"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
|Ch 1||Ch 2||Ch 3||Ch 4||Ch 5||Ch 6||Ch 7||Ch 8||Ch 9||Ch 10||Ch 11|
|Ch 12||Ch 13||Ch 14||Ch 15||Ch 16||Ch 17||Ch 18||Ch 19||Ch 20||Ch 21|
Chapter 6: All Around the Town
Perhaps the best way for you to learn what Tomahawk was like in, let's say 1915, is to let me take you on an imaginary shopping trip around the town. Oh, we're not going to buy anything, we're just going to watch other people who do.
We'll start at our house, of course, going out the back way through the alley to Second Street. Just as we reach the street, we pass Lambert's barn where he keeps horses. Up in the attic of the barn there is a flock of doves, and we can hear several of them, all cooing at once! We turn south on Second and walk past Lambert's house and cross Lincoln Avenue. The little house on the corner is where the Taylors live. I told you about them in the last chapter. Then across Second and west on Lincoln to Tomahawk Avenue. On the corner of Lincoln and Tomahawk Avenues is Mrs. Johnson's boarding house, where I was standing when I saw that stick and wire airplane crash on the riverbank, in about 1914.
Here we turn south on Tomahawk Avenue and pass the McCormick house. The 1910 tornado which blew down two tall pine trees in the vacant lots next door to our house lifted the roof off the McCormicks' upstairs porch and deposited it in a neighbor's back yard! (The McCormicks had a son William, who became a doctor, and a daughter Charlotte whom everyone called "Lottie." She became a teacher and was Joyce's civics teacher in high school. Doctor McCormick was the Wiley's family doctor in Tomahawk, and delivered Warren Wiley in the house on their farm near Bradley.
As you can see, there is only one house on the west side of Tomahawk Avenue in this block, that big ugly looking two story building at the extreme north end of the block. It looks like it may have been a boarding house in earlier days. The rest of the lots on that side of the street are all vacant, and for good reason. They consist of one large, deep hole in the ground, perhaps forty feet deep. The people of Tomahawk have been dumping trash and garbage into this place as long as I can remember, and have barely covered the bottom. I suppose that some day these lots will be filled in, and there will be buildings there.
On the northeast corner of this first block of Tomahawk Avenue is a little square house with porches on two sides, about two feet or so lower than the sidewalk. I was told that these people were French, but as far as I was concerned they were notable because they had a parrot which on nice days could be seen preening him/herself in a big cage. Did you ever hear a parrot with a French accent?
Further south on Tomahawk Avenue we come to Osero's shoe shop. Here Mr. Osero can often be seen sitting astride his shoemaker's bench, a short roly-poly man who seems always to have a mouthful of shoe nails. In summer, with the shop door open, one can always tell when he is in front of Osero's, by the pleasant smell of leather.
On the same side of the street, but closer to Wisconsin Avenue, is Leo Martz's plumbing and sheet metal shop. There are two big display windows, one on each side of the door to this shop, but what does a plumber and sheet metal worker display? Not much, so the windows are generally filled with overflow miscellaneous storage from the shop. I was in Leo's shop only once. Mother's copper boiler had sprung a leak, and I took it in there to be repaired. So, with blowtorch and soldering iron, and for twenty-five cents, he repaired the leak. Leo is also the chief of the city's volunteer fire department, and with his shop only a block from the firehouse, when the siren blows, he is often the first one to man the fire truck.
Across the alley from Martz's shop is the Standard Mercantile Company store. The display windows on Tomahawk Avenue are generally filled with furniture, being in the corner of the store devoted to furnishings. These displays have never interested me too much. After all, we've got all our furniture, and most of it came from Sears Roebuck!
The section of the "Standard" on the
corner of Tomahawk and Wisconsin Avenues is occupied by the Bradley Bank. This
section is raised above street level, so to go into the bank we have to climb a flight of
Let's turn west here and cross Tomahawk Avenue to the Mitchell Hotel. This three story wooden hotel has porticoed entrances on Wisconsin and Tomahawk Avenues, and is the major hotel in Tomahawk. Going west along Wisconsin Avenue we cross an alley and we're in front of J. D. Mitchell's Variety Store. Here we find all the usual five and ten cent store items, as well as other goods, such as wearing apparel.
