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Running Polonia's Country Store

The following article was written by Malcolm Rosholt and appeared in the February 13, 1975 edition of the Stevens Point Journal. The transcription was provided by Brian 'Al' Wierzba.

Running Polonia's country store
Thursday, February 13, 1975 Stevens Point (Wis.) Daily Journal Page 19

In a recent article by Martha Liebe, she was quoted as saying that the first store keeper in Polonia was Joe Bishop, a German emigrant, married to a Polish lady.

An immediate response to this came from Joseph Formella of Stevens Point who told me that the Polish lady referred to was his mother, and that the name was not "Bishop" but Bischoff.

Since Bischoff is pronounced "bish-off" in English, it is easy to understand why Mrs. Liebe and others called him Bishop. In fact, the name appears as Bishop on one of me early town plats of Sharon.

The word "bischoff" in German means bishop, although -the correct spelling would be "bischof," pronounced bis’kof.

I went to see Mr. Formella at his home on 506 Indiana Ave. I remember he once had an orchestra which played for dances and weddings around Ellis and Rosholt His mother, who was widowed in 1889, married John Formella and Joseph was their first born followed by Emil, Adolph, Anton and the twins, Daisy and Bernadette.

I knew Emil in my youth. He had just returned from service in World War I and had taken over an old blacksmith shop straddling Flume Creek in Rosholt. I went to him for horseshoe nails which I twisted around the anvil to make finger rings for my girl friends in seventh grade.

Mr. Formella's mother was Magdalene Prondzinski "from home." I like this expression. It is more colorful than "what is your maiden name? " or, as it is used in Norwegian, "what is your girl name?"

The family of Xavier Prondzinski emigrated to the United States from Posen (Posnan in Polish) after the Civil War, and settled first around Berlin, Wis., where Magdalene, aged 13, found work as a waitress. Since there was a small settlement of Polish people around Berlin, she was probably working in a restaurant that catered to Polish patrons.

Later, Magdalene came on a visit to Portage County to see her sister who had married William Glizinski of the Town of Sharon. Somewhere along the terminal moraine, she met Joe Bischoff and the gleam in his eye met hers and they were later married, which was rather unusual for a Polish girl to be marrying a German youth of the first generation.

Joe Biscboff had a brother, August, and a sister, Mrs. Thomas Radzinski. She pioneered on a farm about a mile north of Ellis on CountyTrunk J.

Bischoff's children by Magdalene were August, no doubt named after his uncle, Helen (Mrs. John Kirsling), Clara (Mrs. Felix Woyak), and Frank. August later operated a blacksmith shop located on the south side of Highway 66 near the intersection of County Trunk J.

There are two account books preserved in the Formella family from the Polonia store, one that records cash income and expenditures, and a second, a ledger, which carries the charge accounts of the customers.

The cash book begins Aug. 13, 1877.

The ledger begins in late 1886 and ends inconclusively in the 1890s. Prior to 1889 the handwriting is Joe Bischoff’s. After his death, others were making entries including, no doubt, Mrs. Bischoff, and in 1892 a new handwriting appears, namely that of John Formella who had married Bischoff’s widow.

But Formella was more interested in farming than the store business. He moved his new family to a house that stood on the northeast corner of Highway 66 and County Trunk J (east of Ellis) where his wife operated a small store in the house for a time. This house is still standing, although remodeled by later owners.

There is reason to believe that the first store in Polonia was opened earlier than 1877.

The Sharon tax roll on personal property for 1875 lists "August & Brother, Biscboff" with a combined valuation of $721.

Since this figure is much higher than most of the other names in the roll, it would suggest that their personal property included merchandise for a store, not just wagons and sleighs or cattle.

It also indicates that August and Joe were in business together in the beginning. August left two or three years later, it appears, and moved to Stevens Point where he ran a saloon and did much of the buying for his brother in Polonia.

Unfortunately for posterity, the store ledger referred to does not indicate what the customers were buying at the store, only the amounts. But the cash book makes brief mention of some items purchased from wholesalers in Stevens Point, mostly from H.D. McCulloch Co. and Krembs Hardware.

Among the products purchased were berring, flour nails, starch, shoes, seed, crockery, lanterns, spokes, whitefish, “botter” gun shot and powder, cigars, coffee, beer and whisky. In May 1882 first mention is made to "pop" which was being purchased from the Lutz Brewery in Stevens Point. Bischoff got most of his beer there as well as from Kuhl's Brewery.

But the source of whisky is not given, probably because most of it was manufactured locally by moonshiners. All in all the range of merchandise suggests a well-stocked store, even to "notions," ready to serve the immediate needs of the farmers in the area.

