Tag Archives: wisconsin-series

Up North: The Series::Two Rivers::The End

City of Two Rivers
City of Two Rivers

A little over two and a half years ago I began my Wisconsin Series of blog posts with a small post about Two Rivers, Wisconsin, the hometown of my Grandma Green. In that post I declared my plan to someday visit Two Rivers. Last September I finally did visit Two Rivers and it is fitting that I end my series with a post about that visit.

We drove from Elgin via Madison where we dropped off my son’s friend’s bike and guitar at his dorm at UW-Madison. I hoped to visit with a distant cousin with whom I’ve gotten close to via e-mail, but we wanted to get to Two Rivers and do some sight-seeing before dark. After Madison we stopped at Horicon National Wildlife Refuge — a place I’d heard about from a couple of birding blogs I follow. It did not disappoint — but I’ll talk about that in a different post.

The town of Two Rivers, on the shore of Lake Michigan just south of Door County, was settled by Germans, Norwegians, British, Irish, and French Canadians. Early industries were fishing and lumber. I think ships may also have been built there. Many other ships were shipwrecked off the coast. My Two Rivers ancestors were mainly German and I know that some were fishermen and some others worked in sawmills. Some might also have been farmers.

We entered Two Rivers through the much larger city of Manitowoc where we were going to have to find a place to stay because I waited too long to find somewhere in Two Rivers. To say I was excited about this leg of the journey is an understatement. I was buzzing. I was delirious. I was about to see the town where my grandmother grew up and where she and my grandfather met [1].

It was a foggy day, so the drive up Memorial Drive, along the shore of Lake Michigan, was not exactly scenic. I’d read online that this was the weekend of the annual Kites over Lake Michigan festival and wondered how the festival was faring in the mist.

The first thing I wanted to do in town was visit the museum to see if there was any mention of the Koeser family. Using my phone’s navigation application and the website for Two Rivers, we were able to find “The Washington House” which housed the historical museum as well as the replica of the ice cream parlor that apparently invented the ice cream sundae. We found no mention of the Koeser family at the museum, but I did speak to two friendly docents who were able to tell me where the house in which my great-great grandparents lived was located. The back of the photo I borrowed stole from my mom mentioned “The Mexico House” which I’d already discovered was a tavern. The women assured me that it was still standing, although the name was changed. They thought the house was still standing as well, so I was excited to head over there right away.

It took a bit of driving around to find the street, but eventually we found a seedy looking building with a name that Dean thought sounded like a strip club. I sort of wanted to go inside, but Dean was wise to discourage me. It was really a dive. We parked and walked up and down the streets trying to find the house in the photo and then I remembered the description of the back of the photo which claimed the house was “two doors west of The Mexico House”. We walked back to the seedy bar and saw that two doors west of it was part of the concrete parking lot for the bar. Ok, progress. The house would have been pretty old anyway — and judging by some of the other homes in the area, might have been in disrepair.

Seedy bar formally known as The Mexico House
Seedy bar in Two Rivers formally known as The Mexico House

After that minor disappointment we thought a walk in a cemetery would be fun on this misty day. Somehow I had it in my head that my ancestors were buried in the Pioneer’s Rest Cemetery so we headed there. I was not as prepared as I should have been because I was unable to find any names I recognized. Months later I did find a website that told where everyone was buried. I was in the correct cemetery but wrong part of it. I could have walked around there much longer, but Dean was getting antsy and it was beginning to sprinkle. I snapped a few shots of some interesting headstones and we left.

Angel in Pioneer Rest Cemetery
Angel in Pioneer Rest Cemetery
Child's Headstone
Child's Headstone
Celtic Cross, German name
Celtic Cross, German name

Dean wanted to visit the Kites over Michigan festival so we headed towards the lake again and easily found Neshotah Beach. Now this was fun! It was damp and foggy and there was little wind, but a beach filled with colorful and whimsical kites is always fun. We walked around for a while and watched a synchronized kite show, then headed back to Manitowoc to find a place to rest our heads for the night.

The next morning we visited the Wisconsin Maritime Museum which was located across the street from our hotel. We took a tour of the submarine which, while entertaining and interesting, was long. I tend to have minor claustrophobia so I kept to the end of the line so I could make my escape quickly if I needed to.


