Currently Riveredge encompasses 380 acres of land and is comprised of two major land tracks. The original track, which Riveredge purchased first back in 1968, was originally owned by Oscar Grady. This wooded land essentially lies along the south shores of the Milwaukee River. It extends from the city limits of Newburg almost to the corner of Hwy.Y and St. Finbars Road.
The second track of land, which is referred to in this history as the Schmidt farm, is located on the south side of Highway Y, east of the Grady property. It was purchased in 1975 and included the farm house, barn, coop and garage along with the land on which the Interpretive Center now stands.
The owner of the farm, Antoine Schmitt (Schmidt), came to this country on a land grant and was sponsored by a man named Crown. He and his wife, Caroline, ran a lumberjack camp at Indiantown, Michigan. The long hours and hard work caused Caroline to finally persuade her husband to abandon the lumberjack camp. Antoine talked to his sponsor, Mr. Crown, who obliged by providing the Schmidt’s with land at Newburg, Wisconsin. In 1900, Antione and Caroline, who was now pregnant with their seventh child, packed their belongings and moved to Newburg. The family farm was near St. Finbars Road and close to the Milwaukee River which provided ice for food storage. The land produced corn, wheat, linseed, barley and rutabagas which they sold in Newburg. Sometime during 1908 or 1909, the family moved to Port Washington where the last child was born. Antoine went to work in a chair factory for $0.65 per day (10-12 hours per day/ six day per week). The family struggled through the lean years during World War I and Antione died in 1918 of Bright’s disease.
The farm was sold to the Charles Klotz family who farmed it from around 1910-1929, when the Ziech family purchased it. Following is an account by E. Ziech whose parents bought the farm in 1929 and resided there until about 1950.
On Labor Day 1929, the moving van left 3rd Street in Milwaukee with the belongings of the Ziech family. Its destination was the Schmidt farm in Ozaukee County. The family arrived first in their 1929 Ford Model T sedan. I had never seen the farm before but before long I was down at the creek exploring all the creatures that call it their home. Many times I would almost miss evening meals as I was down at the creek and did not hear the call for supper.
One of our neighbors to the east on Highway Y was the Melbingers. Mrs. Melbinger was a good friend of my mother. She was born here on the Schmidt farm and often told us of her memories. An old log building which was the chicken coop was originally the farm house. She died in the 1930's when she was over 80 years old, so the farm was already in existence in the 1840's. We often heard from people in the area that the Schmidt farm was one of the oldest in Ozaukee County. We were told that the log barn dated back to the pre-1850 era. The location of the farm near the river with a creek running through it made it ideal for farming. However, its sand hills and low marshy areas were poor cropland. In dry seasons the hills produced nothing and wet years the low lands were too wet for crops.
The farm was bordered on the west by woods owned by a Port Washington woman named Crown. She rented the woods out to Dan Safford each summer for cow pasture. He would drive by in his horse and buggy twice a day from his farm to milk the cows. When the weather was cool enough, he would leave the cans of milk out at the road to be picked up. Some years he did not take his cows home until the snow fell.
I do not know who owned the woods across the street when we moved in back in 1929. Soon after a banker from Saukville bought it and it became known as Grady’s woods. In those days it consisted of mostly small trees and bushes, as a crew had logged off all the large trees in the 1920's.
The farm at that time was occupied by the Charles Klotz family. Charles farmed little in those days. He made his fortune by selling milk, eggs and vegetables to the logging camp which was located at the bend of the road at the creek bridge. This was easier than farming. His lack of attention to farming caused the farm to go to weeds. The fields were in terrible shape when we took over the place. It took years of horse killing work before the fields were free of quack grass.
Since we moved from Milwaukee on Labor Day, that meant I had to start school the very next day. I was enrolled in the second grade at St. Finbars road school. What a change it was from schools in Milwaukee. All eight grades were in one room. The school only had a total of fifteen desks - ten small seats and five larger ones. In the seven years I attended the school, the most students to occupy these seats were eleven.
My favorite teacher was Helen McCabe. She was from West De Pere, Wisconsin. Her father was Scotch Irish and her mother was French Canadian Indian. She was in her twenties and I loved her because she always took part in the games at recess. She dressed in business suits and skirts and sweaters. She never wore make-up but I guess that was expected of teachers in those days.
