"The Wisconsin Years," from
My First Eighty Years (and then some!)
Lyle Arthur Seefeld
Copyright Ralph L. Seefeld and Carol
Howman. This book may not be reproduced or copied
in any manner without the written consent of Ralph L. Seefeld
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Chapter 5: The Neighborhood
|In the last chapter we took a rather
detailed tour of our house and shop. Today, let's take a leisurely stroll and
explore our neighborhood. You have already met the Cronkrites who live in the
little square house just to the east of ours. Quiet, elderly people, they are the
parents of Mrs. Charlie Steele, mother of Horatio, with whom I played "boats" in
the sand, and Bonita, his baby sister. They are also the parents of the elusive Mr.
Cronkrite who is Mae's father and Horatio's uncle, and who works on the river steamboat,
the "Ben Sweet." Old Mr. Cronkrite is blind, but I see him almost daily,
in his back yard, splitting wood!
The next little house is where the John Gremels live. Of course, no one calls him John. He is referred to as "Michigan Jack," so I assume he came to Tomahawk from Michigan to work in the sawmills. He married one of the Emerich girls who lived south of town on a high bluff overlooking the Wisconsin River. The Gremels have no children. Their house is unique in that it has a "sunken" kitchen. To go from the kitchen to the dining room you climb one step (or is it two?) I don't know why it was built that way; it doesn't make sense to me! The Gremels were the first people in the neighborhood to own an automobile.
The last house on our block is another small one. All the houses on this block are small, square, one story buildings except ours! This last house is occupied by an elderly couple whose name I don't know. I've seen them sitting on their small front porch on warm summer evenings. I thought that in a small town everyone knew everybody!
After we cross Third Street to the east side and then cross Prospect Avenue we find ourselves at the Wallis's, This big white two story house was built about the same time as ours, I think, and occupied by the Philleo's. They had a daughter Helen, who was my age and used to pester me no end. They moved away, and now the Wallis's live there. Mr. Wallis has a jewelry store down town, and they have a son younger than me, named Richard. Going north on Third Street we come to what I remember as the Wilder house. (In the winter of 1933/34 our new Seefeld family consisting of Joyce, Caryl, Ralph, Joyce's sister Violet Wiley, and me, lived in that house.)
On the corner at the next street (which is River Street) is the little house where the Wilfred Biards live. Wilfred works for the telephone company. After turning the corner we come to the big two story house where the Thompsons live. (The Thompsons had five sons, three of whom later worked at the paper mill. Martin, the oldest, Edwin, who bought our house at 119 Prospect later for $1000, Emil, who married Beatrice Heminger, Pete and Joe. They had two daughters, Selma, and Emma who was Joyce's best friend during her school years.)
Across River Street from Thompson's, and the only building on this large triangular area, is the Creamery. I was in that creamery once, but don't remember why, so it was probably just to satisfy my curiosity. Anyway, I saw the huge pasteurizing vats full of steaming milk, and their two enormous horizontal wooden churns. I was there just as they stopped one of the churns, opened it and took out this enormous quantity of fresh butter. Then they put it into a machine that formed it into the familiar one pound shapes, and I watched as they weighed each pound, scraping off a little if it was too heavy and adding a little if it was too light, before putting it into its carton. Fascinating place!
A short distance beyond the creamery we come to Fourth Street and turn south, on the west side. Here I'm in unfamiliar territory until we reach the next corner house, which is occupied by the Ruels. And I know of them only because they have a daughter somewhat younger than me, who has black hair, flashing dark eyes, and a decidedly saucy demeanor. Very French! People in our town mispronounce her name (as they do most French names) calling it "Rell."
We turn to the right here and walk past two houses whose inhabitants I can't name, and we come to the Stonebergs. The Stoneberg brothers were both carpenters, and built houses on adjacent lots. These houses are mirror images of each other, with back porches that face each other over a sort of courtyard with a common walk down to the street. Adolf, the red-haired one and his family live in the first one, and August, the blonde one and his family in the second. They both have sons about my age, Oscar is red-haired and August is blonde. Oscar has a younger red-haired sister named Edith.
