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Archive for December, 2012

I never expected to visit Rock Island in the winter, but today Al and I did just that. The state park, northeast of Washington Island, is open to the public year-round, but for all practical purposes is accessible only from May through October. Those are the months when the ferryboat operates, transporting day-trippers and serious campers alike between Jackson Harbor on Washington Island and Chester Thordarson’s magnificent boathouse on Rock Island.

Washington Island-Rock Island-Detroit Island-Plum Island

This fall, however, Rock Island has become accessible by foot thanks to a land bridge that has emerged between Washington Island and Rock Island as a result of ever falling levels of Lake Michigan.

Land Bridge Connecting Washington Island and Rock Island

A month or two ago, it was possible to walk this bridge without getting one’s feet wet. Today, it is wide enough to drive a couple of pick-up trucks across without fear of them colliding.

Land Bridge to Rock Island

Land Bridge to Rock Island

The path is sandy in spots, rocky in others, and consists of nothing but tiny seashells in still others that, when trod upon, sound like grinding glass. A good amount of ice makes the walk a bit treacherous at times, although one is treated to musical trickling and gurgling sounds that can be heard underneath the ice as lake water moves between stones. Being out in the open water, there is no protection from the wind, which was very cold and relentless both going and coming back. A one-way crossing probably takes 20 to 30 minutes; a precise time is impossible to state since there is no obvious edge of either island.

It was apparent from the numerous boot prints in the snow that a number of people have taken this unusual opportunity to visit Rock Island off season. When Al and I were at the boathouse, it appeared that we were the only ones on the island. On the way back, we passed a lone traveler on his way to Rock Island. His camera had frozen up due to the cold and persistent wind (I kept my camera inside my coat to prevent that from happening), but he wasn’t too bothered by that; he seemed to be enjoying the rare chance to walk to the island.

Chester Thordarson's Boat House, Rock Island (Wisc.)

Loading dock where visitors to Rock Island board ferry to return to Washington Island (seen in the distance)

Loading dock where visitors to Rock Island board ferry to return to Washington Island (seen in the distance)

Looking south from the southwest point of Rock Island (near beginning of land bridge connecting to Washington Island)

Looking south from the southwest point of Rock Island (near beginning of land bridge connecting to Washington Island)

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I may have found another photo of the mystery man.

Visit to La Crosse

On Tuesday, I made a field trip to La Crosse to take photos of the site where the Gund brewery was located (more on that in a later blog) and to visit the Murphy Library at UW-La Crosse. The Area Research Center of the Murphy Library has collections of old photographs and maps, among other archival material. I asked to look at any photos they might have of the Gund brewery and also to look at Sanborn fire insurance maps of La Crosse for the years that I haven’t already seen (1894, 1898, 1921 and 1940), if the library’s collection contained any.

I had expected to spend most of my time examining the maps, but as it turned out, I never even got that far. The librarian brought out a box with brewery-related photos. My eyes about popped out of my head when I learned that inside that box were ten large envelopes labeled as John Gund Brewery photos, plus a couple of other large photos that were too large to fit inside the envelopes. The Gund brewery was clearly a significant business concern in its day.

The first few envelopes were labeled as exterior views of the brewery. To my amazement and delight, I saw photos of the brewery pre-fire, of the burned-out brewery immediately after the fire, and of the rebuilt brewery. I was floored by the number and variety of photographs. Unfortunately, most of the photos do not identify dates (aside from the ubiquitous ‘circa’) or names of people. Still, they offer a great deal more visual information than I previously had.

The next few envelopes were labeled as interior views of the brewery. This was brand new territory for me as I’d only seen to this point drawings and photos of the outsides of buildings. I briefly wondered whether the interior views would show and identify people. I repeatedly said to myself, “Wow!” at each new photo, drinking in and savoring every one of them.

The last two envelopes were labeled as people at the brewery. The excitement built as I slowly looked through the photos in the first envelope and then in the second. I took my time, examining and appreciating the details – clothing, hairstyles, equipment, surroundings – marveling at the reality of these people’s lives: ordinary workers making their way through life, trying to survive just like us today – and now long-since deceased and forgotten.

Another Photo

The very last photo in the first envelope left me transfixed. It was a photo I had not previously seen, yet I recognized immediately one of the men from the mystery man photo. Then I recognized another. Then another. I thought, “These are the same guys!” In all, I recognized ten faces that were common to the mystery man photo. I also recognized a man who, while not in the mystery man photo, appears in another photo of Gund brewery workers reportedly taken in 1899. He was the first clear link between the mystery man photo, dated circa 1890 and most likely taken pre-fire, and the 1899 photo taken in front of the rebuilt brewery.

