Newsletter - March 2008


Burlington Historian

March 2008

Remodeling Project Delayed While Pursuing Authority to Designate the Museum Building as Historically Significant

The Society's remodeling project ran into a bit of a delay when it was discovered that the Museum building, rather than being constructed largely of masonry materials, was actually a wood framed building covered with a brick veneer. Given the wooden framing, building code regulations generally require a fire sprinkler system if an addition is built. But there are exceptions, one of which is if a building is designated as having historical significance.

With the types of historical items housed in the Museum, a sprinkler system would be needed that wouldn't compromise the entire collection should the sprinklers be set off. And such a "zoned" system is very expensive. With historical designation, however, alternative -- and less expensive -- fire protection measures can be provided. These include such things as enclosing stairways and installing smoke detectors.

Efforts to have the State Historical Society designate the Museum, a former church building dating back to 1883, as historically significant were denied on the basis that, architecturally, the building, from which the former church steeple has long since been removed, isn't significant from a statewide standpoint.



Many of the artifacts and records that are normally displayed or available at the Museum are stored in the plywood "pod" (shown at left) awaiting completion of the remodeling project






Given that setback, members of Burlington's Historic Preservation Committee are seeking approval from the State Historical Society to become a "Certified Local Government" (CLG) in matters pertaining to local historical properties. By becoming "certified," Burlington would join several other municipalities around the state, such as Racine, Palmyra, and Lake Geneva, that have already been granted such certification.

With the certification, which is expected to be received in the next several weeks, the city will be able to apply its own criteria in determining the historical significance of buildings. In the case of the Museum, for example, the building's significance could be that it is the third oldest existing church building, and was the last German-speaking Lutheran church, in Burlington. Other benefits to the city's being certified would be the ability to apply for state grants for CLG-related activities and to nominate properties for inclusion on the National Register of Historic Places.

The Historical Society, which is celebrating its 80th anniversary in 2008, is still accepting financial donations from individuals, businesses, and groups to help defray the cost of the remodeling. Donations to the Society, which is organized under the provisions of section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code, are tax-deductible. Checks can be made payable to the Burlington Historical Society, and mailed to the Society at 232 N. Perkins Boulevard, Burlington, WI 53105.

President’s Message

I always consider March being "Over The Hump" as a transition from winter to spring with some buds on our trees getting plump, etc.

I hope this spring will also be a transition for our prized Museum building. By the time you see the first signs of spring, we should have a good start on the renovation of our Museum.

The snow melt also brings about a renewal of our annual projects in Burlington, including the opening of the Pioneer Log Cabin and the Burlington Garden Club's preparations of the Legacy Garden and the Vintage Garden in Wehmhoff Square.

Also on the agenda this spring is the continuation of our Mt. Hope Cemetery restoration project in conjunction with the Wisconsin Lutheran College History Department. If you drive west of the Burlington Airport on Spring Prairie Road, you will now see the previously overgrown cemetery on a farm field hill exactly 1/2 mile west of County Highway DD.

May we have a pleasant and beautiful spring season.

Dennis Tully

Burlington Postcard Collection Donated to Society

Society member, Dr. Herbert A. Lederer, recently donated his extensive collection of Burlington postcards to the Society. The collection, consisting of 415 separate pieces, includes several rare cards, including a two-panel card showing a photo taken near the corner of Chestnut and Geneva (Milwaukee Ave.) Streets in 1907. The photo was taken with an Al-Vista panoramic camera manufactured by Burlington's own Multiscope and Film Company.








This rare two-panel postcard is part of the Burlington postcard collection that Dr. Herbert Lederer recently donated to the Society.  The photo was taken at the corner of Chestnut and Geneva Streets during the July 4th parade in 1907.  (Geneva St. is now Milwaukee Ave.)  Most of the buildings are still recognizable today. (Click on image above for a larger version.)

Dr. Lederer, whose parents, Arthur and Blanche, operated Burlington Foods, Inc., on Wilmot Avenue (now S. Pine St.) from 1945 into the 1960s, graduated from Burlington High School in 1952. His wife (and fellow 1952 graduate), Delores, is a member of the family that owned Kessler's Five and Dime Store.

Dr. Lederer, who said that he had enjoyed collecting the postcards over a period of twenty years, also provided a printed and electronic inventory of the cards showing the publishers, card numbers, and, if available, the dates of the cards.

The Society appreciates Dr. Lederer's thoughtfulness in providing the collection for the enjoyment and education of both this and future generations.

Burlington in 1908 - A Hundred Years Ago

What was Burlington like 100 years ago? Are there similarities and differences with today's Burlington? The following article, which appeared in the Standard Democrat of August 1, 1908, provides a glimpse of our city in 1908, which was some 70 years after the first settlers had arrived and 8 years after the village had become a city.