Another reason I liked Miss McCabe was because she would reward us for good work. If we knew our lessons and studied our assignments, she would read a book to us. I remember vividly Wild Fire, Pickets Gap, Black Beauty and Treasure Island to name a few. This inspired us. We had a small library with about 100 books. I read most of them, even though they were above my reading level.
Teaching classes wasn’t her only duty. She was also part janitor. We had a pot bellied stove which sat in a corner in the warm months but it was moved into the middle of the room in fall. We were supplied with coal rather than tan wood for the stove. When the building was ice cold, we had to prepare the stove the night before. The boys had the job chopping kindling and supplying wood for the stove. Miss McCabe usually put paper and kindling in the stove the night before so she just had to put a match to it in the morning. Years after I graduated, she moved to Arizona for health reasons. Her mother and sister died of T.B. so we deduced that she might be dying from it too.
The school itself was a model of a basic building. No water, electricity, storm doors or storm windows. In the tough winters of 1935 and 1936, when the temperature got down to 32 below zero, we sat around the stove in our heavy coats until the room warmed up. Each week one of the boys was assigned to the job of keeping the coal bucket full.
At one time there was a well on the premises, but it had been filled in with dirt. One morning we found about a 10 foot hole in the ground where the well once was. A school board member eventually filled in the hole. Without a well, we had to go across the road to the Parlow farm for our water. Two of us were assigned for a week to get water in a pail once or twice a day. In one of the clothes closets there was a stone jug with a spigot for the drinking water. A pail was set below the spigot to catch what spilled. We needed every drop of water to wash the blackboards. We made paper cups out of tablet paper. You had to drink fast before the water would turn blue from the ink lines. Getting water in the winter was a dreaded task. Going to the outhouse in the winter was no picnic either. The boy’s outhouse was in the farthest corner of the
Despite all these hardships, there were many good things that happened in school those days. Each year there were two events which the entire community attended. They were the Christmas program and the school picnic. We made invitations which we passed out in the neighborhood. These invitations were made by hand on paper with permanent ink. This was placed on a frame with a jelly-like substance. Then copies were made by transferring it on sheets of litmus paper. Also, this is how we printed a newspaper. The jelly-like substance was melted on the stove and reused again.
The picnic was held the day after the last day of school in spring. It was usually held on one of the farms. It was held on the Schmidt farm several times. Everyone participated in games of all kinds and there was always plenty of food.
The school year ended about mid May so we were able to help at home on the farm with the spring work. Some years the school year even started later in September if we were needed at home on the farms.
We always assumed that Miss McCabe would come back the following fall but one year she didn’t. She was replaced by Mrs. Gerner who lived on a nearby farm. She drove a Model T Coupe. We boys didn’t care for her much. She spent too much time on things other than our lessons and never participated in any of the games at recess time. Consequently, we would take our lunches and go out and scout the neighborhood during the noon recess.
There was the grave yard just down the road. An old abandoned house just south of the school. Hanson and Safford lakes were also close by. More than once we gorged ourselves in nearby melon fields.
Every so often we had projects that we took to school. One time we carved propellers which we put on weather vanes on any roof we could climb. Next we made arrows which we carved out of old wood shingles. We shot these up in the air with rubber bands made from old inner tubes. Another time we made guns which shot rubber bands. Once we made a toboggan from hardwood boards left over from a repair project on the school.
Walking to school was difficult, especially in the wintertime. The winter of 1935- 1936 was the worst. All the roads except Highway 33 were snowbound from Christmas time until March when the only snowplow in Ozaukee County came through. The only means of transportation were horse, sleigh or walking. It was zero or below every day in February. One morning our thermometer read 32 below. Yet school was only closed for one half day.
One of the hazards of walking to school was contending with the dogs. Every farmer had at least one. More than once I had to detour through a field to avoid a dog. The greatest hazard was McCarthy’s bull. He was staked out in a field near the road that had no fence around it.
He looked mean when he was howling and pawing the ground. Sometimes they would stake him out in the road where he could eat the grass in the ditch.
We had mail service at St. Finbars School and it was always a privilege when the teacher asked us to check to see if there was something in the box. There were occasionally visitors to the school one of which was the county nurse. Shewent over us with a fine toothed comb. The other visitors were the superintendent and his assistant. They stayed about a half day to see how the teacher was doing her job.