I asked to get a digital scan of the photo, as large as possible, so that I could compare the faces of the men with the mystery man photo. On Wednesday, I began examining my digital copy of the photo. In addition to the ten men who are also clearly in the mystery man photo, I concluded there might be as many as six others who also appear in both photos – including the mystery man himself! I believe this gentleman is the mystery man:

Mystery Man?

His case is a little trickier to deduce than many of the other men because the mystery man in the first photo wears a cap Mystery Man while the man is hatless in this photo. Yet there is a resemblance in the facial features, including to a degree the wonderful moustache. Moreover, consider some other details: both men are seated prominently in the front row; both men wear very similar (identical?) black boots; both men wear a similar type of shirt that, while not the same, curiously isn’t apparent on any of the other men in either photo; the overall shape of the face, including the ears, on each man is similar; and the shape of the nose on each man seems to be identical. And did you notice that the man is holding a cap? Holding a Cap Wouldn’t that be something if it was the very cap worn by the man in the other photo!

Which Photo Came First?

Photo #1 - John Gund Brewery Workers circa 1890

Photo #1 – John Gund Brewery Workers circa 1890


Photo #2 - John Gund Brewery Workers circa 1890

Photo #2 – John Gund Brewery Workers circa 1890

Given that so many of the men present in both photos appear the same in their faces, I surmise the photos were taken close together, timewise. Two questions that I’d like to answer are (1) how much time elapsed between the two photos and (2) which was taken first?

It is exceedingly difficult to discern signs of aging in the men’s faces. That suggests that only a small amount of time separates the two photos. The man in the mystery man photo (to which I’ll now refer to as photo #1), third row from front, far right, is pictured in the other photo (to which I’ll now refer to as photo #2) in the third row from front, fourth from left. To me, that man looks younger (more kid-like, almost) in photo #2. By contrast, the man in photo #1, front row, second from left, who is in the very same location in photo #2, looks younger to me in photo #1.

I’ll offer two observations about the photos that, while I’m unable to prove conclusively, lead me to believe that photo #2 is the earlier of the two photos and that the photos were taken perhaps six months to one year apart:

1) A detail that I notice about both photos are the wonderful moustaches. Of the sixteen men who either certainly are present or are likely present in both photos, twelve sport moustaches in both photos. To a man, the moustaches of those twelve, if not the same in each photo, are larger, wider, fuller and in three cases, more horizontal, in photo #1 than in photo #2. This leads me to speculate that the fashion trend of the day had changed between the time that the two photos were taken. I’m guessing the trend was toward larger, more prominent moustaches as the ’90s progressed, which, if true, suggests that photo #2 was taken first.

2) One cannot grow a moustache overnight. Therefore, any changes to the moustache size of any of the men had to have taken some time. Further, the clothing the men are wearing in photo #1 appears to be slightly seasonally different than the clothing in photo #2. A number of the men in photo #1 seem to be wearing some type of sweater or are otherwise more layered than the men in photo #2. Though the season during which each photo was taken isn’t apparent, the somewhat seasonally different clothing suggests several months may have elapsed between the two photos. Both of these points lead me to guess that perhaps six months to maybe not quite a year separate the two photos.

To be continued…

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Now that I know the mystery man was employed at the John Gund Brewing Company, I’ve begun looking for information about the brewery in an attempt to date the mystery man photo. According to the Wisconsin Historical Society, that photo is dated circa 1890. Is that date estimate reasonable? What range of years might ‘circa’ include? Finding the answers to those questions has proven to be a crucial step en route to identifying the mystery man.

Illustrations of John Gund’s Brewery

I’ve located a number of different drawings of John Gund’s brewery (breweries, actually) spanning more than forty years. A time capsule of such images provides valuable clues as to what the John Gund Brewing Company looked like and how it evolved from its humble beginnings. It becomes apparent when examining these images, however, that the limners often used artistic license generously when creating their works. For the “big picture,” such license might be inconsequential. The challenge in comparing one image to another comes when examining the small details.

According to Steven Baier’s research paper “History of the Brewing Industry in La Crosse,” [1976] John Gund was born in Germany in 1830 and, following his schooling, apprenticed for two years at a cooperage and a brewery. In 1848, he came to America, settling in Illinois. During the next six years, he worked at a couple of breweries in Illinois and Iowa before moving to and establishing his first brewery in La Crosse in 1854. This image of John Gund’s first brewing structure appears on page 106 of “Echoes of Our Past: Vignettes of Historic La Crosse” [1985] by Myer Katz:

John Gund’s brewery 1854

John Gund’s brewery 1854

In 1858, John Gund sold the log cabin to C. L. Colman, who used it for his lumber business. Gund then entered into partnership with Gottlieb Heileman and built the “City Brewery.” Gund sold his share of the business to Heileman in 1872 and began building the “Empire Brewery.”