Inside the submarine
Inside the submarine

The day was lovely and sunny so we headed over to the Kites over Lake Michigan festival again and watched more kite action while enjoying cheese curds and brats.

Dragon Kite
Dragon Kite

On the final trek out of town I wanted to see if I could find the house in which my grandmother grew up. I had the address so we drove to Thirteenth street and looked for 2300. We found it and I snapped a photo and wondered aloud how that small house could have held nine children. Later, back in Bethesda, I found a photo of some of my grandmother’s family in front of the house.

Grandma's childhood home now
Grandma's childhood home now
Grandma's Childhood home, then
Grandma's Childhood home, then

Even though I had a couple of disappointments while visiting Two Rivers, it was a wonderful trip. I hope to go back again someday, but if I don’t, just having walked the streets where my grandmother walked makes me happy.

  1. The story about my grandparent’s meeting goes something like this: My grandfather was a traveling salesman — he sold thread for a company in Elgin — and was in Two Rivers on a sales trip. He took a date to a dance –maybe at the Washington House? My grandmother also went to that dance with a date. My grandparents met at the dance and left together. Their dates left together too. And the rest is history. []

Up North: The Series::Return to Chetek — Part 2

From Green’s Point May 1964 – June 1968

Before we visited the bars in town and chit-chatted with Barb we searched for my grandparents’ cabin. Had this been five years ago I suspect we may not have found it so easily, but this time I was prepared with technology in the form of Google Maps on my phone. I knew the house was off Ten Mile Lake Drive and had pretty much figured out where it was by looking at the satellite view on Google Maps. I remembered that you drove to the end of Ten Mile Lake Drive, then veered off to the right onto a gravel road and went down a hill. Grandpa always honked his horn as he drove down and up the hill to warn other cars he was coming.

Google Maps led us to Ten Mile Lake Drive and we found the turn-off which looked exactly like I remembered it. We drove down the hill and there, at the end of the drive, was the cabin. It looked so much like it did when I used to visit my grandparents I nearly expected Grandma to walk out around the house to greet us. Even the outhouse was still standing.

I was delighted to see that the house had not been torn down or fallen into disrepair. The opposite, in fact. It looked very well taken care of and I could see a number of improvements. The large picture window on the front of the house was replaced with newer windows — in fact it looked like all the windows were replaced. It may also have been enlarged slightly in the front — the old roof line is no longer visible. The only disappointment was that the woods behind the cabin is gone and is now part of a subdivision.

From Chetek 2011

The lake looked much like it did when I used to visit as a teenager — although I suspect the docks have been rebuilt. I’d forgotten that there was a cabin so near Grandma’s cabin, but remembered going inside it and being surprised that they had a large water pump (the old fashioned kind with a handle) at the kitchen sink instead of a faucet.

No one was at the cabin when we stopped by — I was both glad and disappointed. Glad because I would have been shy about trespassing but disappointed that I was not able to meet the people who now owned the cabin. I left knowing that the cabin I loved as a child continued to be loved by the new family.

I’ve since been in touch with the new owners and showed them photos from the time my grandparents owned it. I feel as if something has come full circle for some reason. I went from not knowing if the cabin would even still be standing to having communicated with the new owner who obviously loves it.

If you are interested, you can view photos of the cabin in the 1960’s and photos of the cabin & Chetek now.

Up North: the series::Return to Chetek — part 1

You may or may not recall that I wrote about my grandparent’s house in Chetek, Wisconsin a couple of years ago and how I wanted to visit Chetek again and possibly find the house they lived in. Well, this summer I finally did return to Chetek.

After dropping Andrew off at Oberlin in September, Dean and I headed west. We visited family for a few days then drove to Wisconsin. Our first stop was Madison to drop off some bulky items to Andrew’s friend Peter, who is studying at the University there. Then we visited Two Rivers which will get a post all of its own. We drove to Hazelhurst and settled in to mom’s lake house for a few days. On Wednesday we drove the 130 miles to Chetek which is through beautiful Wisconsin farm country.