Once, as a special treat, our teacher drove us to the movie theater in Port Washington. They had a matinee just for children. I don’t remember what we saw but I do remember that it was snowing hard. It took us two hours to get home. When I did get home, I got bawled out because I had missed supper. I couldn’t let them know that I’d be late because we didn’t have a telephone. Neither did the school.
One year the school board replaced the pot bellied stove with a pipeless furnace. From then on we used coal to heat the school instead of wood. They used the porch and hallway to store the coal. They also changed the windows. They made them taller, almost to the ceiling. On the west side they closed them in, except one near the back. Thus all of the light came in from the east, over our left shoulder, so we could see our writing. Remember, we had no electricity. There was a gasoline lantern at school, but it was only used for the Christmas program.
How did we ever end up on a farm, especially since my father was a tailor? His dad was a surveyor in Hungary. Dad had a good business on 3rd Street in Milwaukee but my mother was unhappy with city life. She had been raised on a farm in the Old Country. After the Stock Market crashed in 1929 my parents had financial trouble. After President Roosevelt took office and the National Farm Loan Act became law, our mortgage problems improved. My parents made the last payment on the mortgage shortly before World War II. Most of the other farms in the area were paid off, since they had been in the families for years.
What did city slickers know about farming? My folks sent my oldest brother out to the farm the summer before we moved to learn how to operate the machinery. The neighbors must have laughed at us yet they were very helpful.
The previous owner, who had lived on our farm for 17 years, did very little farming. He made his money selling provisions to the nearby lumber camp. There was no silo on the farm. The corn that was grown to feed the cows in the winter was cut and stored along the fences near the barn. All winter long we had to drag these dry bundles to the barn and hand cut the corn with the chopper. You can imagine how much milk the cows gave with this kind of diet.
There was no water in the barn. To water the cows, we would let the cows out of the barn to go to the creek to drink. Sometimes we had to chop the ice on the creek. When the weather was really cold, the cows would go as far as the barnyard and just wait to be let in again.
I really believe winters were colder back then. In those days we would butcher our first hogs on Thanksgiving and go ice skating on the pond over that long week-end. It would be springtime before the cows would give a respectable amount of milk again. One time the cows ate wild onions which made their milk taste like onions. For years Whitehouse Milk Company Co. in West Bend (which was owned by A & P Food Stores) canned our milk to make evaporated milk. Many times the check for the milk at the end of the month was only $5.00. We always had plenty of chickens. Eggs were only nine cents a dozen. We ate very well even though we didn’t have much money.
When we first moved to the farm, only one farmer in the area had a tractor (a McCormick Deering 10-20 horsepower). All of our field work was done by horses. The team of horses was included in the sale of the farm when we bought it. Over the next few years we had a dozen horses before we finally bought a tractor. We couldn’t get rid of the horses though, because the tractor couldn’t do everything a horse could. Some farmers never purchased a tractor and used
horses exclusively until they died or moved away. In some cases the farms were too small to make owning a tractor a necessity.
The Bretschnieders in Newburg had some odd tractors used with their threshing machines. One was an Ajax, a weird looking thing that had only one cylinder and its radiator facing to one side. They also had a huge machine called a Rumley Oil Pull. It too was a one cylinder monster with large fly wheels. It replaced a steam engine which they used with the big wooden threshing machine.
The Brabenders who lived on Highway Y had a Samson tractor which was similar to a Fordson. It was made by General Motors. Its strange looking wheels made it look like a toy tractor.
Any history of the Riveredge area has to include a chapter about Newburg. I know a lot about the town because I had to walk two miles there and back every day to get our mail.
For years the road signs on the outskirts of town read “Newburg Unincorporated - Population 128.” The sign was still up in 1942 when I went off to World War II. All through the Great Depression there were seven taverns in town. One of them was the watering hole
for the Newburg Baseball Team. Some of the guys ordered West Bend Lithia beer but most of us enjoyed the root beer which was on tap.
Some more notable places in Newburg were Koenig’s blacksmith shop, Lochen’s farm machinery and Buick dealership, Richel’s general store (which also was the Post Office), and Stokhausen’s garage, Kirst’s butcher shop, Fischer’s grocery store, funeral parlor (which also sold furniture) and the Newburg State Bank.