 

—1873—

Empire Brewery 1873, as seen from the southeast

Empire Brewery 1873, as seen from the southeast

source: Katz 1985

The buildings in the above illustration are as follows:
A – malt house
B – brew house, office
C – dry kiln
D – engine house
E – ice house [The ice house was where blocks of ice that had been cut from the river (or lakes) were stored, often with sawdust around the blocks for insulation. Sometimes a portion of the ice house, or a building separate and distinct from the ice house, was used for cold storage. The cold storage building was where the beer was stored with the ice in the summer to keep the beer cool while lagering. Before refrigeration, cold storage was accomplished by the judicious use of those blocks of ice to keep a storage box or container cold.]
F – reserve ice house
G – stables
H – dwelling (house); not sure if it belonged to Gund Brewery

The bottling house, not depicted in the above illustration, was across the street to the east (to the right).

 

—1876—

Empire Brewery 1876, as seen from the southwest

Empire Brewery 1876, as seen from the southwest

source: Drawing of the city of La Crosse by C.J. Pauli, Wisconsin Historical Society

The buildings in the above illustration are as follows:
A – malt house
B – brew house, office
C – dry kiln
D – engine house
E – ice house
H – dwelling (house)

The reserve ice house and stables shown in the 1873 illustration are not depicted in the above illustration. They were located to the southwest (downward in the above illustration). The bottling house, also not depicted in the above illustration, is to the east (to the right), across the street in the fenced-in tree grove.

The freight depot is to the northeast (upward in the above illustration) of the brew house.

In 1879-1880, a second ice house was constructed on the north (and slightly to the west) side of first ice house.

In 1880, John Gund formally organized the “John Gund Brewing Company.” The original articles of incorporation, dated May 1 1880, consist of two pages of ruled paper measuring 11¾” x 7¼”, handwritten using a fountain pen in beautiful, flowing script on the front and back of each page.

 

—1881—

John Gund Brewing Company 1881, as seen from the northeast

John Gund Brewing Company 1881, as seen from the northeast

source: Murphy Library, UW-La Crosse

The buildings in the above illustration are as follows:
A – malt house
B – brew house, office, sleeping rooms (2nd floor)
C – dry kiln
E1 – ice house no. 1
E2 – ice house no. 2 built 1879-1880 and containing a basement, cooling room, storage room and ice room
F – reserve ice houses
G – stables
H – bottling house

The engine house is not depicted in the above illustration but remained located behind the brew house and malt house.

The dwelling in the 1873 and 1876 illustrations is not depicted here but was located south (to the left in the above illustration) of the bottling house.

 

—1887—

John Gund Brewing Company 1887, as seen from the northwest

John Gund Brewing Company 1887, as seen from the northwest

source: Drawing of the city of La Crosse by Henry Wellge, La Crosse Public Library

The buildings in the above illustration are as follows:
A – malt house
B – brew house, office, sleeping rooms
C – dry kiln
E1 – ice house no. 1
E2 – ice house no. 2
E3 – ice house no. 3
F – reserve ice houses
G – stables
H – bottling house (built since 1884)

The engine house is not depicted in this illustration but remained located between ice house no.1 and the dry kiln.

The building north of the stables (to the left in the above illustration) possibly started out as a reserve ice house but was later used as a wagon shed.

The building south of the malt house (to the right in the above illustration) was a shed.

The building southeast of the malt house (upward in the above illustration) is the dwelling that was depicted in the 1873 and 1876 illustrations.

The building to the north (downward in the above illustration) of the bottling house is the former bottling house, now used for storage.

The building to the east of the bottling house (next to the railroad tracks) is a shed, and the building south of that shed is a sawdust shed.

The partial building across the railroad tracks and to the left of the bottling house is the freight depot depicted in the 1881 illustration.

The elongated structure to the northeast of the brew house and across the street and railroad tracks is the passenger depot depicted in the 1881 illustration.

 

—1890—

John Gund Brewing Company 1890, as seen from the northeast

John Gund Brewing Company 1890, as seen from the northeast

source: 1890 City Directory for La Crosse

The buildings in the above illustration are as follows:
A – malt house
B – brew house, office, sleeping rooms
C – dry kiln
E1 – ice house no. 1
E2 – ice house no. 2
E3 – ice house no. 3
F – reserve ice houses
G – stables
H – bottling house (built since 1884)
I – wagon house
J – office
K – grain storage

The building to the north of the two ice houses (to the right in the above illustration) is either the freight depot for the Chicago and Northwestern railroad or the car shed for the Green Bay, Winona and St. Paul railroad. (The placement of the buildings, street and rail lines are not depicted accurately in the above illustration, so it’s a little difficult to tell which railroad building it is supposed to be.)

