Saturday, May 25, 2013

Memorial Day in La Farge - 1929

It must have been a nice day on Thursday, May 30, 1929.  It was Memorial Day in La Farge and as it was reported, “With attending pleasant weather and perfect roads, the Memorial Day ceremonies in the village were carried out with a complete and nicely executed program.”  That assessment of the day’s activities was the lead sentence in the front-page article that started with the headline, “Memorial Program Was Great Event”, in the June 6, 1929 La Farge Enterprise.  So let’s take a look at how this little Kickapoo River town celebrated on that day nearly three-quarters of a century ago.
            The Memorial Day activities began at nine in the morning with a caravan of cars leaving the K.P. Hall, which is where the local American Legion post met at that time.  The cars drove out to the “Baptist Cemetery on Bear Creek” (today the Bear Creek Cemetery) where the Fife & Drum Corps played patriotic songs and the graves of veterans were properly decorated.  The “perfect roads” that were mentioned earlier were a must for this trip out to the Bear Creek Cemetery as the stretch of road between there and the village was often a boggy quagmire and nearly impassable if it had been a wet spring season.
            At ten o’clock, the Memorial Day Parade began on the east end of La Farge’s Main Street business district near O.B. Kennedy’s Store (today the Episcope office).  Leading the procession was the La Farge Brass Band followed by the World War veterans marching with the colors.  These were the men from La Farge who had served in the 1914-18 conflict known then as the Great War or the World War.  Today we know of that conflict as World War I, but the Second World War hadn’t been fought yet in 1929, so there was no need to tag the World War with a number. 
            Following the color guard of the World War veterans were cars carrying the few remaining local veterans of the Civil War.  These men had probably been members of the local GAR post, originally started in Seelyburg then later moved to La Farge.  When most of the Civil War vets passed on, the GAR post in town was discontinued.  However, the auxiliary of the GAR was still active in town and those ladies as well as the Women’s Relief Corp were the next part of the parade.  Bringing up the rear were all of the school children from La Farge Schools – “from kindergarten through the Senior Class” as the article mentioned.  The parade proceeded west down Main Street and then north to the Chapel Hill and Star Cemeteries.
At those two cemeteries located on either end of old Seelyburg, veterans’ graves were decorated, the band and the Fife & Drum Corps played more patriotic music and a salute by the Legion rifle squad was fired.  The rifle salute held at Chapel Hill Cemetery turned out badly according to an accompanying article titled, “Gets Shot In Eye At Grave Volley”.
   According to the article, an accidental discharge from a shotgun as the rifle squad was preparing to shoot a volley over a veteran’s grave hit a grave monument and splattered shot into the faces of four members of the rifle squad.  Dick Trappe, Emory Thayer, Orville (Casey) Sanford and Ivan Major were hit with the discharged shot, “all of whom had their faces more or less stippled with the deflected shot”.  A lead pellet pierced the eye of Ivan Major and he was immediately taken to one of the local doctors to have it removed.  From there, Major was taken to Viroqua for x-rays and later saw an eye specialist in LaCrosse.  Fortunately, Major received no permanent injury to the eye.  The other three “stippled” members of the squad were also taken to the doctor’s office in the village to have the pellets removed from their faces.  The newspaper account said those three with the flesh wounds were completely recovered.  The Memorial Day procession continued on to Star Cemetery on the north side of the Kickapoo River, perhaps without a rifle squad for the rest of the ceremonies.
 There was also a ceremony held at the Seelyburg Bridge over the Kickapoo.  The ladies of the Women’s Relief Corps honored those lost in the Civil War, Spanish-American War and World War and threw garlands of flowers into the river water.  Usually a rifle volley was fired from the Star Cemetery above during this riverside ceremony, but I’m not sure if it was that day after the earlier accident with the rifle squad.  After all the ceremonies were concluded at Seelyburg, the veterans of the three wars and their families were treated to a dinner held at the K.P. Hall.
In the afternoon of that Memorial Day from La Farge’s past, a track and field meet was held on the school grounds.  It was called the “Free For All Track and Field Meet” and La Farge athlete Cy Yeomans stole the show that day by winning three events.  Yeomans won the pole vault by soaring to a top height of 10 feet, captured the discus title with a throw of 109 feet and took the top spot in the shot put at 43 feet.  Dick Husker won both the sprint races at 100 and 220 yards while Theron Green took first place in the half-mile run.  Rounding out the track and field meet events, Bob Lawton won the broad jump and Paul Harris took first in the high jump.
 Later a baseball game was played on the field south of town before a “fair-sized crowd”.  The La Farge and Viola “city teams” met on the baseball diamond for an exhibition game, with the downriver visitors securing a 7-5 win.  According to the newspaper account of the game, “Due to the tardiness in getting the game going, it was decided to call the game at the end of the seventh.  The score might have been different if the game had went over the ninth hole.”  The La Farge-Viola baseball rivalry would heat up even more, later in the season. 
But, all in all, Memorial Day in 1929 turned out to be quite a nice day in La Farge.  Times were good in the little river town, but they were soon to turn.  The 20’s would continue to roar for several more months until October, when Black Tuesday and the stock market crash would plunge the nation into the Great Depression and hard times would follow. 

