Newsletter - September 2015


Burlington Historian

September 2015


Whitman School to be Renovated

     It has been nearly 30 years since the 1840 brick schoolhouse, known as Whitman School, was moved in 1986 from its original location near the corner of Madison and Dodge streets to its present location in Schmaling Park on Beloit Street. In the interim, time and nature have played their normal role in inflicting wear and tear on the building.
     As a result, the Society’s Board of Directors has decided that the time has come for some renovation work on the building. At the time this was being written, the Board was in the process of determining what needs to be done to help preserve the building up to and well beyond its 200th “birthday” in 2040.







Don Reed raises a replica of the 1840 United States flag in front of the refurbished Whitman School before dedication ceremonies in 1988.





Chipping paint, deteriorated roof, gutters, and downspouts, kicked-in foundation screens, and rotting wooden window cases and sills are among the problems that need to be addressed.

President’s Message

     As our summer season winds down, we enter another phase of our ever-changing Wisconsin scenery. The fall harvest is starting or just around the corner and the experts say it should be one of the best in quite some time.

     Speaking of corners, adjacent to the popular Coffee House at the corner of Chestnut & Pine is a building that has a rich history of its own. It was built by Dr. Frederick Kords in 1864 for his drug store, but I call it the Schwaller Building. Frank A. Schwaller bought and moved into the 3 story building in 1888 and the Schwaller family owned it into the 1960s. Some of the many uses over the past 100+ years include a music store, barber shop, shoe store, five and dime store, ice cream parlor, women’s clothing store, and the real estate and insurance offices of Mr. Schwaller who, over the years, developed and sold many lots throughout the city and the Bohners Lake area. That building, whose north wall is shared with the corner Coffee House, is being converted to include a bakery.

     The diverse history of the historic buildings in our downtown area is a fascinating read and we encourage all history buffs or other interested folks to go to our website ( and in the section "On-line Records" you will find searchable databases, including “Burlington Events 1835-2006.” Just type in the name of a person, business, or building and you will see results that will keep your interest for hours.

     We wish you all a pleasant and enjoyable late summer and encourage all to get out and explore our great state and the many seasonal festivities that our area is known for.

                                                                                                        Dennis Tully 

Thanks for Help on Ice Cream Social

     Thanks to all those who helped with the Society’s annual Ice Cream Social on Saturday, July 25. Special kudos to Stephanie Rummler, who headed the event; Katie Rummler and Hailey Hotvedt who helped with the ice cream and soda sales; Pat Tully and the Tully boys who helped with the heavy lifting; and Gooseberries for supplying the cooler-freezer.

     Thanks also to Jackie Heiligenthal and Deborah Schlitz for hosting visitors to the Pioneer Log Cabin during the event, and other Society members and friends who volunteered their time and effort.

Society Participates in Honoring Beaumont

     The Society was a principal catalyst and participant in having a monument memorializing baseball great, Clarence “Ginger” Beaumont, placed at Burlington’s Beaumont Field in July 2015.
     Beaumont, a native of Rochester, played major league baseball from 1899 through 1910. He compiled a lifetime batting average of .311, won a National League batting title in 1902, was in the National League’s top 10 in batting average in 7 of his 12 seasons, and was the first batter in the very first World Series in 1903. He was in the first group of inductees into the Wisconsin Athletic Hall of Fame in 1951. Beaumont lived with his daughter, Janet, in Burlington toward the end of his life and died at Memorial Hospital in 1956.
     Receiving an e-mail from baseball historian David Stalker of Watertown, who had been instrumental in getting about 15 baseball-related monuments installed in and around Wisconsin, the Society contacted Burlington baseball booster Bill Milatz about Stalker’s noticing the lack of any indication at Beaumont Field of what the name “Beaumont” meant.
     Milatz, Dennis Busch, and other baseball boosters took it from there, spreading the word and raising money for a monument. The monument was dedicated on July 19 with Beaumont’s granddaughter, Jean Cognato, and great grandaughter, Julie Roden, in attendance.