Bischoff was also hiring people to make shingles, it appears, and he bought shingles as well which he sold. These were "shakes," often called "shave" shingles because they were shaved from cedar blocks.

The store attracted customers from most of Sharon Township, a few from Pike Lake, and a few from Stockton and Alban, such as the Liebe, Windorf and Simonis families.

It was centrally located and stood diagonally across the road from the present Polonia Branch of the State Bank of Rosholt in what is today the tavern of Henry Zywicki, although the present building is completely remodeled. Upstairs, over the store, was a dance hall where the Formellas and Schliesmanns played for wedding affairs and other occasions in the years before World War I.

For the sake of genealogists, the names of Bischoff's customers will be listed below, alphabetically, as they appear at the beginning of the ledger where the page number of each account is given.

Bischoff's spelling of Polish names is fairly good and suggests that he had a working knowledge of English by this time and as a whole there is little to quarrel with. I will make no attempt to correct the names because some Polish families to this day do not agree on the same spelling, even between cousins. This is not uncommon among other ethnic groups either.

Several names of customers begin with a "W." This takes a "v" sound in Polish although one would have to be born in Warsaw to be able to give this "v" its proper pronunciation. I will not carry the names beyond 1889 because after that date the ledger becomes confused and accounts are filled in the pages retroactively by a later handwriting. Here, then, are the names of most of Bischoff s customers from 1887 to 1889 with spellings as used in the ledger:

John Akman (Eckman), Peter Brixius, Joseph Burant, Frank Bronk, Aby (Abbe) Boyington, August and Carl Betker, John Blumer, Matis Blashkowski, Frank Baron, Andrew Baker, Steffan Brand, C. Earwig, Anton Bigus, J.A. Brown, Joseph Pflowski, Paul Bilawa, Adam Burant, Frank Bender, John Bigus, John Bushman, John Britzen, Peter Bunger, Agata Bronk, Michael Celman, Joseph Czech, John Cherwonka, Joseph Cpelyna, Joseph Cwilkfflski, Mathias and Frank Czech, Martin Cychosh, Frank Bombenik, Teofil Bronk, Jacob Cychosh, Joseph Cysewski and Frank Baska.

Michael Doyle, Peter Doyle, August Dzwankowski, Albert Dalman, Martin Doyle, Frank Disher, August Dalman, August Dale, Teofil Dalman, Peter Eiden, John Eiden Jr.,Albert Feltz, John Flis, Joseph Fridach, August Gershewski, Paul," Teofil and John Garski, Fred Golenbeck, Joseph Gostomski, Bartlema Gliniski, John Gladowski, Martin Gersewski, Michael Glodowski, Frank Gilbrand, Frank Gagas, John Goytowski, Walentin Gagas, Joseph Grocholski, Math Griwacz (?), Math and Frank Gosh, Adam Gorecki, August Glischinski, John Henca (today probably Hintz), D. Hauk, Joseph Helminski, Charles Harris, Martin Henca, Peter Firek and John Kositz. (The last name is no doubt an abbreviation for Koziczkowski).

Bernard Konopacki, August Kranski, Nick Kischewski, John Kluk, Joseph Kluk (after this name the words "Pike Lake" have been inserted), Frank Klopatek, John Konopacki, August Kniter, Paul Koklinski, Joseph Kurkowski, Frank Kluk, Albert Kulas, Christ Kniple, Nick Klemen, Michael Kotiowski, Peter Krodidlowski, Xavier Krizan, Peter Kotz, August Kluk, Winzent Kedeowski, Peter Kniple, John Kotiowski, Andrew Kedrowicz, Martin KisewsW, John Knufel, John Konopachte, Paul Kiedrowski, Lucian Kobasuiski, Paul Kasobucki, Michael Kluk, Frank Kolmski, Joseph Kluk (of Custer), and Stefan Kuklinski.

Simon Liewandowski, Anton Lepak, Frank Landowski, Joseph Lezeczinski, Lorance Lewinski, John Liebe, Charles Lepinski, Anton Lorbiecki, Frank Leshinski, Joseph Liebe, Thomas Lepinski, George Ledwerowski, John Landowski, Stefan Lubazki, Adam Lescinski, Thomas Lepinski, Thomas Lehmen, Joseph Lukowicz, Anton and Frank Nowak, Frank Nodolini, Louis Norlach, Casemier, Alex, Frank, Peter, Martin and Andrew Ostrowski, and Stefan Oka (?).