Next we come to Oelhafen's. This store was the first one built in Tomahawk, in 1887. It consists of two parts, each with its own entrance. The first is the "dry-goods" department. Here there is a long wooden counter extending far into the back of the store. The whole east wall behind the counter is full of deep shelves, where bolts of fabric are stored. A bolt of cloth is a long length neatly wrapped around an eight inch board as long as the cloth is wide. To assist the clerk in measuring desired lengths of cloth, shiny brass tacks have been placed on the counter surface, marking off yards, half-yards, and quarter-yards. In addition to yard goods, this store has sewing materials, such as thread, yarn, and paper patterns for ladies' gowns, and even boys' clothing.
To go from the dry goods department to the grocery section we don't have to go outside, just use the aisle between the two. The grocery department has another long counter, with many shelves on the wall behind it, where canned and other packaged items are kept. These shelves go all the way up to the ceiling, and to reach items up there, the clerk has a pair of tongs on the end of a long pole. So if I ask for a pound of XXXX (Four X) coffee which I sometimes do, the clerk retrieves it from the top shelf. And if I wanted the coffee ground (which I never do) he would open the paper bag, pour the beans into the hopper at the top of his big coffee grinder, and turn the big twin flywheels until the crunchy grinding noise stopped. Then he would hold the bag under a spout, putting the ground coffee back in its package. A couple of wraps of string from the ball in its little wire cage, one of his fancy knots, and the coffee would be ready to take home. No Scotch tape, these days. The only sticky tape is white cloth adhesive tape sold in the drug stores.
Flour is sold in white cloth bags, 49 pounds per bag. Sugar can be bought that way too, but if a customer wants less, the clerk takes a white paper bag of the right size, swings it a arm's length till it opens with a resounding pop, and places it on the scale. Then he fills a scoop from a bin under the counter, pours sugar into the bag until the scale balances, and puts the scoop and remaining sugar back into the bin. Then he folds the top of the bag down, and secures it with two or three wraps of the ever-present white "store string." Kerosene is stored in the back of the store, in a big barrel, from which customers' one-gallon or five-gallon containers are filled. The grocery stores in Tomahawk all deliver, using horse-drawn delivery wagons. So a customer can drop in at the store, bring his empty kerosene can, order groceries, and go on about his or her business, knowing that everything will be delivered the same afternoon. And, if the kerosene can pouring spout's screw-on cap is missing, it will be delivered with a potato stuck over the spout to prevent spillage!
If we walk west from Oelhafen's store, we pass several buildings I don't remember very well. I suspect some of them are saloons, and therefore of no interest to me! Past the last building on the street, we come to the depot. The Chicago, Milwaukee and St. Paul depot sits with its porticoed passenger loading and unloading area right across the end of Wisconsin Avenue. There are usually one or two baggage and/or express wagons (human powered!) sitting here waiting for the daily passenger train. Inside are rows of substantial oak benches for waiting passengers. Behind the ticket window is the station agent's office, where paperwork is handled, and where the railroad telegraph instruments are. The railroad telegraph is Tomahawk's closest link to the outside world, and telegraph messages from any part of the world addressed to anyone in Tomahawk are clicked out in Morse code here, and written down, in pencil, on paper, by the telegrapher who in this case is also the station agent, and is named H. L Grube.
On the south side of Wisconsin Avenue the first store we come to is Burrington's Grocery. I've been in this store only once, and that was to see a huge tarantula they had in a big glass fruit jar. This spider had apparently stowed away in a bunch of bananas and was discovered and captured by Mr. Burrington or one of his employees. What a discovery! Next comes Wallis's jewelry store with its window display of rings, watches and other jewelry items. In the previous chapter I showed you where the Wallis's live, about a block from our house.
In about the middle of this block there is a saloon, run by Fred Major. The sign in the window reads F. Major, and always amuses me, both for its musical connotation and the fact that it should also read "No Minors." The next building is Steber's Bakery. The Stebers are rather new in Tomahawk, but seem to be doing quite well. I especially like what they call "Bismarcks," raised doughnuts without holes and filled with jelly. The Post Office used to be in one of the buildings along here, before it moved to a building on the east side of Tomahawk Avenue. Also, I remember seeing my first moving picture in one of these buildings, which was, I think, called the Princess Theater. It was a black and white movie, of course, and all I remember of it involves elephants pushing down flimsy wooden houses, and everybody roaring with laughter. And of course it was a silent film, so they had a piano player who tried to follow the action on the screen with appropriate music.