Julie Roden (left) and Jean Cognato, descendants of 
Clarence “Ginger” Beaumont, stand near the monument
 honoring Beaumont at Burlingon’s Beaumont Field.
History of Whitman School
     Formal education started in Foxville, now Burlington, in 1838 when Miss Sarah Bacon taught classes in a 16-foot square log cabin on the west side of what is now N. Pine Street between Milwaukee Avenue and Mill Street. In 1840, just over 4 years after the first settlers arrived in what is now Burlington, a little brick schoolhouse, 22 x 26 feet, was built “down on the flat.” It was the first building in Burlington to be constructed specifically as a school. (The 1840 school building is shown in its original location near Dodge and Madison streets in the lower left corner of the 1868 photo below.)
School down on the flat
     The building stood near the middle of the block now bounded by Dodge, Madison, Pine, and Jefferson streets. The lot – lot 5, block 47, Original Plat – was deeded by Silas Peck to Burlington School District No. 1 in 1841 for the consideration of $20.
     William Penn Lyon, later a Justice and Chief Justice of the Wisconsin Supreme Court, was one of the early teachers, as were Lorenzo Eastman, Amos Eastman, Aniplias Chamberlain, Mr. Beveridge, and Charles J. Jones. While some of the teachers “used justice tempered with mercy,” it has been noted that some used the discipline of the hickory switch.
     In 1915, William Meadows, who had come to Burlington as a teenager with his parents and brothers in 1850, described his experience at the schoolhouse to a group of high school students. He said 

     My first few months of schooling, after moving to Burlington, were spent in a little brick schoolhouse which is yet standing . . . the first Burlington schoolhouse that I have any recollection of.
    About the year 1851 the attendance at this school was from fifteen to twenty pupils – the number at no time exceeding twenty. The furniture, as in many others I have attended both before and since that time, consisted of three continuous seats running the length of the room on both sides – these seats being merely a common board with a board back, a board shelf for a desk, and a second shelf under the desk to hold books and other materials. These rows of desks faced the center of the room, leaving a space of from six to eight feet in width, which was occupied by the stove and the teacher’s platform and desk at one end. . . .
     The teacher . . . was Warren Johnson, who, like all other teachers of those early days, received from eight to twelve dollars per month for his services, and was obliged to do his own janitor work, including cutting wood, building fires, etc.
     When teachers of that date secured a position in a country school, they were obliged to board at the homes of the scholars in rotation, from week to week. Their board, in this way, was included in the contract besides the salary paid in cash. . . .
     The studies were reading, writing, spelling and arithmetic – grammar being considered an unimportant subject in those days.
     The writing was done with goose quill pens, sharpened and prepared by the teacher as needed. Our spelling contests took place with the class standing in a circle about the stove, the best speller working his way to the head of the class and being obliged to start in at the foot next day.

     The old school building . . . named “The Lincoln School” has been regarded by some as the old Burlington school, but you can readily see that the little brick schoolhouse to which I have drawn your attention is a much more ancient building. It is still standing and in use in spite of its age, being now occupied by the carpet loom of Mrs. Miller of this city. Go and see it!

     As Mr. Meadows indicated, the little brick schoolhouse was not being used as a school at the time of his 1915 talk. In fact, it had ceased being used as a school about the time the school building at the corner of Kane and State streets – sometimes called Lincoln School and now housing the Burlington Area School District offices – was opened in 1858.

