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THE CITY REBORN FROM THE ASHES OF AMERICA'S MOST DISASTROUS FOREST FIRE
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Tales from the old-timer

Issue Date: June 25, 2008

Crivitz - The German Influence

Ellsworth Rich Richlen, whose personal history is much entwined with Crivitz and the Crivitz area, has had a long fascination with the local history of the area, and also has a longstanding relationship with the Crivitz Historical Society and the Crivitz Museum. He graduated from Crivitz High School in 1942, served as a Naval Airman in World War II, and after earnng his master’s degree from Iowa State University he had a long career with the US Forest Service before retiring and coming back to this area from Montana with his wife, the former Betty Wegner. Betty grew up on a farm in Grover and graduated from Peshtigo HIgh School in 1943.

Richlen compiled much research material and wrote this article in anticipation of the upcoming 125th Anniversary of Crivitz planned for July 31 through Aug. 3 this summer:

Railroad junctions were key locations for the development of townsites like Crivitz 125 years ago. New townsites brought in new businesses like hotels, restaurants, saloons and stores. These in turn brought tradesmen, laborers, railroad workers, all the varied occupations needed to develop a town. Transportation was a key element, in those days before autos and trucks and good highways, and the railroads were vital.

The railroad survey crew evaluated two routes going west from Marinette to Crivitz, and to Middle Inlet. The route to Crivitz crossed only one large swamp area, and was on mostly high ground. Marinette to Middle Inlet crossed nine swampy areas and would require much excavation and filling to make a smooth grade - so Crivitz won out. Crivitz would not have developed and prospered without the railroad junction.

Indians had used the Crivitz area for campsites and they had trails up and down the Peshtigo River and to Lake Noquebay, Left Foot Lake and to the Peshtigo area.

One of the earliest recorded trappers in the Crivitz region was Hezikau Barker. His mother and father built a small cabin about eight miles west of Crivitz on the Peshtigo River about 1840. Hezikau’s mother died within a year and his father drowned in the Peshtigo River shortly thereafter, leaving a 14-year-old son to fend for himself.

Another trader in the area was known as Red Beard and had a companion, described as a big black man. Both were killed by whiskey drinking Indians from Green Bay, probably in the 1840’s or 1850’s. The trading post was called Nigger Hill long before 1870 and was a known landmark before Crivitz was established. Several wagon trails passed through the Crivitz area before 1870 and an old Indian trail was just south of Crivitz.

In 1870 Generals Phil Sheridan and William Strong, Civil War notables, traveled through the Crivitz area on a fishing trip to the Thunder River. They took the wagon trail that ended about three miles west of Crivitz, then they traveled the old Lake Superior Trail to the Thunder River. John Seymour and his Chippewa wife, Polmacoche, farmed and traded near Grindstone Rapid, now called Seymour Rapids.

In 1882 the Wisconsin-Michigan Railroad began a line from Bagley Junction to Nigger Hill (apologies here to persons offended by this term, but it is a part of indelible history). The railroad arrived in the area now called Crivitz in July 1883. Judge F.J. Bartels of Peshtigo opened the land on the west side of the railroad track.

W.A. Ellis sold the railroad 40 acres of land on the east side of the track for a depot and a Y turnaround. The Wisconsin Michigan later named the depot Ellis Junction after W.A. Ellis, General Manager of the Peshtigo Company, and a Chairman of the Marinette County Board.

Bartels immediately had an area to the west of the railroad track surveyed for a townsite, and named it Crivitz after his home town, Crivitz, Germany. Bartels came to Buffalo, NY in 1852 and to Peshtigo in 1854. When the Civil War broke out, he enlisted as a Private in Co. F, 12th Wisconsin Regiment, and for his soldierly qualities he rose to the Captaincy of his company. After the war he entered the general mercantile business and lost $30,000 in the Peshtigo Fire of 1871. In 1872 he became Postmaster in Peshtigo and was appointed County Judge by Governor C.C. Washburn.

By late August of 1883 Crivitz had two stores, two boarding houses, four saloons and other small businesses. Bartels sold 76 lots and recorded the plat and village of Crivitz on Sept. 15, 1883 in the Marinette County Courthouse. Robert Dunn built a hotel in 1883 next to the Ellis Junction Depot. His wife, Almira, was the longtime owner of the log cabin moved some time ago to the Crivitz Museum grounds.

In 1884 Bartels sold land west of Crivitz on the Peshtigo River to the Butler-Mueller Company of Milwaukee and they built a sawmill and in 1886 they erected a two-story boarding house for 50 mill workers.

In 1885 Bartels moved from Peshtigo to his large farm west of Crivitz on what is now Co. W, and he was referred to as a Granger. People in the Crivitz news were Levi Hale, Tommy Quinlan, A.W. Crusoe, Harry Sargent, John Murphy, Fred Shepard, Winfred Hale, Julius Schmidt and H. Franzen.