Well, now we're in front of Wallis's again. This time we turn south and walk down the east side of Third Avenue. I don't know who lives in the first two houses, but in the house next to the alley is where the Bergquists live. You remember the Bergquist brothers, Elmer and Harold, who bought one of Dad's boats. They live in this house with their widowed mother. In front of their house there are two tall Lombardy poplars like we have, but they have a sidewalk!
This next big two story white house faces Lincoln Avenue and is where the Evensons live. Mr. Evenson has a hardware store down town, only a three block walk straight down Third Avenue. The Evensons have three daughters, Mildred, Margaret and Harriet, and one son, Edward. The house on the corner across Lincoln Avenue is where Doctor Dodd lives. Doctor Dodd is a dentist who has his office upstairs in one of the downtown buildings. The Dodd house is a low one story building with porches on both the north and west sides. These porches have solid rails, and instead of a sharp corner where they meet, they curve around the corner, giving the place an almost nautical appearance. The Dodds have a daughter, Marjorie, somewhat younger than me.
On the corner across Third Street to the west is an old two story house that people seem to be moving into and out of all the time. One time when it was vacant and some workmen were doing something to the downstairs, several of us boys sneaked up the stairs to explore the place. Soon one of the boys needed to go to the bathroom, and since there was one up there, he proceeded to use it. Almost immediately there was a loud shout from downstairs, and one of the plumbers who had the pipes apart down there came bounding up the stairs and shooed us out of there!
The next house on Lincoln Avenue is where the Loftus family lives. Middle-aged people, they have several children, all older than me, so I don't know much about them. The next house contains what to me is a mystery which no one has ever explained, perhaps because I never asked. Anyway, this is where a Mrs. Cronkrite lives with her son Lyle, who is near my age. The mystery? Where is Lyle's father? I've never seen a man around this place. The mystery deepens as we pass the next house, a big two-story building on two lots, where Mrs. Jennie Cronkrite lives with her daughters Sybil and Mae, who is two years younger than me, and a son Earl, who is older. There is another older son, Charlie, whom I have never seen, but who lives in Hibbing, Minnesota, and apparently works for the iron mines up there. Although I know that when I was smaller, Mae's father worked on the river steamer "Ben Sweet", I have never seen him, Mae never mentioned him, and I never asked.
The little square house on the corner of Second Street is where the Taylors live. Mr. Taylor is a tall, angular, stern-faced man who never smiles or laughs, while his wife is short and jolly. Their oldest son, Jim, died of pneumonia when he was about twelve. The other children are Katherine, Genevieve, and Donald. From Taylor's we cross to the north side of Lincoln Avenue and Lambert's house. Mr. and Mrs. Lambert are an elderly couple, very French, with a grown son named Eugene. Their only daughter married Elliot Brady, my barber, and had four children, Eugene, Carrie, James, and Dorothy, whom everyone called "Dolly." Mrs. Brady died when her children were little, so they spend a lot of time with their grandparents.
Just to the east of Lambert's is a square two-story house where the Sheas live. Mike Shea is a genial Irishman with a brogue so thick he is often hard to understand. The Shea family includes Mary, older than me, Agnes and Daniel who are about my age. I think Mike Shea works in one of the lumber mills, but we know him best because he collects and sells minnows, which he calls "minnies." Continuing east, the next house belongs to elderly Mrs. Olson. Mrs. Olson had a son who married and had a daughter named Deva. When he died his widow married Henry Roerhborn, and Deva became Deva Roerhborn, who is in my grade at school.
The house next to Mrs. Olson's is a relatively new two story house where the Bohmsachs live. The Bohmsachs have a ladies' apparel shop down town on Main Street (Wisconsin Avenue.) They have a daughter named Aileen, who is a few years older than I am. Next comes a vacant lot, and then the O'Connell's house on the corner. The O'Connell's have two daughters several years older than me, one of whom, Ann, married Ball of Ball and Lambert, who has the electric shop down town. Now if we turn the corner and walk past O'Connell's to the alley. we are only half a block from home. In the next chapter I hope to give you some idea of what downtown Tomahawk is like.