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Flash From The Past - 1969

A History of Oconto 
 By George Hall

contributed by Dave Cisler
transcribed by Diane Horn 

 Oconto County Reporter
 September 4, 1969

Oconto on the Crest of a Wave

A quaint “complete” business directory of Oconto, with corrections and additions, published near the end of the “horse and buggy days”, lists the residents of Oconto over 18 years of age, giving addresses and telephone numbers.  It is filled with interesting advertisements.  It appears that the population of Oconto was at an all time high of nearly 7,000.

Advertising from our neighbors, especially Little Suamico, Pensaukee, Stiles, Lena, Oconto Falls, Gillett and Marinette, indicate the life and growth of all those nearby communities.

All were now connected with each other by a network of telephone lines, winding roads and railroads.

Communities located on the Bay each had a harbor and lighthouse well kept up and used by boats carrying freight and passengers, by fishing fleets and pleasure crafts and launches.

The city officers and a harbor committee consisting of Attorney Victor J. O’Kelliher, Carl Riggins and others worked arduously toward the new harbor and pier that was constructed under federal regulations.  A new graveled pier road was built.  The Oconto Woman’s Club had the new road lined with elm trees.

Newspapers of the times (before the days of radio and television) at Oconto were The Oconto Lumberman, published by Joseph Hall; the Oconto County Reporter, published by W.M. Comstock; the Enquirer, published by R.G. (Bob)Sharp, and The Enterprise, published by P.A. Badore.  All carried homey news items, detailed obituaries, continued stories, and the necessarily belated world happenings of great importance.  Much of each issue was taken up with advertising.  Every week some of the publications contained large ads of the Oconto Company (lumber mill) Store, Hemmingsen’s, Brazeau Bros., and Goodrich and Martineau.

Mail order catalogs were also sent out by Goodrich and Martineau which carried a large stock of 

Mr. and Mrs. Antone Martineau (she was the former Anna Jennings) in their handsome new Buick. The picture was taken about 1906. The buildings shown are Wilke Pocquette's Saloon (complete with swinging door), Lucia Bros. garage (later Jarvis Brothers and Hugp Lingelbach garage) and William Bros. Grocery.
general merchandise of nationally known brands.  The big store with its lofty ceilings was steam heated and equipped with a moving basket and wrapping system and the dry goods department had revolving red plush customer stools.  There was a big flow of customers day and night, except Sunday.  Their grocery store, managed by John Merline and Allen Merline and Billy VanGaal as delivery boys, was in a separate building on Main Street two doors east of the dry goods department.  Alma and Lina Links, Margaret Riley, Mrs. Emma Pautzer, Ada (Holtgreve) Riewe, Rose and Addie Pocaine, Annie (Jeske) Butler, Agnes Quelette, Lulu Sissons, Arthur Fabry, George, Henry and Antone Merline, and Mrs. Edna (Davis) Werth were some of the clerks who remained with the company many years and some stayed on the staff for years after the store became known as Lauerman’s.

The Joseph Hoeffel General Store was first in Frenchtown and later on Main Street.  It carried quality merchandise also.  None of the Hoeffel family are now residents of Oconto, but their big store and those in attendance are still remembered.

John Spies
An Oconto native who later moved to Gillett, Spies was bookkeeper and director of the Oconto County Hospital. He took a keen interest in cultural affairs of the city and directed both Shakespearian dramas and comic opera productions.

Doctors and lawyers were very busy serving their patients and clients in and outside of Oconto.  The mill company attorneys and all the lawyers’ offices were located in apartments above the stores on Main Street.

Dr. Armstrong’s office was connected to his home on the first floor.  Drs. T.C. Clark, P.F. Gaunt, C. W. Stoelting and W.C. Watkins had their offices mostly in apartments above the drug store, as did the dentists.

Dr. O’Keefe had his office, hospital rooms and home in one building off of Main Street at the corner of Washington Street and Superior Avenue.  Long after his death, the building became known as the O’Keefe apartments until demolished.  The Wisconsin Telephone Company now stands on the O’Keefe lots.

