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.

No comments:

Post a Comment