     The school board sold the old school and property to William Johnson who, in turn, sold them in 1866 to Lucius Otis Whitman and his son, Chester Whitman. Members of the Whitman family, which built a house on the Madison Street side of the property, kept the property until 1919. For a time, they used the old school building as a kitchen and storeroom before renting it out as a residence and for other purposes.
     Fred and Sophie Stoehr bought the property from the Whitman descendants in 1919 and moved into the main house. After Fred’s death in 1942 (Sophie had died in 1932), the property was purchased by Roman and Lorraine Uhen. For a time, Roman’s mother, Mrs. Dora Uhen, lived in the former school building. 
     In 1983 the Uhens offered the 1840 school building to the Burlington Historical Society provided it was moved off the property. The Uhens wanted a garage on the site and, while preferring a new garage, planned to convert the school building if it was not taken by the Society.
     An inability to find an appropriate site – the Lincoln School grounds, the Waller school grounds, and Echo Park were among the sites suggested – almost brought an end to the idea of preserving the school building. Finally, the Burlington Water Commission, under chairman Richard Vande Sande, invited the Society to bring the schoolhouse to Schmaling Park at Sheldon and Beloit streets, where the water commission had its headquarters.
     Newspaper articles kept the community aware of the progress and the need for help. And individuals, families, and groups responded with money, labor, and materials. A moving company prepared the building for the move, which was done in July 1986.
     At Schmaling Park, the building was placed on a new foundation and conversion of the building back into a schoolhouse was begun. A new cedar shake roof was put on, along with wooden gutters and downspouts; a new floor was installed; the interior was restored to its original one-room status; and the building was wired for electricity. (Later, a restroom addition was built and a heating unit was installed.)
     Furnishings included six old kerosene lamps that had been electrified; ten two-pupil desks made by Ron Kaul and his woodworking class at Burlington High School using as a pattern an old desk that had been used in the former Catholic grade school in the 1860s; a pot-bellied stove; and blackboards from the old Cooper School.
     The school was given the name “Whitman School” after the family that had owned the building for over 50 years, and a re-dedication program was held in August 1988. During the next few years, 1840s-style classes were taught to children whose parents wanted them to have that experience. Mrs. Alice Petracchi organized the program, and she and teachers she selected taught the classes.
     Over the past 15 years, the building has rarely been used, but has remained available for visits by individuals and groups, including at one point a reunion of Mrs. Dora Uhen’s descendants. During the renovation of the Museum building from 2007 to 2010, Whitman School was used to store a number of artifacts and acquisitions.
Life – Embrace, Enjoy, Live