Compared to the present day, life and time moved at a much slower pace.  There were long hours of toil for many.  People seemed pleased and happy with simple pleasures and amusements.  In the summer, picnics and outings and celebrations took place at Bostedt’s Park, and before that at Dutchman’s Park and the Fair Grounds.  The young set sometimes went to the parks on hay rides or swimming and bathing parties.  In the winter there were sleigh rides.  There were bicycle riding and races.  In summer there was baseball and in the fall, football.  In the winter and early spring basketball was very popular.

Popular Basketball Team of Company "M" Oconto National Guard
Joe Kampo, Heiny Ellman, Coach Germond, Captain Hall, Sly Topel, Bud Fencel, Joe Heller and Rooster Heller.

Home talent plays were given at the old Music Hall and when that place was abandoned by all but the Oconto Lumberman printing office, plays, dances and other inside amusements such as ten pins and bowling took place at the Turner Opera House and the then big new Oconto high school.

Lodges – the Masons, the Knights of Pythius, Odd Fellows, Elks and other societies like the Modern Woodmen – had their own halls at which members met, held their meetings and had social gatherings.

At one time there were five moving picture theaters in Oconto – the Star Electric, the Gem, the Elite, the Bijou and the Grand.

The Gem, first owned by Henry Cole, was located east of the Goodrich and Martineau Department Store in the building last occupied by the Pitrof Candy Store.  It was furnished with regular theater seats and cuspidors.  Len Lord operated the Grand. 

Turner Opera House at the corner of Adams Street and Superior Avenue became the Marinette Knitting Mills' Oconto plant about 1914, and in 1958 was taken over by the Great Lakes Shoe Company. 

The Bijou was located on Superior Avenue south of Watterich’s Jewelry store (later Harry Aronson’s Clothing Store).  It was operated by the Hass brothers, Reinhold and Otto.  Reinhold ran the movie machines  and Minnie (Hass) Carlson sold tickets and played the talking machine which had a large morning glory horn attachment that projected the record music outside to the street.  It was loud enough to be heard, at times, on Main Street.  Later the Bijou moved to Main Street and was run by John Follett.
From four to ten pieces
Music furnished for all occasions. Prices reasonable. Correspondance solicited.

The Gem, first owned by Henry Cole, was located east of the Goodrich and Martineau Department Store.  It was furnished with regular theater seats and cuspidors.

Frank Knapp owned the Elite when it was located in the present Oconto Home Bakery building.

In some theaters the audience sat on folding chairs until theater seats were used in these “commercial places of amusement”.  The admission was a nickel (five cents).

Colored slides and short reels of black and white moving pictures were shown.  Love stories, hair-raising thrillers depicting Indian fighting, cowboys and trail wrecks, hero and villain series showing beautiful maidens rescued, dutiful sons and daughters theme films, and many comedies were flashed on the screen.

The picture was taken in the upstairs parlor of the Beyer House. The player with the bass violin is Dr. W.C. Stoelting.
Two favorite actors of those days who became and remained stars many years in the move world were Mary Pickford, “America’s Sweetheart”, and the comedian, Fattie Arbuckle.

Thera Hemmingsen, Irene DeBeck (who became Mrs. AL Brunner) played the pianos at the show houses.  Hannah (Schumacher) Van De Walle, Vida McClelland, Bessie Merline and others sang.  Sometimes Bessie played the piano, too.  Songs such as “My Pretty Red Wing”, “Tell Me a Beautiful Story”, “Trail of the Lonesome Pine” and “Yippee Ki Yo Ki Ya” were sung.
Standing, Judge H.F. Jones, Mr. Perry, unidentified Methodist minister and James Hoeffel; seated, Mr. Trudell, the Indian visitor and Attorney Patrick Lynch. The picture was taken at the W.M. Lee Studio.

When the theater owners raised the admission price to ten cents, some said they would quit going to the shows.

In those days some people would go from one theater to the other, attending all five shows in one night.  After the shows they sometimes stopped for refreshments at Jack Carr’s Restaurant