Busy Booming Burlington

One of the Few Cities of Wisconsin that is Making Rapid Strides Forward

One of the busiest and most promising cities in the southern part of Wisconsin is Burlington. Located at the junction of the Fox and White rivers in the southwestern part of Racine county, among the wooded hills of the famous Kettle range and in the heart of the lake region, the city has all the advantages and charms which nature can bestow.

The commercial location of the city is also ideal, seventy miles from Chicago on the line of the Wisconsin Central railroad and forty miles from Milwaukee on the line of the Chicago, Milwaukee and St. Paul railway, Burlington has all the advantages in the way of freight rates, convenience of travel and shipping enjoyed by either of these cities.

The electric road now being constructed by the Milwaukee Electric Railway and Light company, from Milwaukee to Lake Geneva has obtained a franchise to pass through the city and will prove an added convenience which has been long desired.

Burlington has a wide-awake prosperous farming community whose beautiful country homes are evidence in themselves of the prosperity of the farmers who are kept constantly in touch with the world by the telephone system and rural free delivery. Burlington has become famous as a summer resort -- it boasts of one of the most beautiful lakes of its size in the state, situated about a mile and a half from the city. Here, surrounded by hotels and summer homes, lies Brown's lake, around whose placid waters thousands of summer resorters annually seek relief. Three miles south of the city another sheet of water known as Bohner's lake, is fast becoming a popular attraction.

But it is as a manufacturing city that Burlington is making rapid strides forward. The Burlington Advancement association and the Burlington Business Men's association have joined hands and are doing what they can to secure new industries for the city. Their success in the past gives them courage for greater undertakings in the future and no one with a good proposition will be turned away.

Among the manufacturing industries now located here, are:

-- Wisconsin Condensed Milk Co., condensed milk.
-- McCanna and Fraser Co., butter.
-- Burlington Blanket Co., manufacturing horse blankets, robes.
-- Burlington Brass Works, brass goods of all kinds.
-- Verstraete-Fyfe Manufacturing Co., camera and supplies, automobile parts, etc. (shown at right)
-- Multiscope and Film Co., photographic supplies.
-- Finke-Uhen Brewing Co., beer and malt.
-- F. G. Klein Co., soda water, soft drinks, weiss beer.
-- Burlington Brick and Tile Co., brick and tile.(shown below)
-- Lingle Manufacturing Co., levels and plumb bobs.
-- Hugh Agner, vending machines.
-- Security Lightning Rod Co., lightning rods.
-- Cement Products Co., cement blocks.
-- Lawton and Bushman, harness and shoe repairing outfits.
-- Badger Basket and Manufacturing Co., baskets and veneer woods.

In the way of public utilities the city is exceptionally favored. The city owns a splendid water works system that furnishes water and fire protection to all parts of the city. A sewerage system is being installed that covers every street in the city. An electric light plant furnishes light and power, and a gas plant furnishes light, heat and power.

Banking facilities are unexcelled, and a comparison of this business in this city with that of other cities will be found on the first page (not included here).

New and modern residences are being built in every part of the city; in fact local contractors have drawn on all neighboring cities for mechanics to help out in building operations in this city. A house for rent is a scarce article in Burlington, but local capitalists are coming to the front to relieve the situation.

Burlington has an enterprising, pushing, progressive lot of manufacturers and business men who are combining brains and capital to make Burlington "Busy, Booming Burlington."

Everybody Knows Your Name

                     Contributed by Priscilla Crowley

Recently a fire in Lyons destroyed a piece of my childhood. I know how you say good-bye to people you love and care for when they die, but how do you say good-bye to bricks and mortar -- buildings that are not living, breathing individuals but inanimate objects? I know the face of Lyons has changed in many ways since I was a child roaming the village streets, but the very core of the village has not really changed that much in the last 50 years. Whenever I have the opportunity to visit Lyons, I can still drive up one street and down another and everything I see will trigger a memory from my past. When I think of home, I still think of that village as our family home even though none of us has lived there in over 40 years -- but what an impact living there had on all our lives.

If the fire had destroyed more than the old post office building, it would have taken a huge portion of the downtown area of Lyons. The Barber Shop, the old Post Office, the Ehlen house and the old McCann's grocery store would have ceased to exist except in our memories or maybe in some old photographs. It was a ritual for us to sneak downtown on a Friday or Saturday night so we could peek in the barber shop window and stare at everyone while they got their haircut -- or watch the ones who were brave enough to let the barber shave them. You could always count on good old Ramie R. -- Ramie worked on a farm outside of town but come Saturday night he always came to town -- all dressed up in his suit, good shoes, hat and smoking a big cigar. We loved it when old Ramie would come in for a haircut -- he had maybe a half a dozen hairs on his whole head but he felt the need to have a haircut just like everyone else and he always got a shave. After the shave, the barber would slap on the after shave and talcum powder and Ramie would exit the chair, put his hat on his head at a rakish angle, shove the cigar back in his mouth and jauntily exit the barber shop headed for the tavern next door. There he would spend a few hours trading stories and keeping his eyes open for some female companionship. I have to admit, I never ever saw him with a lady but that didn't stop him from dressing up on a Saturday night and coming to town just to see what he could see.

