Milli took over management.

Millie told about a well and hand pump in the 3' board sidewalk that was between the barn and the hotel building. The basement held a large cistern where there was a hand pump for water. Water for washing clothes was heated in a copper wash boiler on the stove. White clothes were often boiled in the same copper boilers. There was no bleach at that time and bluing was added to wash water to whiten the clothes. Sheets were washed once a week though towels were washed more often. For most of the year, the wash was hung outside, although lines were put in the upper halls during the winter. Washing clothes took all day until 1937 when Millie got the first electric washer in the hotel.

Things changed after World War ll, but that’s another story.

Sources: 2002 interview with Mrs. Millie Rabas; An-An-api-sebe: Where is the River? c. 2001; The Commercial History of Algoma, Wisconsin, Vol. 1 & 2, c. 2006 & 2012.

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.