Newsletter - March 2013


Burlington Historian

March 2013

Society Marks Its 85th Year

In February 2013, the Burlington Historical Society marked the 85th anniversary of its official organization in 1928. It was the first historical society organized in Racine County. Earlier that year, interested members of the community had met under the chairmanship of Otis Hulett to develop articles of organization and draft articles of incorporation. Among those present at the early meetings were Antoinette Meinhardt Fulton, Augusta Nielsen (later Mrs. Louis Zwiebel), Martha Montgomery Smith, Katherine Ransom Foltz, Mildred Jacobson, Mary E. White, Helen Raleigh Hicks, Katherine Wagner, William R. Becker, and Herbert Duckett.

On the 27th of February, the first officers were elected: Mrs. Fulton, president; Mr. Duckett, vice president; and Miss Nielsen, secretary-treasurer. Initial membership was 105, including Congressman Henry Allen Cooper, who had grown up in Burlington and who was made the Society’s first honorary member. Cooper’s father, Dr. Joel Henry Cooper, a physician and drug store owner, had been appointed as Burlington postmaster in the early 1860s by President Abraham Lincoln, and served in that office until resigning in 1874.

Early meetings were held at the Meinhardt home (shown above) and in the assembly room of the Conkey Street school (later called Cooper School) shown at left.

Programs were given at various places in Burlington, historical papers were read, and ancient and pioneer crafts were demonstrated. Visits were made to historical sites, including Indian trails and pioneer cemeteries; and the Society began to collect and preserve historical records and artifacts pertaining to the Burlington area, with the artifacts displayed in cases in a room in the school made available by the school board.

By mid-April 1928, the Society’s collection had grown to 208 accessioned articles; and later in April the Society gained its first "long-distance" member, when Joseph Chamberlin of Boston joined the Society. Chamberlin and his wife Lucia had operated a hotel in 1869 and 1870 near Burlington’s railroad depot. (See illustration below; P indicates the hotel and 4 indicates the railroad depot.) The hotel burned in 1873 and the depot, which was west of McHenry Street, was razed in 1980, but remnants of the railroad tracks, on the south end of Burlington, are still in use for local rail traffic. In 1929 Society membership went "international" when Charles Gunn of Manila in the Philippines, a grandson of Dr. Edward G. Dyer, our first physician and a leading abolitionist, joined the Society.

Over the years, the Society’s collection has grown to over 7,000 accessioned articles, with numerous other donations and acquisitions waiting to be numbered and officially recorded.

Among the Society’s early efforts to preserve and call attention to Burlington’s heritage were aiding in erecting monuments honoring Dr. Edward G. Dyer and commemorating the Mormon settlement at Voree just west of Burlington. For the 1935 centennial celebration of Burlington’s founding in 1835, a history was compiled by Francis Meurer and Augusta Zwiebel.

In 1938 11 artifacts in the Society’s collection were selected for inclusion in the Index of American Design, a Federal art project to record, pictorially, original articles of characteristic American design made from 1620 to the 1880s. The Society’s artifacts were drawn in black and white or color by artists under the direction of the Layton Art Gallery in Milwaukee, with the sketches becoming part of a permanent national library of early American design.

The 11 artifacts included (1) a model sulky plow invented by F. G. Klein and built by Anton Leber, (2) the hand-wrought iron hands of old St. Mary’s clock, (3) an iron glue pot donated by Mrs. B. H. Rothering, (4) a needlework picture of the Appleyard home on Highway 83 just south of Burlington done in colored yarn by Ellen Appleyard, (5) a wooden folding ironing board which was patented and manufactured by Anton Zwiebel, Sr.; (6) a farm wreath made by Mrs. Orris Pratt in 1864, (7) a friendship pillow donated by Mrs. Helen Hicks, (8) a bootjack made by Otis Vaughn, (9) a cant hook for turning logs donated by A. J. Pieters, (10) a framed birthday greeting made by Richard Weygand, and (11) a hay cutter donated by Sam Roper. Several of these artifacts are on display at the Museum.

In 1947 the school board informed the Society that the museum space at Cooper School was needed for classes, but it allowed the Society to store its artifacts in the school attic. There they stayed for 13 years. Interest in the Society fell to a low level, but it was kept in existence by the concern of a few directors.