When we arrived in Chetek, I immediately saw it had not changed much in the 26 years since my last visit. The first thing we did was try to find the house that my grandparents owned on Ten Mile Lake. I’ll write about that search in Part 2. This part is about the bars.

I’m not sure I mentioned this earlier, but a reporter from the Chetek Alert — the town’s weekly newspaper — contacted me spring 2010 and asked if they could use the post I wrote for their special section called Summer Scene. I was happy to allow them to use my post.

Rereading my blog post from 2009, I’m not sure why I left out one of the most memorable parts of Chetek. I suspect I wrote about it, but cleaned it up for the article. Perhaps I didn’t want the town of Chetek and the visiting tourists to know about My Family and The Bars.

Chetek has a number of bars. It is in Wisconsin, after all. And it is a town that relies on tourism. After a day on the lake any self-respecting tourist likes to belly up to a bar and have a beer. My family was no different. Well, maybe it was. We spent a lot of time in bars. Since there rarely was anyone to babysit the kids — the kids went to the bars along with the parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles and family friends.

There were four bars we’d visit on our Chetek vacation:

  • The Indianhead Bar: (we called it Millie’s because Millie was an owner) I remember that Millie would serve a chicken dinner one night a week and I often helped tear up the bread for stuffing. My grandparents and Millie were good friends. I have many fond memories of sitting at the bar with my grandparents while they talked to Millie while she tended bar.
  • The Black Bass: This was right next to the Indianhead Bar. We didn’t go there that often, but I do remember being there a few times. They sold off-sales alcohol. That I remember. It may have been here that the Leinenkugel heir would buy beers for anyone who talked to him and drank the family brew. It may also have been here that as I wrote in my journal at the bar a man yelled at me and asked me if I was writing down what he and the woman next to him were talking about. I wasn’t.
  • The B & B Bar: I think my parents liked the B & B bar the best. I remember being there with them most often. At least once they put a couple of chairs together and I’d sleep on the chairs while my parents drank and had fun. My brother took his first steps in the B & B Bar. Mom doesn’t remember that, but I do. For what it is worth, it was daylight when it happened. My fondest memory of the B & B Bar is the bartender we called “Butch”. Somewhere exists a photograph I took of Butch standing behind his bar, his arms outstretched, leaning on the bar. I had a schoolgirl crush on Butch and he humored me. There was a jackalope behind the bar and I remember my grandfather telling me about it.
  • The Spot: We rarely went to The Spot to drink, but I remember visiting it when my grandfather was tending bar there. What I remember is the restaurant. The Spot was a supper club and had really good steaks. They served their baked potatoes with melted cheese and it was delicious. To this day I have cheese on my baked potatoes. One vivid memory of being at the spot is being bored while my parents and grandparents talked. I’d had a kiddie cocktail which had a mermaid cocktail pick. I remember playing with the plastic mermaid and whenever I dropped it on the floor under the table, I held my nose like I was going under water to find her.

All four bars are still standing and two are still called the names I knew them by when I was a child. Of the other two, one resembles the bar I remember and the other seems completely different.

The Indianhead is still called The Indianhead and looks pretty much as I remember it when I was a kid. The current owner told me that the bar is now longer and the bathrooms have been moved to the back. I was able, however, to picture my young self in the back room, tearing bread up for stuffing.

The Black Bass is now called Stringers and looks the same inside, although the owner said it was completely redone after a fire. I guess it was a two story building before the fire. (The Indianhead also caught on fire).

The Spot is now a sports bar called Gilligans and really looks different from my memory — however I don’t remember a lot about the outside.

Saving the best for last, the B & B has the same name and the same bar, but the rest of the bar area looks different. In addition the jackalope is gone and in its place is what looks like a monkey’s face, but on further inspection is the rear end of a white-tailed deer with a cigarette in its “mouth”. Apparently, according to the Internet, it is called an Adirondack Snow Monkey.

We talked to the current owner of the B & B for a while and he told me that Butch worked just down the street at a real estate office if we wanted to pay him a visit. Normally I would have been too shy to do something as bold as that, but since Dean was willing, we headed over to Six Lakes Reality to see if Butch was in the office. He wasn’t, but his wife, Barb, was and she graciously  took a few minutes off work to talk to me.

