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Flash From The Past - 1969

Oconto County Reporter       A History of Oconto County
by: George Hall
Oconto County Reporter 
August 13, 1969

Contributed by Dave Cisler from the scrapbook of Miriam C. Barribeau CISLER
Transcribed by  Cathe Ziereis

The Day They Shipped the Grain Elevator

The year was 1903 -a time when the Oconto River was still a busy waterway for transport-ing goods of all kinds. Still, It wasn't often a grain elevator was seen floating into town, and the sight created quite a stir among the populace.

The elevator, with a capacity of 15,000 bushels, was bought by Alphonse Pierre in Green Bay and brought here by barge to be added to his extensive grain business on Millidge Avenue. It is still there today and in use by Lane & Son in their feed and fuel operation. Its location is the old site of the St. Paul, Eastern & Grand Trunk depot, and a part of that building served Pierre, as it does Lane, as an office.

A jovial and popular Belgian, who became prominent in the grain and brokerage business throughout the state, Pierre was born in Door County in 1864. His father, Frank Pierre, was one of the early Belgian immigrants who settled on the peninsula in 1858 and founded a City they named Brussels, after the capital of their native country. Frank was the town's first chairman. A miller by trade, he started his first grist mill in that community — Pierre-Verlee Company — and also put his energies and varied talent to many other uses, including the practice of dentistry, operating an inn for travelers and serving as Brussel's postmaster for 38 years. 


The prominent grain broker is shown at the desk in his Millidge avenue office in a picture taken shortly before his death in 1925.


Alphonse was one of six sons and it was the desire of his father that all of them follow him in the milling trade. Before working with his father, however, Alphonse first tried his hand in the printing business. In 1886 he came to Oconto and established a small feed store, but left after two years to go to Minneapolis, where he studied to become a grain broker. While there, he also worked for a time as a reporter on the Minneapolis Express.

It was after his return to Oconto in 1893 that he began his feed and elevator operation, an enterprise that was to grow to become the third largest industry in the city, surpassed only by the Holt Lumber Company and Oconto Company. At the time of his death in 1925, the business comprised several salt sheds, the grain elevator, three huge grain warehouses and a feed mill.

Alphonse was also active in civic and political affairs. He held seats on the Milwaukee and Chicago Chambers of Commerce and was a member of the Oconto county board of supervisors for 28 consecutive years. He was also a charter member of the Oconto Elks Club.

Alphonse married Lucy Brazeau, a daughter of Samuel Brazeau, in 1892. The couple had seven children, six of whom are still living. May, the eldest, married the late Camille Jolly who was the first Metropolitan Life Insurance agent in the area and she now lives in Green Bay. Gabriel Pierre also lives in Green Bay. Alphonse, Jr., and Miss Ruth Pierre live in Oconto; Helen Jovita (Mrs. Harold Lyon) is a nurse in Decatur, Ill.; Sister Mary Alphonsa is directress of St. Joseph's convent in St. Louis, Mo. The Pierre’s other daughter, Agnes, who married Mark Garrity, owner of the Shawano golf course for many years, died two years ago. The family’s first home was at 119 Center street. After his retirement, Alphonse and his wife made a home of the office he had built near the feed mill. The house was moved to the northwest corner of Park Avenue and Congress Street after his death and remained the home of his widow until her death about 20 years ago. Alphonse also kept a stable of horses on Frank Street and the family's fringed surrey was a frequent sight on city streets.

A big man, over six feet tall and of portly build, Alphonse had a "twin” in Colonel William Young. The two were fast friends and met each morning at the Beyer House (later the Parker House) to exchange cigars and views. At one of the entertainments staged at Turner hall, the two brought down the house in a skit in which they were dressed in Little Lord Fauntleroy costumes.

But Alphonse had a heart to match his build. The fortune he accrued was not built on conniving or exploitation, but on a philosophy of "cast your bread upon the waters". No man in need of a sack of flour was ever turned away from his mill because he lacked the money to pay. An example of his generosity was the occasion when one of the old families of the city was forced to hold an auction to pay off their debts. Alphonse attended the sale, bought freely of their belongings and then returned them to the family.

His genial and generous nature won him a host of friends, and his funeral was reported as the largest held in Oconto up to that time. The cortege extended from Millidge avenue to St. Peter's Catholic church.

His passing was mourned by persons in all walks of life. One gentleman attending the funeral, a resident of the city's poorhouse, was overheard to remark — "I've lost my best friend.' 

But of all the prominence and fortune he gained, it is doubtful he would have prized any of his accomplishments more highly than the memories he has left his children. To them, he was a father unequaled, and the kindest man they ever knew. It is a heritage that anyone might envy.