One day when the bank president went home for lunch and the secretary was there alone, the bank was robbed. The robbers wore new overalls and carried a new milk pail for the money. The story was carried in the Milwaukee Journal Green Sheet. The gangsters weren’t as famous as Dillinger but they had apparently cased the joint. They pulled a job in another small town a few weeks later. Neither case was ever solved.
I can only recall one time that we took our horses to Koenig brother’s blacksmith shop to have them shod. One brother shod the horses. Another did wood working, like repairing wagons. The third brother was a miller and handled the grain. Every chance I had I would go along to the mill. There was something about fresh ground grain. It had nice smell even though the place was filled with dust. Usually the miller’s overalls were completely white with dust.
Just outside of Newburg on Highway Y was the Brabender farm. During harvest time they would recruit all five of us kids to pick beans or whatever they raised for the cannery. Sometimes we picked all day and they would serve us lunch. We used to laugh about the long kitchen table which sagged in the middle. The place was black with flies but they didn’t let that bother them. Their idea of fly control was newspaper cut in strips and hung across the outside of the screen door. This practice was quite common on farms during the depression. The Brabenders were our closest neighbors yet we didn’t find out until later that their barn burned one day. Had this happened at night, we could have read a newspaper from the brightness. A barn burning is a sight that you’ll never forget.
Only the barn, house, silo and pump remain now from the original homestead. The old well was located about 100 feet west of the present well, in the middle of the yard. It was probably the farm’s original well. Years after the well was dug, it had to be drilled deeper because it was running dry. In 1934 a new well had to be dug and a silo built. A 70 year old fellow, named Frank Rose, constructed the new well in the winter with the help of only one person. He drilled down 32 feet with 8 feet of water. All we could afford was a $12 pump but it had the ability to pump water into the barn so it was still ahead of its time.
During the spring melt, the creek often times overflowed its banks. One year it rose so high that it came up to the barn doors. The original bridge over the creek was made of logs and planks. It would wash away in the spring, so finally my brothers built one out of cement in 1932. Both have their initials on it. The bridge was an important lane leading to most of the plowed land across the creek.
About 100 yards south of the bridge lay a huge grey rock. It wasn’t a problem as long as the land was used for pasture. Eventually, however, we decided to plow that area for crops. We couldn’t move the rock, so my brothers dug a hole next to it, pushed it in and buried it. This was a common practice.
The original coop was the first true house on the property and dated back to before 1845. It originally had two floors but when it was converted into a chicken coop it was made into a one level structure. It was built of logs and was located 100 ft. south of the present house. It had only two windows, one on the south and another on the north. My dad realized that for chickens to lay eggs in winter they would need more sun. So he added an addition across the entire south side using old windows. We called it the sun parlor. It must have worked because the hens laid lots of eggs all winter long.
The present Coop was not part of the original farmstead. It was built during World War II to replace the original chicken coop which was getting old. The Coop and a shed (to house farm implements) were built by my brother, Bill. The pre-formed rafters were shipped here from a company called Rilco (in Iowa). Shortly after my mom sold the farm to Frankie Klein, the shed burned down. (When Riveredge purchased the farm, the east side of the Coop still looked scorched from this fire. Riveredge has since covered that damage with siding.)
One luxury item our place had was a gas system for lights and a stove flat iron. This gas system was generated by granulated carbide. The stove naturally used a lot more than a light. The gas was piped to the coop, barn, the original garage and the house. Believe it or not the upstairs did not have lights but the basement did. That was probably because the previous owner (Klotz) had no children and never used the upstairs for bedrooms.
This system was a luxury but was too expensive to operate. The carbide came in two 100 lb. cans. Each can cost $12 to$15 so recharges were few and far apart. When it was recharged the old residue was pumped out and carried and then dumped on a field. It was suppose to be good for ground-lime. We used some of it to whitewash the barn on a few occasions. It had a lot of lime in it because if it got on your skin it burned until you washed it off. After each recharge we enjoyed the convenience while it lasted.