Across Tomahawk Avenue to the east is a mostly vacant lot. (A new Bradley Bank building was built here in the early 1920's.) There is a small wooden building on the south half of this lot, which is a lawyer's office. I don't remember this lawyer's name, but he is of interest to me because I have often seen him drive up to his office in one of the first automobiles I have seen. It is a Saxon, a tiny contraption with a one- or two-cylinder engine under the seat, which looks like it was borrowed from a horse-drawn buggy. I remember it especially because it had two drive chains from the power plant to the two rear wheels.
If I leave out a building or two as we go along on Wisconsin Avenue, it is probably because they are saloons, and of no interest to me. Mother says that at one time every other building on "Main Street" was a saloon! In about the middle of this block is Thielman's Meat Market. I have been here many times, quite often to buy a quarter's worth of round steak. I'd put down my quarter, and then watch as Gus Wurl honed his knife on a steel hanging from the side of a big butcher block, and then expertly sliced off a huge slab of meat. This done, he placed it on his scale on a piece of "butcher paper" from a roll on the counter. Satisfied that it was close enough to the proper weight, he wrapped the meat in the paper, and tied the package with string from a large spool. He rung up 25 cents on the cash register, dropped my quarter in the cash drawer, and the transaction was completed.
Suppose, however, that I wasn't going home from there, and just wanted to order the steak. No problem! Late every afternoon all the meat orders are prepared and placed in Shorty's little delivery rig and then he makes the rounds dropping off each order in the proper kitchen! Shorty (I never knew his name) is a very short, middle aged man who does odd jobs around the market as well as making deliveries. His rig is simply a large box with a hinged cover, fitted with two buggy wheels and a one horse hitch. There is a step at the bottom of the back, on which he stands, almost like a Roman charioteer!
On the next corner (Second Street) is Tomahawk's other bank, The Bank of Tomahawk. Old timers call it "MacCumber's Bank," accenting the "Mac." Doctor MacCumber was one of Tomahawk's first physicians.
On the southeast corner of Third Street and Wisconsin Avenue is Evenson's hardware store. In the display windows of this store there always seems to be an assortment of farm and garden tools, all with that unmistakable odor of newly applied enamel. One of the next buildings is that of Piper's meat market. I don't think we've ever bought any meat here, always patronizing Thielman's, maybe because Gus Wurl, the head butcher, is German! One of the stores in this block is Bohmsach's Ladies' Wear. I've been in this store only once, and remember being terribly embarressed by all the garments on display! From here to the corner of Fourth Street the sidewalk crosses a small gully, or ravine, and is wooden instead of concrete. Across Fourth Street on the corner is the Lutheran Church. Mother attends German services here, and takes me along so I can stay for Sunday School afterwards.
From here on east, the buildings are all residences, until we come to Seventh Avenue and the Whittier School, which is built right across the east end of Wisconsin Avenue. I went to grades one through four in this building, which Mother calls "The old High School." Here we cross "Main Street" and walk west on the north side of the street, and again all the buildings are residences until we reach Fourth Street.
Before we explore the north side of the Wisconsin Avenue business area let's go one block north on Fourth Street. From the alley behind the Maccabee Hall north to Somo Avenue there is a two-story brick building which is Marcoullier's grocery and meat market. The grocery is in one half and the meat market occupies the other half. To enter either one we have to climb six or seven concrete steps, since the main floor sits on a basement, which, for some reason or other, wasn't dug deep enough to put the first floor at street level. If you have trouble with the Marcoullier name. don't feel badly. Most of the people I know mispronounce it, too, calling it "Markway!"
Back to the Maccabee Hall. This is Tomahawk's "Opera House." Here, too, we climb several steps to enter the recessed double door. The side walls of this entryway angle out to the front and there is a bulletin board on each, where promoters of events in the hall paste their posters. They don't always bother to remove the old poster sheets, and put new ones right on top of the old ones. I wonder how long it will be before this layer of posters extends out far enough to interfere with pedestrians on the sidewalk!
