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 (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. ).

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.

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

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.

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.

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

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.

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.

Indian Head and Black Bass
Indian Head and Black Bass

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.