There was a resurrection of interest in 1964 when Mrs. Fulton announced her donation to the Society of the former Holy Cross Lutheran church building on the corner of Jefferson Street and North Perkins Boulevard. Volunteers spent countless hours refurbishing the interior to turn it into a museum; and the park department and electric company furnished men and trucks to move the artifacts from the school to the new Museum.

Exhibits were prepared; a log cabin in Echo Park, which had been donated to the City, was furnished; and the Museum and log cabin were opened to the public.

In the early 1980s Society members participated in efforts to save the 1890 water tower on Lewis Street, which is now a City park. Also, the Society rescued from demolition, an 1840 brick schoolhouse, which had been the first building in Burlington erected solely for school purposes. That building, now called Whitman School, was moved to Schmaling Park on Beloit Street and restored as an historic site. For a few years, one-day classes were taught there as they were in the 1840s to children whose parents wanted them to have that experience.

In 1993-94 the Society spearheaded a community fund-raising effort to refurbish a seriously dilapidated, one-of-a-kind statue of a standing Abraham Lincoln delivering his second inaugural address ("with malice toward none, with charity for all"). The statue, which had been donated to the City in 1913, was cleaned, a protective wax coating was added, and the statue was rededicated in 1995.

In 1997, after a period of very limited use and increasing deterioration, the log cabin at Echo Park was relocated to Wehmhoff Square in downtown Burlington. The cabin was dismantled and the logs cleaned and treated. Reassembly and restoration of the cabin began in spring 1998 and was completed with opening ceremonies on July 4, 1999.

The Society, with the cooperation of the City of Burlington and the help of numerous volunteers and financial contributors, handled the reassembly and restoration. The Burlington Area Garden Club and Master Gardeners prepared and planted the gardens. Those groups also take care of the Legacy Garden next to the Museum.

In the early 2000s the Society, with the help of local volunteers, undertook clean-up of Old Burlington Cemetery and, later, of Mt. Hope Cemetery on Spring Prairie Road just west of county trunk DD. Students and faculty from Wisconsin Lutheran College (now University) also helped at Mt. Hope Cemetery and have been mapping and studying the history of the cemetery. In 2012 the Paul L. Kramer Trust deeded to the Society a "one-acre burying ground," called Rooker Cemetery, overlooking Honey Creek near the intersection of Spring Prairie and Bieneman Roads. Plans are being made by the Society and the University for the clean-up and study of that cemetery.

In 2002 the Society, with the help of webmaster Jeff Kiekenbush, established a widely-praised website offering a wealth of information, both historical and genealogical, relating to Burlington and the surrounding area. Also included on the website are numerous photos from the Society’s collection of negatives, slides, and prints.

In 2007 the Museum was closed for renovation, installation of a second floor, and re-roofing. The building reopened in 2010. The Society also added a storage building near Whitman School. Recently, the Hammiller stone house on Jefferson Street was donated to the Society, which is working on plans for its use in furthering the Society’s goal of preserving Burlington’s history for the education and enjoyment of its citizens and visitors.

Currently, the Society’s members, although not much larger in number than the original membership, are spread from New York, New Jersey, and South Carolina on the east coast to Oregon and California on the west and from Wisconsin and Minnesota in the north to Texas, New Mexico, and Arizona (and Florida in the winter) in the south. We even have a member in France! 

President’s Message

During the past month, I was asked to do an interview by a Racine radio station, which gave me the opportunity to "brag" about the Burlington Historical Society and our award-winning website. Also being a vice-president of the Burlington Liars Club, I did have some convincing to do, but that was easy after a quick look at the site. Now that the problems with our previous website host are behind us, we are constantly adding more material and data to keep up with our reputation as one of the best historical society websites in Wisconsin.

Paraphrasing Rick Harrison of the "Pawn Shop" TV show, "You never know what’s going to come through that door." Quite often, a local resident (or even a far-distant one) or Society member will surprise us by offering to donate an item for our archives that has some connection with the great history of the Burlington area. We recently had a visitor alert us to a forthcoming donation of an historic business sign that shows up in many of our early 1900s photos of the downtown area (more about this to follow). We remind all members to get the word out to friends and relatives who may have some historic Burlington-related items or photographs or written remembrances or genealogies, to consider adding them to our collection.