It was tough on the farm especially before we got electricity. We only had two kerosene lamps for the entire house. One was permanently located on the kitchen wall. It had reflectors behind it which could be focused into different areas in the room. The other lamp was used to take along with you into another room. We tried gasoline lamps but they hissed and had fragile mantels which made them expensive to maintain. Some affluent farmers had kerosene Aladdin lamps. There was only one lantern in the barn. (Just one mistake around all of that hay and the whole place could have gone up in smoke.) Another lantern was used to go outside to the henhouse or pump. Keeping it lit on rainy or snowy nights was not easy.
In 1936 the Rural Electrification Act (REA) came to Ozaukee County. Agents visited the area to sign up farmers who wanted electricity. Soon after we signed up that summer, my parents contacted Joseph Hames in Waubeka to wire the farm. In anticipation, we bought a radio, toaster and other electrical appliances. We were never notified as to when we’d receive service but we were ready. We even had the radio plugged in and tuned in to our favorite station. The lights came on at noon on Thanksgiving Day in 1936 just as we sat down for our turkey dinner. This was the most significant event which occurred on the farm while our family lived there. No more kerosene lamps with the soot they create.We finally had electricity to pump water into the barn for the cows and an electric fence to keep them from roaming. My mother could plug in her washing machine. It would be several years before we could afford things like an electric stove, refrigerator and badly needed freezer.
One thing you always saw when you visited a farm would be swarms of sparrows. They usually sat on the top of the barn or the peak of the silo. Weather permitting, every Sunday afternoon my brothers and I would go for a walk in the woods. Sometimes we went up to
Blazel’s hill and sat under the trees. Usually on Saturday we would buy some candy which was eaten out in the woods.
Another favorite spot was under a maple tree located in the far southeast corner of the farm. There was always a question as to whether that maple or the big elm, in front of the farm house, was the largest. The elm is gone now. It was probably a victim of Dutch Elm disease. Several years ago, I checked on the maple tree, it was still standing but it didn’t appear to be healthy. Its wide spread branches were severely damaged years ago in a sleet storm that lasted over a week.
Speaking of trees, there wasn’t a single cedar tree on the premises including, in areas along the creek and in the swamp. I suspect the cedars were used up for fence posts. We did, however, have a few yew and tamarack trees along the creek. The tamaracks remained because they would rot in the ground in just a few years. Cedar, on the other hand, would decay above the ground before it rotted in the ground.
After the big trees in Crown’s woods were cut and only their stumps remained, they began to rot. Mushrooms sprouted up everywhere. After the first frost in fall, the woods would be crawling with mushroom pickers. We didn’t care much for mushrooms but did pick the morels which grew in the orchard. Crown’s woods also had bumper crop of raspberries each year. Our whole family would go out to pick them. They were made into jelly and jam for the winter months. We also gathered hickory and hazel nuts in the woods.
Being near the creek and Milwaukee River had its advantages. Not only did they provide water for the cows but they also afforded us with excellent fishing opportunities. I just couldn’t wait for the ice to melt in spring so I could go fishing. I usually used a pole made from a willow and worms for bait. We caught suckers, bullheads, carp, red horse, chubs, shiners, rock bass, and occasionally perch. Further down river, near Waubedonia Park, yielded northern pike and even walleyes. Crayfish (crabs) were netted in large quantities. Two people would walk ahead of the net to disturb the bottom and scare the crayfish into the net being held by another person. Only the large green ones were kept. Our neighbors frequently would take four or five gunny sacks full home.
During the depression, meat was scarce so we learned to hunt. There were times when we walked in the woods all day and didn’t see a single rabbit. I was told that in the late 20's and 30's, there was a disease that almost wiped out all the small animals. In 1931 we saw our first pheasant on the farm.
In all the years that I lived on the farm, I never saw a fox, raccoon, skunk, mink, weasel or deer. You would think that you would see occasionally see one of these animals dead in the road but we didn’t. Maybe the reason was hunting pressure or they avoided areas that were near people and dogs.
Living so close to the creek and Milwaukee River, we thought we’d see a lot of wild ducks. Occasionally a few would land on the river but we never found any evidence that they nested there, even though the islands seemed like a safe place.
We raised domestic ducks and geese. Their young often fell prey to snapping turtles and weasels that would come up the creek from the river. We tried to keep these animals fenced in but they always managed to get out. It was my job after school each night to round them up and drive them home.