Dean and I ate lunch at Bob’s Grill, next to The Indianhead. I don’t remember ever eating there before, but the food was great and we each had a spudnik (doughnut hole made from potatoes and created when Sputnik was launched) along with our meal.

The most visual of my memories of Main Street Chetek is the huge fish outside the Rod and Gun Shop. He’s still there. I remember going to the Rod and Gun Shop with my dad or grandfather and looking at the fish in the sinks. The smell was exactly as I remembered it — part fishy part, plastic (from the fake lures).

Seeing downtown Chetek again was like putting together a puzzle. I remembered bits and pieces, but seeing it all together brought being there back to me.

Check back later for part 2 of my Return to Chetek including a fun Internet surprise.


Up North: the series ::Kitsch & Scenery:: Wisconsin Dells

A series about Wisconsin is not complete without a post about Wisconsin Dells. On our excursions to Chetek I vividly remember seeing signs, possibly starting south of Beloit, declaring the wonders of Wisconsin Dells — Tommy Bartlett Water Show, Noah’s Ark, Fort Dells, & The Wonder Spot. I remember longing to visit the Dells because of those signs, but it wasn’t until I was at least 10 years old that we actually did visit the Dells for a day.

I’m guessing we stopped there either on the way to Chetek or on the way back from Chetek, but I can’t be certain — maybe we drove there and back in one day — I know we did not stay overnight though, at least not in a motel. I do know, however, that we visited it with the Pasholks and the reason was mostly for my dad and Jack to meet with a mutual friend of theirs. I remember sitting in the friend’s house while the grownups drank beers and thinking, Get on with it already — I want to have some fun. Did we come all the way to Wisconsin Dells so we could be bored watching you drink beer and visit with your friend?

The grownups finally did say goodbye to their friends and took us kids to an attraction: Fort Dells.  I remember quite a bit about the day at Fort Dells. We saw a Wild West show, drove a model T car around a track and went to a haunted house. I remember being very scared of the haunted house and burying my face in my hands for most of the ride, much to Marcia’s amusement. I think we might have stopped in a Paul Bunyan’s for lunch or dinner, but that might be another memory. I wanted to visit The Wonder Spot but we didn’t — possibly because we ran out of time, or because it was too expensive.

At the time of that visit I was young enough to not be embarrassed by kitsch — something that the Dells excels at. As I grew older and until somewhat recently, I avoided anything that might be considered kitschy.

I think my mom and dad took my brother and me to the Dells one other time — on a trip that also involved a visit to the Baraboo Circus World Museum. I remember very little of the Dells on that trip except maybe seeing The Wonder Spot. I sort of remember someone sitting on a levitating chair. However maybe I just saw a brochure for it.

Dad at The Wonder Spot
Dad at The Wonder Spot

My only other visit to the Dells was as memorable as the first, but I think I liked it less. This visit was on our first honeymoon — the one with Neal & Marie and Paul. Neal and Marie were from New England and Paul was from England, so they’d probably not even heard of Wisconsin Dells and might not have chosen to go had we not suggested it. One of the reasons I wanted to go to the Dells was because my mom and dad went there on their honeymoon in 1954. They went The Wonder Spot.

This time we didn’t go to Fort Dells —  because we were too old and also because it wasn’t there anymore. We did ride The Ducks though. That was interesting and it was nice to see the real reason for Wisconsin Dells — not the tourist traps that were advertised on the signs, but the natural sandstone formations on the Wisconsin River. I don’t think that I knew anything about the actual Dells until this trip. It was a little scary, though, when the driver of the vehicle stopped in the woods and asked for tips.

I was hoping to take my kids to the Dells, but it never happened, and now they’re really too old to want to go with their parents, if at all. Clare likes kitsch, but I think it embarrasses Andrew. I’m not sure I’ll ever go again. The places that I’d remembered from my childhood are gone and I’ve already seen the Dells. I’m pretty sure that if I went I’d be disappointed.