As we approach the end of the winter season, we look back at the hustle and bustle of the recent holiday season. Now is a great time to plan our new season of spring cleaning, planting, relaxing, reminiscing and reflecting on the many cultural and physical assets that Burlington and our great State have to offer.

Happy spring to all,

                  Dennis Tully 

Pioneer Cabin to Re-open in Mid-May; Volunteer Docents Needed

Pioneer Log Cabin in Wehmhoff Square is scheduled to re-open to visitors in mid-May. Our intent, provided we have the volunteer help necessary to do so, is to have the Cabin open on Thursday evenings during operation of Burlington’s Farmers Market, during the Society’s Ice Cream Social at the end of July, and on Saturday afternoons.

Jackie Heiligenthal has agreed to handle the scheduling of docents. If you are interested in becoming a docent, you can get in touch with the Society and we’ll have Jackie contact you.

Another "Hit" Christmas Program

Wisconsin author Rochelle Pennington scored another "hit" (or maybe we should call it a "grand slam") when she made her fourth appearance at the Society’s annual Christmas program in December 2012. (See photo at right.) Taking the audience in the packed room on A Walk Down Memory Lane, Ms. Pennington talked about and showed photographs and other images of everyday life in bygone years and of items well-known to our parents and grandparents, such as telephone booths, party lines, wringer washing machines, canning jars lining pantry shelves, and hand-me-down clothes.

The Society held a business meeting prior to the program, at which four incumbents on the board of directors, whose terms were expiring, were re-elected

Our thanks to members of our board of directors and their spouses and friends who furnished snacks and beverages for the occasion.

It Happened 100 Years Ago

In 1913, the City took over the Burlington Library, which had previously been operated by a private association. The Burlington Public Library opened on May 1, 1913, on the second floor of the town and city hall, now the Trend Setters building.

It Happened 50 Years Ago

– Giammo’s Restaurant opened on Chestnut Street across from Spiegelhoff’s Grocery store.

– Mr. & Mrs. Stanley Rice bought Shore-Line Gardens drive-in on Milwaukee Avenue.

– Dominic "Nick" King started his own plumbing firm.

– Burlington High School received 160 acres of the former Bong Base land.

"The Babysitter!"

                Contributed by Priscilla Crowley

Have you ever noticed that it never really works when you have an older child babysit for their younger siblings? As parents we logically or illogically believe that this should be a no-brainer – Mom and Dad leave for a few hours, put the oldest child in charge – what could be more logical? – the younger children will listen to the older child just as if Mom and Dad were right there in the room. My personal experience is that this theory does not seem to work very well.

Many times I can remember Mom and Dad lining us up before going out. We would get the "talk." "You listen to your sister, she’s in charge, no sassing, go to bed when she tells you, no fighting, no making a mess and be nice to each other and no going out of the house after dark." Then it would be my turn – "Don’t be bossy, be nice to your brother and sister, make sure they mind and we don’t want to find a mess when we get home, don’t let them eat a lot of junk. Bed time is at 8:30 – remember you’re in charge."

The closing of the door was like the clanging of the bell for the start of Round 1. The words Mom and Dad uttered to us traveled with the speed and velocity of a freight train racing across country – they went in one ear and out of the other for all three of us. I know they told us those things, I saw their lips move and I saw Mom shake her finger at us but honestly, she might as well have speaking in a foreign language for all the attention we paid to what was said.

The first round started with the whining – "Why can’t we go outside? We don’t care if it’s dark out, let’s play hide and seek!" "If we can’t go outside can we turn off all the lights and play monsters in the dark here in the house?" (This game was always good for a few nightmares.) "Can’t we have more soda and popcorn, how about some ice cream – can we have grape soda and chocolate ice cream? We won’t get sick, honest." (Not true! Try to explain that mess when the parents come home! – no one ever made it to the bathroom before disaster struck!)

"We don’t want to go to bed yet, can’t we watch scary movies – we won’t have nightmares – we won’t be scared." (Also not true.) I’ll bet the neighbors really wondered what was going on at our house some nights. The screams in the middle of the night were positively unnerving and of course the unwritten rule was, "Gee, Mom I don’t know what they’re scared of, all we did was watch television before they went to bed, they were really good, honest." It is a wonder to me that brothers and sisters survive childhood and grow up to be mostly articulate, well-adjusted, productive adults.

