Tuesday, April 30, 2013


Time ages all things, sparing nothing in its relentless path.  Age provides the sag to once straight rooflines, corners and edges.  Buildings, once constructed to last forever, start to bend and twist with the passage of time.  A couple of weeks ago, the last of the buildings which occupied the Main Street block in La Farge where Mac Marshall’s Hotel once stood started to come down.  On a Saturday afternoon an avalanche of falling bricks cascaded off the west wall of the building into the parking lot at the neighboring Z-Zip Stop.  The gaping hole in the wall stretched from halfway up the windows on the second floor down to the ground level.  The pile of fallen bricks and mortar spread out in a delta of debris at the side of the old building.
            After a quick inspection by local and state officials, the building was condemned and deemed unfit for human habitation.  Two upstairs apartments, rented and occupied when the bricks fell, would be quickly emptied out.  The business housed on the first floor, Hometown & Country Realty, was moved out within days after the bricks fell and a new site in La Farge’s business district is being sought.  The old brick building, sagging with time and twisted and bent with age, awaits the wrecking ball.  (Actually, a big excavator’s bucket and claw will probably pull down the old building, as it’s not quite tall enough to merit a wrecking ball.)
            The old brick building is the last of five two-story buildings used for business purposes on the south side of that block on La Farge’s Main Street.  All of those buildings were constructed in the late 1890’s to meet the demand for commercial spaces needed in the village after the railroad came to La Farge in the fall of 1897. The building was known in those early years of its existence as the Travers Building because Art Travers owned it.
            A.W. Travers came to La Farge from the Woodstock-Bloom City region in 1897, following the railroad into town. A businessman, Travers first rented retail space in a La Farge building located on the village’s busy Main Street.  In the January 7, 1898 edition of the La Farge Enterprise, Travers’ advertisement described his business as a “jobber in hosiery, fancy goods, notions and cigars”.  In May of 1899, Travers teamed with Anson Cowee (who was probably helping with finances) to build a new brick-veneer building.  The 24’ x 44’ two-story structure was located “two doors to the west of the Klondyke Hotel”.  Bricks for the building probably came from the Van Miller brickyard, which was located on the east end of La Farge on Bear Creek.  Travers moved his notions business into the new store building that fall.  The building was large enough for multiple businesses and in September of 1900, the Randall Jewelry Store was relocated to the Travers Building.  The jewelry business changed hands frequently in the next couple of years; it was owned by a McCarty who moved up river from Soldiers Grove and later by Bob O’Neil.
            In December of 1901, a saloon was started in the Travers Building (probably in the space where Travers had his notions store) and operated by John Trappe.  Trappe, who had just returned to his hometown after serving eight years in the Army, ran the saloon on and off for the next three years.  The businesses in the building must have been successful because Travers built a large wooden addition onto the back of the building in July of 1902.  In September of that year, Travers opened a pool and billiard parlor on the second floor of the building.  Joining with Trappe’s saloon and O’Neil’s jewelry store, the brick building then housed three businesses.
            John Trappe’s saloon ran into trouble in 1903.  In February, Trappe was fined $22 for having his saloon open after hours.  Times worsened for saloon trade in La Farge when the village’s citizens voted to go “Dry” in the April, 1903 elections.  All four of La Farge’s saloons were closed the week after the 4th of July - sort of.  In late September, Trappe and three other “former” saloon operators were arrested for operating “Blind Pigs” in their establishments.  Blind Pigs were illegal no-license saloons operated behind shuttered windows in the evenings.  The village apparently turned a blind eye to the Blind Pigs for a couple of months before cracking down.  Trappe paid his $40 fine and was done with the saloon business.  (The others kept at it, being arrested again later in the fall.  C. E. Yeomans, the drug store owner in La Farge, who was selling liquor illegally out of his store, was arrested two more times before leaving town at the end of the year.)  Art Travers opened a notions & confectionaries store in his building in time for Christmas of 1903.
            When La Farge put in new curb and gutter along Main Street in 1906, Travers had a cement sidewalk put in front of his building in October of that year.  La Farge voted to go “Wet” in the spring of 1907 and in June, five saloon licenses were applied for, one of which was to be located in the Travers Building.  That didn’t last long though as La Farge was back to “Dry” after the 4th of July in 1908.  Earlier that year, the village had granted Travers a poolroom license for his building and that business, sometimes operated by Anson Cowee, remained there for many years to follow.  In December of that year, S.E. Strait opened a blacksmith shop, the fourth in the village at the time, in the back of the Travers Building.
            Art Travers was involved in many ventures in the village over the years.  He ran a poultry buying business in La Farge beginning in 1908 and often had ads in the Enterprise telling of having railroad cars at the depot on certain dates ready for loading birds.  In November of that year, Travers reported doing $1000 in business that month as a poultry dealer and sending several loaded railroad cars of birds down the line.  Travers was also the village assessor for several years.  Eventually he teamed with a series of partners to run a real estate business from his brick building.  By 1914, Travers was traveling to Sawyer County and other places in northern Wisconsin, buying land for La Farge speculators.  Travers would lead carloads of investors and land buyers to the North to look at land at that time.  He also traveled to the Dakotas and Montana to negotiate land deals in the American West.  Many contracts for purchasing land were signed in Travers’ real estate office in his brick building on La Farge’s Main Street.
            Next time, we will continue to look at the history of the Travers Building including its times as part of Mac Marshall’s Hotel and the home of La Farge’s post office for forty years.  
            If you have memories or photos of the Travers Building or other stories about La Farge to share, contact me at bcstein@mwt.net or P.O. Box 202, La Farge, WI 54639.  Working together we can tell the story of this little Kickapoo River town.