Up North: the series ::House Raisings:: Hazelhurst

View of Lake Harr from Pasholks 1979
The lake we bathed and swam in from Pasholk's property

When I was in high school several of my parents friends began building houses in the small Wisconsin town of Hazelhurst, just south of Minocqua — a popular vacation destination for people from Illinois. One friend of my parents, Neal, had a brother-in-law who lived in a small cabin on a tiny lake off County Road D in Hazelhurst. This lake had plenty of open lots that were for sale in the mid-1970’s and Neal, my parents and the Pasholks all decided to buy land and build vacation homes there. Their plan was to someday retire in these homes.

Roy Neal -- Minocqua, WI 1979
Roy Neal, local singer, entertaining the teens and young adults

The first to build there were the Pasholks, Marcia‘s parents. They bought a motor home or two and set them up on their property, built an outhouse and began building. Jack, Marcia’s dad, was a man-of-all-trades if there ever was one. He could build you a house, lay your carpet and build your furniture without consulting a book or expert. He also knew how to organize a group of people to help build that house. Some would say he was bossy. He’d say he was efficient. Either way, he got the job done with the help of his friends. Even Jeremy helped hammer drywall.

While the friends helped build Jack’s house they stayed at Neal’s brother-in-law’s house, Jack’s motor homes or in tents. It was like a barn raising that I’d read about in history books. The women made breakfast, lunch and dinner for the men. The teenagers helped out how they could some of the time but mostly enjoyed the lake or the lure of Minocqua. This was Wisconsin, where the drinking age was 18. Three years younger than the drinking age in Illinois.

Joan and Eve chatting outside house being built
Two women talking outside one of the houses being built.

The next house to be built was Neal’s I think. I don’t remember being there for the building of it, but I remember camping out on my parent’s property. We borrowed a camper from a friend and a tent from someone else. We showered at Neal’s brother-in-law’s house or bathed in the lake (using the only biodegradable shampoo available at the time — Clarol herbal essence shampoo). My cousin Bob, who was living with us a the time, came along and helped build the house. He also met a local girl and had a week-long romance. Jeremy was also along this trip.

When it came time to build my parent’s house, I’d broken up with Jeremy and met Dean. In between I dated a roofer who put the roof on my parent’s house. Dean came along to help work on my parent’s house one summer. We stayed in Neal’s house this time. Again all the friends helped with the building of my parent’s vacation home.

Alan Roofing Parent's cabin
My friend Alan working on my parents' roof

Before Habitat for Humanity and that house building show on ABC right before Desperate Housewives, when I told people about the house raisings in Wisconsin, they were impressed that I got to witness such strong friendships as to help each other build their homes. They thought this only happened in the past. I feel lucky that I was part of it. I only hammered a couple of nails, but was there in other ways. When I visit the homes that my friends and family built, I feel a strong connection to them. I remember the land before it was disturbed, I remember seeing the huge holes in the ground, the foundations being laid, the skeletons of the houses, the walls being erected, the roofs being constructed. I’ve slept in all of these houses, eaten meals in each of the homes, played games, drank wine, and had deep conversations in them all. Some of the people I remember from these homes are gone from my life, some are gone from this world. But the memories remain.

Up North: the series ::”Greens’ Point”:: Chetek

Long dock
Long dock

Because Wisconsin was calling my grandparents, they finally decided to purchase land and a cabin in the state. I don’t know how or why they chose Chetek, but I suspect it was because they had friends who had vacation homes there. Chetek is on the other side of Wisconsin from Arbor Vitae.

The house they bought was a tiny two-room cottage on a moderately large parcel of land along Ten Mile Lake. It had no indoor plumbing — at least no personal care kind of indoor plumbing. I think it may have had hot and cold running water in the kitchen.

They immediately began building an addition onto the house that was twice the size of the existing structure. It included a garage, a bedroom and a small bathroom.

I remember the house before the remodeling though. I remember using the outhouse and later the chemical toilet that must have sat in the corner of what became the dining room.

I can visualize the rooms of the cabin almost as clearly as I can visualize any room in my current house. If I were an artist, I could draw a perfect picture of my grandparents’ cottage. The living room had a huge picture window that looked out onto the lake. At one end of the living room, under a smallish window was a hide-a-bed sofa. In front of the picture window were my grandfather’s chair — a dark-golden easy-chair — and my grandmother’s plush rocking chair. In the corner, behind the door, was an old, low cupboard with sliding doors. Next to the door, on the right side as you looked at the door was a bookcase full of books. My grandfather was a reader and had boxes and boxes of books in the garage.