John, Anton and Felix Pliska, Joseph Prondjinski, Bernard and Michael Peankowski, Josephina Palberg, Stanislaus Pewelski, Math Pichowski, Frank Polchibski, Joseph Piechowski, Michael Platta, Joseph Paschelka, Walentin Polak, John Pitarski and Martin Pashelka.

Stefan Spiza, Thomas Badzinski, Sewester Redin (Sylvester Reading, probably), Thomas Kosik, Michael Studinski, John and Joseph Stroik, Martin Schulist, August Sliwiz (?), Peter Smith, John Selewski, Walentin Shymenski, Frank Soechka, Mrs. John Sikorski, Frank Soikas, John Simonis, Stolz Pike Lake that is, a Stolz who lived near Pike Lake), Frank Stroik, Jacob S y c h o s h , F r a n k Schelbrachkowski, John Stenka, John Suika, John Stensal, and August Slagoski "old man" (notation).

John Turinski, Andrew Treczinski, Loranc Tuskowski, Paul Thomashewski, Tedodora Rozek, Joseph Treder, and Mathias Triba.

Jacob Wanta, Albert Wirosmielski, Joseph Wanta Jr., John Werowinski, Joseph Woyak (Pike Lake), John Wanta, Mathias Wysocki, Henry Wendorff (today Windorf), John Wendorff, Vincent Wirshba (today Wierzba), Frank Weisberg, Fred Wendorff, Basel Wanta, Anton Woyak, August Wroblewski, Mary Wenserski, Albert Wanta, Nick Weranka, Thomas Yach, August Yenter, John Yagla, Joseph Jelinski, John Zira, Jacob and John Zinda, John, Joseph and Walentin Zelneski, and John and Stefan Zywicki.

The name of Albert Feltz is interesting because it shows that at this early date the family had already changed or shortened the name from Felkowski. The name Klopatek means "little worry," and the name Ostrowski means something fast or speedy. The name Soikas is today Soik, originally Sujecki, meaning "blue jay."

Mary Wenserski, who is mentioned above, was a rather well-known figure in the 1880s and 1890s in Sharon. She was the community midwife and any number of senior citizens in their 80's today, who were born in Sharon, can thank Mary for their first slap into life.

Most rural communities, whether Polish, German or Scandinavian, and their midwives in the pioneer period of settlement. Doctors could not reach the scattered farms, especially in winter, and it was not until after the turn of the century that doctors began to complete seriously with the midwives.

After World War I (1918), the profession was being phased out. Many of these women were trained in Europe before they emigrated and were in demand as soon as they arrived. If they got a dollar for their services they were lucky!

Matt Triba was another Bischoff customer. He, like many other pioneers, fanned in summer and worked the woods in winter. I have a picture of him taken with a logging crew at "Blue City," a camp west of Elderon around 1909. Two years ago I took the picture out to his place to have it identified but Matt could not see well. He was one of the last men alive on the picture and a few months after I saw him he too was dead.

John Cherwonka was another customer, a man who in the early 1900s who was famous as one of the best cooks in the logging camps around Rosholt, Galloway and Holt.

After the logging industry moved further north, Cherwonka retired from the woods and opened a saloon on the Sharon-Alban range line. I think the line must have run straight through his bar.

In any event, it was not actually called a saloon. It was a "hop house" because it had been converted from an older building where hops were once cured or stored, and everyone called the saloons in this area "hop houses."

John Cherwonka was known to all the Polish lumberjacks from Polonia to Bevent, to the Irish from Manawa and to the Norwegians from Rosholt as "Uncle John" and his place of business was called "Uncle John's."

My old friend Nils, who lived east of the village, well remembered him, and one day when he was feeling good, he began to tell me about the "hop houses" which naturally led to Uncle John.

Nils said he had been to Stevens Point one time on an errand with two men from lola, both Norwegians, and on their return they had stopped at Uncle John's to water the horses and slake their own thirst which had grown quite critical by this time.

Nils and partners went in and took a place at the bar and had scarcely been served when a Polish customer at the other end of the bar, flanked by two of his compatriots, looked at the strangers and said, "Don't you know? We're killin' Norwegians here today."

Nils, who was built strong as an ox, said he grabbed the beer bottle and challenged the Norwegian-killers to approach. "And they came at me," he said, raising his voice in braggadocio, "and I gave the first one the bottle right over his head and went down, and the second one I jammed into the wall and the third one I threw straight out the screen door. And ol' Uncle John stood there and laughed like he was going to die!"

When I asked Nils what happened to his two partners, he said, "Them peoples ran the first thing and they must have been half way to lola before I ketched up to them."

At least that's the way Nils told it.