                                      Contributed by Priscilla Crowley 

     Now that I have reached the ripe old age of 67, I feel qualified to be able to look back and comment on life. The facts tell me I am 67 but my heart says “A number is just a number; in reality I am just a sweet young thing.” Even when I look in the mirror and I see an aging woman with graying hair and wrinkles, if I look really close what I see is a young girl with her whole life ahead of her who has adventures to experience and life to live. Being young at heart is a state of mind. It’s not always easy to accomplish but it is so worth the effort. Wouldn’t you much rather be the older person who views life with a sense of humor and common sense when the alternative is to be a grump who pushes people away with a sour outlook on life, viewing their glass as always half empty rather than half full?
     We all live in such a fast-paced world these days that I am afraid we have forgotten what it was like to live at a slower pace, enjoying people for who and what they were rather than what we thought they should be. We always look back fondly on the “good old days.” Even at family get-togethers really pay attention to how long people actually sit around and visit with each other these days. Everyone is on a time schedule – it’s not like it used to be – come for Sunday dinner and spend the afternoon. Now everyone is always in a hurry, eat, help clean up, visit for an hour and away we go. We have forgotten the art of just enjoying life – that is something we need to recycle back into our lives.
     Thinking back, I remember long, lazy summer days and evenings. Evenings when you would be outside till dark, sitting on the porch or in the yard, just enjoying the balmy breezes, the summer sounds of children laughing, the crack of a bat, the sound of roller skates on the sidewalk, dogs barking in the distance, children on bikes riding through the neighborhood, the call of one neighbor to another, the sound of evening chores, or maybe a lawn mower in the distance. It was a pleasure to be just sitting there quietly and absorbing the sounds of ordinary lives going on around you. As the twilight deepened gradually, the sounds would diminish. Now you would hear parents calling to their children, the sounds of households winding down for the day, children being shooed off to bed, last minute chores being completed, and preparations for the next day started. Sleepy-voiced children calling out their goodnights or maybe arguing a bit about why they have to go to bed, they aren’t even tired? Soon all is quiet and all you hear are the sounds of the crickets chirping, maybe a night bird or two cooing in the dark or the whine of mosquitoes looking for their next victim, maybe the sound of a car or two traveling through the village. The peacefulness surrounds you like a protective mantle and you find the cares and frustrations of the day are giving way and the day’s burdens have slipped from your shoulders. Doesn’t that sound wonderful? There were truly evenings like that and I treasure those memories, but many times days/evenings didn’t quite go like that. There is always a flip side to the coin.
     I also remember some days when chaos ruled supreme! Everyone started out cranky and they just stayed that way right through bedtime. I can remember Mom asking, “What is the matter with you kids, did you all get out of the “wrong side of bed this morning?” Such was a day that started out with everyone oversleeping – that just causes a domino effect all the way down the line for the whole day. Getting up late means Dad’s breakfast is late and almost non-existent – his lunch box doesn’t get much packed in it – I am late getting up and dressed for school, the twins are very unhappy because they are not getting breakfast on time and they are hungry and no one is paying any attention to them and they need help getting dressed. You just knew nothing would go right the whole darn day.
     We were late getting to school, I forgot my homework, the twins were mad and fighting with each other. Sister Everista called on me to solve a math problem on the blackboard and I hadn’t a clue as to what she was talking about. You talk about brain freeze – wow – I had to stay in at lunch and stand at the board until I figured it out. The twins got into a snowball fight with some of their classmates at recess and all the little kids got told they had to write a thousand times, “I must not throw snowballs at school.” They were only in 2nd grade – they had no idea how much a thousand was much less be able to write it that many times. All the 2nd graders had to do that and turn it in the next day.
     I don’t think I’ve ever seen so many scared and crying kids all in one place. I can only imagine what happened when most of them got home. I know what happened when the twins got home. First Mom got mad and when Dad came home he got mad. They stewed about it all through supper. After supper out came the notepaper and pencils as the twins started on their task. Dad watched the twins as they struggled to write their punishment, then he disappeared out into the shed and came in and told Mom, “I have an idea. At the rate they’re going they’ll be writing all night.”
     Mom and Dad decided that this was one time the kids didn’t need to be punished that hard. They had the kids write a page and then dad figured out a sure fire way to help out. He took a piece of window glass, taped their written page to the underside of the glass, written side up, put a lamp underneath the glass, took a new piece of paper and put it over their written page and he traced what they had written. Now the twins didn’t get out of writing their sentences, they had to keep writing but he and Mom helped them out by tracing some of the pages so they didn’t need to write the sentence 1000 times over and over again. I can still see Mom and Dad sitting in the kitchen, bent over their pieces of glass and painstakingly tracing over what the twins had written.
     We all had to raise our right hands and solemnly swear that we would not tell anyone what they had done. It was to be our secret. Can’t you just see the three of us standing there with our right arms raised and repeating after Mom, “I swear that I will never, ever tell that Mom and Dad helped us with our punishment?” It turns out that the other parents were just as angry and Sister had to back down on her punishment – the next morning there was a long line of parents personally delivering their children to their classrooms and asking Sister if “we could have a word with you.”
     But whether our days were peaceful and full of contentment or whether they were chaotic and full of challenges, there really is nothing like the “good old days” to bring a smile to your face or to make you sigh in regret for what used to be. The “good old days” are alive and well; you just have to reach back into the archives and bring them back to life. Life is what we make of it. Sure, sometimes it throws us a curve ball, but that’s part of what makes it so great.
     Remember to embrace, enjoy, and live!