Remember getting nominated to take your younger brothers and sisters to the movies? It was usually when a new Disney movie came out. Every kid in America wanted to go to those movies and it seemed like every kid in America was lined up outside the movie theater when the parents dropped you off. The line was enormous and all you could do was hope that they didn’t run out of seats before you got to the head of the line. Of course when they dropped us off, I was "in charge." Keeping track of two kids while standing in line for what seemed like hours waiting to get into the theater was a scary deal! No kid stands still for more than 2 minutes at a time much less 30 minutes to an hour. I had the money and was responsible for getting the tickets, making sure we all sat together, making sure we all left the theater at the same time and were all waiting in the appropriate place to be picked up. They gave us enough money for tickets, popcorn and one soda each and for a phone call home after the movie. Getting out of the theater with everyone in one piece was almost as bad as getting everyone into the theater in one piece. Coming out, you had to work your way through the crowd of kids waiting to get in to the next show. There were kids everywhere! What a zoo!  (Photo above, by Emmett Raettig, shows kids waiting in line to get into a movie, December 1956.)

The year Mom went back to work was a real beaut! She worked at Montgomery Wards in Lake Geneva. Her day didn’t end when the school day ended – it was a little later than that. That meant – oh yeah – I had to watch the twins after school each day and during the summer it was all day. If ever there were a recipe for disaster, this was it. The after school watching wasn’t too bad, school at least slowed them down somewhat. It did however add one more chore to my list, in addition to keeping an eye on the twins, I had to get supper started.

We had some very interesting meals back in those days. I’m pretty sure that Martha Stewart would not have approved of some of the food that came out of that kitchen. Our least favorite meal was liver! To this day I cannot stand the thought of eating liver. The first time I had to fix this culinary delight was a real experience. First, it took me ten minutes to get up enough courage to take it out of the package – it just looked disgusting and felt worse when I actually picked it up. Eventually I did get it seasoned up and in the pan along with onion and bacon. Poor Dad, he really liked liver and onions and I’m sure that what I did to liver and onions had nothing to do with what it should have tasted like. He never said a word, just piled on more gravy and chewed away on it until he could swallow it without choking. On nights when the main dish had a questionable outcome, I would add extra potatoes to the pot. Even I couldn’t screw up mashed potatoes too badly. At least if we couldn’t eat anything else, we could fill up on potatoes.

That year summer was both a curse and a blessing. Mom and Dad left early for work and that left me and THEM alone in the house for the whole day. Of course, there was a whole list of chores to be done during the day, the house needed to be picked up, dusted, swept, etc. I was to make sure the twins were reasonably clean and somewhat respectably dressed. Their clothes didn’t have to completely match but Mom thought it would be nice if they came close. She drew the line at dirty underwear and socks and for some reason thought it would be nice if they both combed their hair before running all over the neighborhood. The rules were basic, they could do pretty much what they usually did but they were to tell me where they were going, they had to report back at lunch time, and they had to be home by the time Mom and Dad came home from work. They were not to fight with each other or me and they were to help with the chores and help clean up the kitchen after lunch.

We always started out pretty good, but as is normal with three kids, things sort of started going downhill around 9:00 in the morning. I remember one day when my brother decided he had had it with girls – and his sisters in particular – and he hopped on his bike and ran away for the whole day. As we watched him pedal furiously out of sight, Jackie and I looked at each other, shrugged and said "Oh well." We didn’t get worried until about 4:30 in the afternoon. Mom and Dad were due home around 5:00 and we knew he had to be there or we would have some tall explaining to do. Wouldn’t you know, exactly three minutes before the parents were due – here he came pedaling down the street, turned into the driveway, put his bike away, and sauntered into the house just as if he had been there the whole time! In walked the parents with all the usual questions, "So, did you guys behave today? No fights? All the chores get done?" And of course our answer was a unanimous, "Yes Mom, we were good, no fights, we’ve been here all day – all of us." What little liars we were!! By the end of that summer all three of us should have had noses at least 3 feet long.

I guess the important thing is that we all lived through the summer with no visible scars, no broken bones, no major mental deficiencies and we were still talking to each other. Miracles do indeed happen and if anyone tells you that Guardian Angels don’t exist, don’t you believe them! How else would the three of us have managed to survive that summer with me in charge?