We never saw wild turkeys, so for years we tried to raise domestic turkeys without success. If one chick got sick and died, eventually they’d all die. One year, a lone turkey reached adulthood. We were looking forward to eating it on Thanksgiving but it disappeared just a few days before. Soon thereafter we found it dead, with its head chewed off, just a short distance from the house.
One thing our farm was never short of was chickens. Almost everyone who came from Milwaukee for a visit went home with chicken and vegetables. We had chicken for Sunday dinner almost every week. My mother had at least five ways to prepare chicken. Chicken goulash was my favorite. Being Hungarian, my dad, liked hot peppers in the goulash and almost everything else. Peppers were available year round since my mother would string them up in the fall and hang them in the attic.
Carrots, parsley and parsnips were some of the root vegetables that we kept in the ground or root cellar. We did not eat a lot of potatoes but enjoyed pasta type dishes. My mother hand made some of the noodles but she also bought some from Louis Costarella. He was a grocer in the Italian district of Milwaukee. He was also a wholesaler in eggs and had an egg route which included our farm. One day his truck ended up in the ditch near the covered bridge when he swerved to avoid another car. The truck landed on its side and he had one huge omelet inside. When he got to our house, we helped clean up his truck. He gave us all of the eggs that weren’t broken. Despite the poverty of our lives in the midst of the depression, we ate very well.
When a person lives on a farm they are more aware of the changing seasons. Summer and winter were both unbearable. In winter the snow was a major problem. We had to shovel a path to the barn just to milk the cows. It also made the walk to school a monumental undertaking. On many occasions, the road that ran past the school did not get plowed until two or three days after a big snow storm. Many winters I had no overshoes or boots. After the snow melted, the mud was just as bad.
The cold presented a different problem. After many below zero days, the pump would freeze and we would have to heat water in a kettle and pour it over the pump to thaw it out.
This would make it very difficult to water the chickens and livestock. The walls in the barn were three feet thick but the barn still got extremely cold. Sometimes the frost on the windows was an inch thick. We prepared for winter by piling straw in front of the barn doors. We also kept the hay shoot stuffed with hay to keep the cold from coming down the shoot. By mid-winter very few hogs were still alive. Those that remained would be pent under the straw stack. Even our dogs used the straw pile to bury themselves in for the night.
The house never had running water, therefore, no indoor plumbing. It was a good thing since it would have frozen solid. The house was not insulated and most of the windows did not have storms. To stay warm we would all huddle around the stove in the living room where the radio was located. Before going to bed, the kitchen range was filled with wood but that would burn out before morning. The pot bellied stove in the parlor was usually still burning, probably because my mother got up to check it. My brothers and I slept upstairs where it was extremely cold. We slept under a heavy feather quilt and would run downstairs in the morning to get dressed. Everyone dreaded having to visit the outhouse, it was neither heated nor insulated.
The wood we used in the stoves came from our woods. Since there were no chain saws in those days we used a big two man saw. Gathering wood was done during the winter. This winter’s wood was cut for next winter. When the winter was exceptionally cold we would run out of wood. That meant we would have to get extra logs out of the forest. When we had horses available, we would hitch them to a bobsled and haul the logs out on it. One time when we didn’t have horses, we mounted a big wooden box to a pair of skis and pushed it out to the woods. We were exhausted by the time we got the wood to the barn.
Contrasting the severe winters of the 30's were the hot summers. One hundred degree days were common. Many times we took our mattresses out on the lawn and slept out doors.
Along with the heat came the drought. With all of the sand hills on our farm, the crops really took a beating. When it finally did rain, you could almost watch the corn grow. One year the Milwaukee River almost dried up. The fish came up the creek looking for water that carried more oxygen.
The heat was even harder on the horses. Every piece of farm machinery was horse drawn. Some farmers worked their fields after sundown to avoid the heat for themselves and their team. We raised corn, tomatoes and pickles over the years. Raising tomatoes was a bust. We didn’t even have enough rain that summer to wash the fertilizer into the soil. A farmer is really at the mercy of the weather. It can make or break him.