Assistant postmistress Eunice Peck sits on the porch of the Lyons post office in this circa 1940s newspaper photo. The photo appeared in the Standard Press Pictorial Section of May 1, 1969.

The old Post Office -- how many trips I made there! I can still remember our Post Office Box Number -- 189 -- and the combination: twice around, turn to 8, back to 12 and then forward to 2. The post office boxes back then were very ornate looking, not the plain fronted ones you see now -- they had real character. I used to love to stop and look at all the wanted posters -- my imagination would just run wild -- "What if one of them walked into the post office? What would I do?" Everyone who walked into the post office was regarded with suspicion and looked upon with narrowed eyes -- I was just sure I would be able to spot some desperado and turn him or her in for a big reward and get my picture in the paper and everything but that only ever happened in my imagination. Much to my disappointment, I never actually saw anyone who resembled any of those wanted posters.

I would also get sent to the Post Office on a daily basis from St. Joseph's School to pick up their mail. Mary and Jeanne and I would very importantly strut off down the street to fulfill our mission of picking up the mail for Sister Superior at the school. The postmaster would always look at us suspiciously when we asked for the mail and he would ask us if we had permission to do this. I think he thought we were secret agents of some kind out to gather secret information for an enemy school. When I looked at that building I never saw a TV repair shop, I saw the old Post Office. It was a gathering place, people picking up their mail would stop to visit with their neighbors, exchange gossip and comment on happenings around the village. It was in many ways the heart of the village.

Bonnie & Betty's Tavern used to be known as Otto & Hazel's Tavern. It serves the same purpose but yet is very different. In the Otto & Hazel's Tavern days, they catered mostly to farmers and town's people. It didn't attract a whole lot of young people. As a kid we could run in there and buy ice cream bars or a soda and no one yelled because you were a kid in the tavern without your parents. Of course we all knew the rules -- in and out -- no hanging out and only during the day. I remember when they first started to serve Pizza in the taverns. How your Pizza turned out depended entirely on who was tending bar. If it was a female, you usually did all right; some of the male bartenders -- not so good. Until they all got the hang of the pizza machines you could get a pizza that was baked to perfection or get one that was brown and crispy around the outside edges and sort of cold and doughy in the middle.


The Ehlen house (left) and the tavern and barber shop are west of the former post office building, a part of which can be seen at the far left.  Gus Wuttke and Henry Robers are standing center.  This circa 1940s newspaper photo appeared in the Standard Press Pictorial Section of May 1, 1969.

 I remember a story about Mr. Leo who lived next door to us. He and his wife moved to the village when they retired from their farm. They were very nice people and never seemed to get upset when we were out hooting and hollering in the yard as kids do. One night Mr. Leo decided to walk to the tavern and get himself and his wife a pizza. So off he ambled down the street to Otto & Hazel's. He ordered a beer while waiting for the pizza and one thing led to another and pretty soon the pizza was done but Mr. Leo wasn't finished talking yet. Well, by the time Mr. Leo was finished talking he was in a really jolly mood and off he went carrying his pizza but I'm thinking by the time he got home his pizza must have been a real mess. He walked out the door and instead of carrying the pizza flat, he grabbed one end of the bag and off he went swinging the pizza at his side. Can't you just imagine what happened to that pizza on the way home as he swung the bag back and forth at his side? The toppings had to have gone sliding to the bottom of the bag instead of staying on top of the pizza where they belonged. I can only imagine what his wife said when he got home and she saw the condition of Mr. Leo and the pizza in the bag.

The old McCann's General Store has been gone for years -- there is a house on that lot now but I remember going in there to buy penny candy. Do you remember penny candy? With a quarter you could buy enough candy to give you a sugar high for two days. I think they did more kid business than grown-up business. When you walked in the store, it was absolutely quiet -- the only thing you heard was the loud ticking of a huge pendulum clock. Miss Mildred would suddenly appear from their living quarters and just stand there looking at you. The lure of the penny candy was stronger than the spooky feeling you got when she seemed to appear out of nowhere. There was always some kid in there with their nose pressed tightly to the case. All those little nose and finger prints -- they must have spent hours trying to keep the glass clean and shiny.

If the walls in those old buildings could talk, what kind of stories would they tell? How much history have they seen? Lyons isn't any different than thousands of small towns spread across America. You might give up a lot of conveniences by moving to a small rural town like Lyons, but you gain so much in other ways. There's something to be said for living in a town where "Everybody knows your name."