Dr. J.F. Schlieman, a large, rotund German. was proprietor of a small store and also served as Postmaster. The Wausaukee Independent a weekly newspaper of the day, reported that Dr. Schlieman from Crivitz and Dr. Sellars from Wausaukee were in Amberg and waggishly said, We suppose they are looking for a chance to saw off somebody’s arms or legs.

The railroad was completed from Crivitz to Marinette in 1885. The newspaper reported in another whimsical note, The train gets in just late enough to be too early; the passengers don’t have their snooze finished yet. A flying trip to Marinette or Wausaukee meant they rode the train. In contrast if they drove to Wausaukee or Middle Inlet they went by horse and buggy or wagon.

The Wisconsin-Michigan was extended to Iron Mountain in 1886. Judge Bartels continued to buy and sell land, working as a colonizer in the late 1880’s. He also had a logging operation.

In 1894 Mr. Butler of the Butler-Mueller Sawmill died of typhoid fever and the sawmill shut down the following year.

In 1895, 113 years ago, major changes took place in Crivitz, as Bartels sold off most of his assets to Hieronymus Zech, a German businessman from Chilton. Zech bought 17,000 acres, a sawmill, planing mill, shingle mill, blacksmith shop, warehouse, 15 houses, horses, wagons, sleighs and other logging equipment for $110,000. A soap factory was making 10 pounds of soap per day in 1885.

Robert Dunn started a clothing store, and Dunn and Louie Papke would ride out to Dunn’s cabin at Lake Noquebay so Papke could air out his whiskers, the Wausaukee Independent said. Later the Independent reported Papke had to shave off his whiskers as they got caught in the brush when he went into the woods. Coal Oil Johnny left Crivitz, but he came back in three months with a fine pair of high-water boots and paraded up and down Main Street to show them off. Thunder Lake Frank died in October 1885 in Crivitz after digging for gold for many years at Thunder Lake.

The Town of Crivitz was established by the Legislature in 1897 from part of the Town of Peshtigo. Town officials were F.J. Bartels, Chairman, Dave Martin and Robert Dunn, Supervisors, Al Grimmer, Clerk, W.T. Rogers, and Bartels, Justice of the Peace. Dave Engler, Pathmaster, was trying out a new road machine to level the streets in Crivitz and broaden adjacent roads.

Another colonization company was formed in Crivitz by C.E. Rollins and L.K. Mc Neill, with assets of $10,000. They planned to recruit hundreds of German families, and the Farmers Colonization Company of Chicago was also working in the Crivitz area to bring in Polish families.

H.J. Zech built a park on his ranch west of Crivitz in the spring of 1897 and on the 4th of July there were horse races, a shooting gallery, ice cream, lemonade, beer, ham sandwiches, candy, and flowers, with a 12 piece band playing in the pavilion with Old Glory flying overhead. The 4th of July celebration continued for many years at that location.

Zech wanted to call the surrounding area Zechville but this little bit of vanity didn’t take hold. In the winter of 1897 Zech logged 6.5 million board feet of lumber in the upper Peshtigo River basin. Zech built a 60x175 foot barn for his 380 head of cattle and harvested 600 acres of rye on his ranch. He brought in carloads of Holstein cattle from Iowa. A new physician, Dr. Dohearty, moved from Oshkosh to Crivitz in 1897. Slot machines were doing a good business. You put in a nickle and pulled the handle.

In 1897 Gramophone and Vitaphone concerts were held at Peter Graff’s hall. Hollaways Circus came to town in July, and dances were held at McIver’s Hall. New settlers were coming in every week.

In May of 1899 horse racing began at Zech Park and continued all summer. Elected town officials were Regan, Schlieman, Grimmer, H. Bartels, Dohearty, Hubbard, Olafs, Regan, Peter Witt and Henderson. In August that year Emil Umberham took over management of the Chicago, Milwaukee and St. Paul Railroad eating house at Ellis Junction. The biggest news in Crivitz came in December when H. Zech sold most of his assets to a Chicago Colonization Company called POLSKE Industrial Co. for $130,000, involving 10,000 acres of land, a sawmill, shingle mill, planing mill, general store, warehouse, saloon, meat market, boarding house, 11 houses, a blacksmith shop, electric plant, 25 horses and a logging outfit. The company planned to settle 150 families in the Crivitz area in the spring of 1900.

German families living in the Town of Crivitz in 1900, based on the 1900 US Census, included Schmidt, Franzen, Loop, Miersch, Kloppman, Woulf, Bartels, Graff, Drexler, Zech, Gocht, Olafs, Golla, Konencheck, Schultz, and Papke, along with Coal Oil Johnny Weber. German businessmen in Crivitz around 1900 included H.A. Kloppman, C. Gocht, E. Umberham, and T. Miersch.

During his time in Crivitz Zeich built the Catholic Church at a cost of $6,000, warehouses, dwellings, the electric plant, four new schools, and 35 miles of roads. He employed 125 men in his sawmill and sawed 10 million feet of lumber a year. The sale of his assets to the POLSKE Industrial Corporation brought to an end the German domination of Crivitz and the beginning of a new century.


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