Thursday, May 16, 2013

More Travers Building History

(This blog entry is a continuation of a story started last time about a building on La Farge’s Main Street.  Built in 1899, the brick veneer building was originally called the Travers Building after its owner Art Travers.  Travers and others operated a variety of business places in the store building during the first twenty years of its existence.   We continue the story of the Travers Building with some of its more recent uses as a hotel annex and the village’s post office. – BDS)

            In its most recent history, the old brick building next to La Farge’s busy Z-Zip Stop convenience store/gas station has been the home to a real estate office, Hometown & Country Realty.  For a few years before that, it was the home of a restaurant for a while.  Both of those types of businesses were reincarnations of former enterprises carried out in the building’s first-floor retail space.
            For over forty years, from 1950 until 1991, that space was occupied by La Farge’s Post Office.  There is an entire generation or two who grew up in the community who will always remember the brick building as the post office.  For much of that time, Mac Marshall Jr. was the postmaster in La Farge, working in a building that his family owned.  There were usually one or more members of the Green family working at the La Farge Post Office in that building as well.  Lester Green was the postmaster in 1950 when the post office was moved from its former location on south State Street (across from the lawyer’s – Ralph Freeze at that time - office).  Lavern and Willard Green also had rural mail routes and for many years worked out of the post office in the brick building, that previously had been known as the Hotel Annex.
            The brick building became part of Mac Marshall’s hotel in the early 1930’s.  Mac’s Hotel was located on the corner lot, two doors east of the brick building (which was still then known as the Travers Building).  Mac’s became La Farge’s only hotel when the Curry Hotel (the old Hotel Ward located on the corner lot which is currently a parking lot for the La Farge Medical Clinic) burned down in June of 1929.  At that time there was still a strong demand for hotel rooms in La Farge.  Teachers who taught at the school in La Farge would often rent rooms in the hotels in town during the school year.  (Fred Mercer, La Farge’s agriculture teacher and coach, was staying in the Curry Hotel when it burned down in 1929.  Mercer, who still lived in Wauzeka at the time, lost all of his possessions except the clothes on his back in the fire.)  Railroad workers also stayed at the La Farge hotels, indeed it was a man named Cox, who was a conductor on the Kickapoo rail line, who first discovered the fire at the Curry Hotel.  There were ten guests at the Curry Hotel on the night that it burned down.
  Mac Marshall needed more hotel rooms, so he purchased the Travers Building to meet that need.  (One source said that Mac bought the property from C. E. Yeomans, who had purchased the Main Street building from the Travers family.)  They called the new acquisition the Hotel Annex and moved the dining room from the basement of the old hotel building over to the first floor of the Annex building. 
Mac’s Coffee Shoppe, as the dining room/restaurant was called then, was a going place in the community.  Besides offering guests in the hotel hot meals three times a day, the hotel’s dining room was also a bakery with homemade pies, doughnuts, cakes and cookies for sale.  A 1929 advertisement in the La Farge Enterprise for Mac’s restaurant also listed candy bars and box candies; tobacco, cigars and cigarettes; and ice cream, soft drinks and fresh fruits for sale.  The ad finished with “School students and Farmers especially welcomed”.
The Hotel Annex dining room was a very busy place in those days.  Mary Lee Muller shared some memories with me about the hotel’s dining room.  Her mother Anna Norris and Maggie Potter were cooks in the hotel dining room and that dining room would be filled with customers during the busy dinner and supper hours.  (Mary Lee also related an interesting story about another of the cooks at the hotel.  Alphreda Lawton cooked at Mac’s and was also a midwife who helped deliver babies in the La Farge area.  One night, Georgia Evans, who lived on the family farm up on Maple Ridge, had to hook up the horses to the family buggy and race down the hill to Seelyburg and then to La Farge to get Alphreda to come help with Georgia’s mother’s birthing.  Then it was a quick ride back to the Evans’ place where Georgia’s baby brother, Pete, was brought into the world.) 
The men who worked for the railroad always ate at the hotel, as did many men who operated businesses on Main Street.  Mary Lee could remember Tony Novy, the village’s blacksmith and Dr. Frank Gollin sitting at the same table each day for lunch.  There were no lunches served at the school at that time, so teachers and students alike would hustle down to the hotel during their noon hour (which really was a full hour back in those days) to eat their lunch.  The hotel’s cook stove was usually going before five in the morning, as the baking had to be done before breakfast was served.  Besides the hotel guests, many people coming into La Farge for work would catch breakfast in the hotel dining room.
 The apartments on the second floor of the Annex building were converted into hotel rooms.  Maxine Shird, who grew up in her folk’s hotel on Main Street, said that the rooms in the Annex were usually reserved for the railroad workers who needed a place to stay.  She said there were usually three or four railroad men staying at the hotel during the week.  When the Kickapoo Stump Dodger made its last run on August 15, 1939 and the railroad buildings and tracks were pulled out of La Farge later that fall, Mac’s Hotel lost some steady customers.
Mac’s Hotel building burned down in 1942 – it was the last hotel in the village.  The Major’s Feed Store building, which was just to the west of the hotel, was burned out at the same time by the hotel fire, but the Annex building survived.  Although the hotel business would not be revived, Mac Marshall continued to rent out the upstairs rooms in the Annex, which were later reconverted back to apartments.  The dining facilities were also rented out and a restaurant remained in the first floor space throughout the 1940’s.  In September of 1950 when that space in the Annex was converted for use as a post office, the Bluebird CafĂ©, which had been operating there, moved across the street to the Tony Novy building, located on the northwest corner of Main and Silver Streets.
At a meeting of the La Farge village board held on April 22, 2013, it was decided to order that the old Travers Building be razed and the demolition material from the building moved off the property.  Negotiations are under way for that order to be executed, but neither the building’s current owner, who is in bankruptcy proceedings, nor the lien holder on the building want to incur the responsibility and costs of the demolition.  The village has issued a “Notice And Order To Raze And Remove” and wants the building taken down within a week of the notice.  Regardless of how it happens, the end of an old building in La Farge is near.  The last of the five buildings on the old Central Hotel block will be gone.