The next place I recognize is the D. C. Jones Grocery. Mr. Jones is a craggy-faced man with gray bushy hair. The Joneses have a son, David, a few years older than I am. After the grocery we come to the R. F. Koth hardware store. Inside there is a long counter on our right, with innumerable shelves and drawers on the wall behind it, where screws, nuts, bolts, and other small hardware items are kept. So, if you ask Mr. Koth for two dozen brass one-inch number six flat head wood screws, he reaches unerringly for the right box, opens it and pours some into his hand. Then he counts out two dozen into a tiny brown paper bag, and pours the excess back into the box, which goes back on the shelf. No self-service here!
One of the places along here is Webster's Drug Store. The Websters have a son, Harold T, who is a nationally syndicated cartoonist. Harold was born in West Virginia in 1885. He moved to Tomahawk with his parents when he was a boy, and attended Tomahawk schools, where he got poor grades, especially in drawing! He went to Chicago, where he enrolled in an art school which promptly went out of business. He worked for several newspapers in several midwestern cities, but finally moved to New York. He has drawn several successful cartoon series, but his best known is probably "The Timid Soul" which features his most famous character, Casper Milquetoast.
I think most of the downtown stores have basements. Dark basements, unless they have a window under the sidewalk. To have a window in the wall next to the street, a window well is placed out in front of it. This is simply a hole in the sidewalk and the earth below it. To admit light while keeping pedestrians from falling into this hole, a strong iron grating is placed over it. Small boys peer down into these wells, in the hope of spying a stray coin or other valuable which might have fallen through the grating. And if there is a coin, how to retrieve it? Sometimes the old trick of a wad of chewing gum on the end of a stick works, and sometimes it doesn't. Anyway if one is down town on roller skates, (or ladies' high heels) the grates are to be avoided. (I know of at least one such window well which is covered by a heavily re-enforced frosted glass window, which let in the needed light without being a hazard to pedestrians.)
One of the buildings in this block is Rouman's Cafe and Candy Kitchen. The Roumans are Greeks, and specialize in exotic candies and confections. And the front window of one of the store fronts along here proclaims it is the Tomahawk Steam Laundry, operated by the Baumgartners. Another store window reads: F. Klade, Tailor. (Klade's daughter, Margaret, was in later years the receptionist in the offices of Doctors Baker and McCormick, which were upstairs in one of these buildings on the north side of Wisconsin Avenue.)
On the northwest corner of Second Street (I think) and Wisconsin Avenue is the combined furniture store and undertaking parlor of Nick and Sons. (Later, the Nicks operated a casket factory, which, besides caskets, made a lot of noise and sawdust. And in the block between Second Street and Tomahawk Avenue is where the Kaminskys have their restaurant, candy store, ice cream parlor and magazine stand. Continuing west, we come to the Standard Mercantile Company's long brick building. The first door we come to leads to the grocery department, where Matt Stutz and Pete St. Peter preside. The next department is devoted to "dry goods," clothing, shoes and cloth. It has the traditional long counter (complete with brass tacks) and behind it many shelves where a variety of fabrics are stored. This department always seems to have the odor of mothballs. You will notice a unique feature in this store. The grocery and dry goods counters do not have cash registers. Instead, there is a cashier, who sits in a glassed-in booth high above the rear of the store, and who handles all the money and makes change. Suppose you buy $2.50 worth of groceries, and have only a five dollar bill. Matt (or Pete) writes the sales slip, places it and your fiver into a metal cup attached to a carriage which he sends up to the cashier on a long inclined wire by releasing a spring with a lever. After a short pause, it comes back down, and the clerk removes the cup and hands you the sales slip, marked PAID, and your change!
The last street level door to the "Standard" building leads to their drug department. Because drug stores don't have many products to display in their front windows, many, including the "Standard" use an interesting substitute. This consists of several large, gracefully shaped clear glass containers filled with colored water! That is, it was colored red, or green, or blue when it was placed there, but exposure to direct sunlight fades the colors after a time, and they all turn a pale yellow color. The drug department at the "Standard" was unique in that it didn't use the conveyer system to the cashier, but had its own cash register.
This about concludes our tour of "Main Street." Instead of going back to our house the way we came, let's take Second Street. On the corner of Second Street and Somo Avenue is the Tomahawk City Hall. The first floor of this old building is occupied by city offices. The second floor houses the public library, and is where I have spent a lot of time, beginning when I was just starting to read. I remember being overwhelmed by the huge quantity of reading material available, even to me! The fire department's fire trucks are housed in a city hall annex. From here it is only three blocks straight north to our house.