My grandmother's stove was similar to this
My grandmother's stove was similar to this

The kitchen was a tiny galley kitchen. It held a refrigerator, a sink, an island and a enameled cast-iron stove. The stove was the kind that could burn gas or wood and I vividly recall my grandmother putting wood and paper under the cast iron cook lids. I don’t know if she cooked anything on them, but it is possible she did. I think it was mainly used to heat the house.

My grandparents’ last name was Green. They called their vacation property “Greens’ Point”. When my grandfather retired, my grandparents moved to Chetek for good. Grandpa got a job in a local bar and played some golf. Grandma fished and visited with the few neighbors around.

I can’t count the number of times we visited Chetek, but enough that everything about it is vivid in my mind nearly 25 years after the last time I was there. I spent several weeks of many summers with my grandparents; and then just my grandmother after my grandfather died.

When my grandmother met John, she moved back to Illinois, but kept the house in Chetek. The last couple of times I went to Chetek, I was in my twenties. One time was shortly after I began dating my husband-to-be. It was great showing him where I’d spent so many happy days as a child and teenager.

Dean & Neal Juggling
Dean & Neal Juggling

The last time I visited Chetek was on our honeymoon. The fact that we brought some of our closest friends only made it better.

This summer I am determined to visit Chetek with my kids. We may not make it to the small house on Ten Mile Lake — that might be a little too painful, but we’ll see if the town is the same and maybe have lunch at the B&B Bar, which according to this website, still exisits or perhaps The Pokegma — one of my favorite restaurants from when I visited there. I used to love the pizza. Whatever we do, I know it will be bittersweet. It was such a huge factor in who I’ve become.

Up North: the series ::Gone Fishin’:: Arbor Vitae

Dona with fish. Aged 5
Dona with fish. Aged 5

Sometime during the summer of 1961 I went back to Wisconsin with my parents and grandparents and maybe an aunt and uncle or two. This time we went to Arbor Vitae and I guess I went fishing if the picture to the left is to be believed. I also have video footage of that trip. My grandparents must have liked Arbor Vitae, because many of their early videos are taken there.

I don’t remember this second visit to Wisconsin either, although I do remember an incident shortly after we returned. My grandmother was cutting my hair and noticed a tick had buried its head in my scalp. She used the lit end of her cigarette to make it back out, then crushed it between her fingernails, causing blood (my blood) to ooze over her fingertips. She said that the tick probably got in my hair in Wisconsin. You can imagine why I remember this incident.

It turns out that Arbor Vitae is not too far away from Hazelhurst, the town in which my parents have a lake house. Not long ago my parents took me back to a bar that they used to go to in Arbor Vitae. It looks pretty much the same as in the videos – or maybe all Wisconsin bars look the same.

Up North: the series ::The beginning:: Two Rivers

Henry Theide
An Early Wisconsinite

I’ve got Wisconsin in my blood. No, really, I do. My great grandmother’s family settled there after emigrating from Germany sometime before the US Civil War. I’m not sure where the man she married, Silas Koeser, was from, perhaps Michigan since my grandmother was born there, but he eventually moved to Two Rivers, the town where his wife was born. She bore nine children and died when some of the children were very young. Silas remained in Two Rivers the rest of his life, as did most of his children.

A beach in Two Rivers -- see, looks like the ocean.*
A beach in Two Rivers -- see, looks like the ocean. *

As many times as I’ve been to Wisconsin, I’ve only been in Two Rivers once. When I was about three years old.  And had a bad case of the measles. I don’t remember it at all, but I’ve seen photographs of me at a beach, and perhaps a video or two. It wasn’t until I was a teenager that I realized it was not an ocean beach in the photograph, but Lake Michigan.

Starting this summer, I want to visit some of the places in Wisconsin that have meaning for me. I might not start with Two Rivers, but someday I’ll go back and see where I’m “from”.

*Neshotah Beach photo originally uploaded by Lester Public Library