 

—1892—

John Gund Brewing Company 1892, as seen from the northeast

John Gund Brewing Company 1892, as seen from the northeast

source: 1891 Annual Report of the Board of Trade for the City of La Crosse, Murphy Library, UW-La Crosse

This illustration looks to be the same as the 1890 illustration from the city directory.

 

Identifying the various buildings in the different images proved to be a challenging exercise. Some of the artists took more liberties than others with respect to perspective, orientation and detail. In addition, new building construction over time occasionally tripped me up. For example, the bottling house in the 1881 illustration is oriented east-west and appears to be frame construction. By contrast, in the 1890 illustration, the bottling house is oriented north-south and appears to be brick or stone construction. Both images turn out to be correct (mostly). A new bottling house made from stone was built sometime after 1884, oriented nearly north-south. Meanwhile, the original frame-construction bottling house was retained and used for storage. Even so, the 1890 image lays out the buildings, road and rail lines in a neat grid, which wasn’t true to life. Based on textual descriptions of some of the buildings, and especially with the aid of Sanborn fire insurance maps, I was able ultimately to identify most of the buildings appearing in the various illustrations.

Employment at the Gund Brewery

Stephen Baier’s paper cites a figure of 25 employees at the brewery, ostensibly in the 1879-1880 timeframe. Biennial reports from the state commissioner of labor statistics Wisconsin Bureau of Labor Statistics First Biennial Report 1883-1884 show fairly steady, if not increasing, employment figures at the brewery over the next fifteen years, although who was counted as an employee is not explained. Further, the dates that the employee counts were tallied are not in the reports:

Report Years Male Employees Female Employees Total Employees
1885-1886 47 4 51
1887-1888 40 0 40
1889-1890 57 4 61
1891-1892 50 2 52
1893-1894 60 4 64
1895-1896 figures not reported

The photo with the mystery man includes 24 workers. If the photo date of circa 1890 is reasonable, it would seem that those men comprised from three-eighths to almost one-half of John Gund’s brewery workforce.

To be continued…

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On Friday, I saw a sight in Madison that one never sees – a passenger train traveling through town.

The closest that Amtrak’s Empire Builder route comes to Madison is 25 miles to the northeast, stopping at a quaint old train station in Columbus. It’s a lovely vintage station, built shortly after the turn of the 20th century. As there is no public transportation between Madison and Columbus, for those who live in Madison, the train is an option for cross-country travel only to those with access to a car.

Two years ago, the state government had plans to construct a high-speed rail line between Milwaukee and Madison, the long-term plan being to connect Chicago with Minneapolis via the two Wisconsin cities. The federal government was poised to cover the estimated $810 million in construction costs. The state’s burden would be to pay the estimated $7.5 million in annual operating costs. It was those operating costs that the state’s then recently-elected-but-not-yet-in-office governor cited as the reason for rejecting the funding from the federal government to pursue this transportation option. At the time, the governor-elect frequently and repeatedly claimed that the state was broke. (Meanwhile, during the two years that said governor has been in office, the state has spent millions upon millions of dollars on road, highway and bridge construction.) The state has now spent far more than $7.5 million as a result of the decision to scrap the high-speed rail plans. Further, the state now faces a lawsuit for failing to pay a company with which the state had contracted to build train cars for Amtrak’s Hiawatha line connecting Milwaukee and Chicago.)

Around 3:40 in the afternoon on Friday, I was walking along University Avenue on my way to Union South. I could hear the long and frequent train whistles from the tracks that run near Johnson Street and could tell the train was getting closer. After rounding the corner at the section of Orchard Street that connects University and Johnson, the train came into view. Rather than seeing a freight train as expected, I saw going by a string of shiny silver, single-level train cars that looked unmistakably like passenger rail cars, complete with white curtains hanging on either side of the windows. As I continued to approach Johnson Street, I heard someone behind me confirm what I was seeing when he declared, “That’s a passenger train!”

Indeed, Amtrak’s Northeast Regional train was rolling by. That route runs between Virginia and Massachusetts,

Map of Amtrak's Northeast Regional Route

Map of Amtrak’s Northeast Regional Route

so one wonders how this particular train got so lost and found itself traveling through south central Wisconsin, headed west even further away from the East Coast. The rail line it was on roughly follows U.S. Highway 14 through Middleton, Cross Plains, Black Earth, Mazomanie, Arena, Spring Green and Lone Rock, at which point Highway 14 turns north and the rail line continues west through Avoca, Muscoda, Blue River, Boscobel and Wauzeka, eventually ending up in Prairie du Chien.

The train was a welcome and beautiful sight to see. It causes me wonder if plans to bring passenger rail to Madison are still in the works. What a tremendous benefit that would be!
Amtrak Northeast Regional

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