In this chapter I want to tell you about our colorful neighbor across the road. Grady’s
woods was an excellent place to hunt but it was posted with “No Trespassing” signs. The first time he put up these signs we had a good laugh. We knew that he made the signs himself because many of the words were misspelled. One across from our driveway had a piece broken off, resulting in “No Assing.” Though Mr. Grady never came out in the open, we knew he was in the woods checking to see if we were hunting. We knew when he was around because our dog barked and made a fuss.
Oscar Grady was a bit of a hermit. The only time we ever saw him was when we was walking back and forth from Newburg. He was a mystery to most people in the area. He wanted to keep a low profile because he was the president of the Saukville bank when President Roosevelt closed them during the Depression. The Saukville bank was one that never reopened. Many people lost their life’s savings and held him responsible. Had one of these disgruntled customers decided to do him in, it would have been months before anyone would have found him in his little shack in the woods. He didn’t have a car or even a driveway to his shack. We never even saw a path. To say Mr. Grady was strange is a gross understatement. He met his death on Nov. 15, 1964 while walking on Highway Y between his woods and Newburg.
On one wall of Riveredge Nature Center is an oil painting done by Victor Olson. It depicts the farm as it appeared when we lived there in 1930. By the time we sold the farm there were many changes. My father immediately built a one car garage across from the barn and house. He got the framework from someone who tore down his garage in Milwaukee. New siding was put on it and it was called the “new garage.”
The next improvement was the silo. It was obvious that some new method was needed to feed the cows in winter time if they were expected to produce any milk. A silo builder was contracted and plans were drawn up. There were no cement trucks in those days. The builder borrowed a big horse drawn scoop to extract the sand needed from a hill in our woods. The builder had only one helper, so it took over a month to complete the project.
With all the changes on the place, not one thing was done to the house. My parents never made any attempt to repair the cistern located under the kitchen. We had to carry the water by pail to the house. The kitchen floor had to support a 700 lb. wood burning stove. So several times we had to get into the crawl space to brace up the floor. If you walked across the room the dishes would rattle in the pantry. Eventually some changes were made in the kitchen and the rest of the house. One of seven doors was eliminated and a wall cabinet added. The porch was screened in. An oil stove replaced the wood burning stove in the living room. When electricity reached the farm, electrical appliances were purchased as we could afford them.
Little evidence remains of other buildings which were once on the property. Off the northwest corner of the barn once stood the old granary, it served as a storage area. It was made of logs like those to build the barn. The south side was set on a stone wall but the north side was set on a large log, leaving the west end open. Eventually the logs began to rot, the foundation rotted and the building began to lean. It was replaced with a galvanized steel granary which was erected 25 ft. from the old well. A wooden machinery shed, corn crib, outhouse, pig/poultry pen, and smoke house could also once be found.
The smoke house is where the ham, bacon and sausage were cured. Limbs from the apple tree in the orchard were trimmed for use in the smoking process. Saw dust was used to keep the wood smoldering. The pigs were butchered in winter and the smoking process began as soon as the last casings were filled. Since the attic above the kitchen was not insulated, it was a perfect place to hang the smoked meat. All of the smoked meat was gone before the warm weather arrived.
The area surrounding Riveredge was comprised mainly of dairy farms. Since our farm was not equipped to process the milk, we had to do something with the milk. Whitehouse Milk Company in West Bend picked up our milk daily. The previous owners of the farm shipped the milk there too. To help to preserve the milk in hot weather we used well water for cooling. In the mid 1930's we had the hottest weather of the century. The milk had to be picked up twice a day to prevent spoilage. Sometimes it was picked up as late as 9 PM. Milking cows is no easy chore and it has to be done 365 days a year. That means no vacations unless you can find someone to milk the cows. It also means that the milk truck driver must pick up the milk neither rain nor sleet nor snow. During the winter they had to blaze their way through the snow in the yard. In the spring they had to deal with a quagmire of mud. Swinging the ten gallon milk cans onto a truck was also a challenge. I had trouble handling them when they were empty much less full.
Some milk companies paid more to the farmers for their milk than others. But they were strict and required that the milkhouse to be at least 50 feet away from the barn for sanitary reasons. Specific breeds of cows (such as Guernseys or Jerseys) were preferred by certain dairies too. These cows were considered to have better milk because they had higher butter fat content.
A few farmers in the area sent their milk to the Gridley Dairy (now Bordens) and others sent it to Luick’s (now Sealtest). Some of the more affluent farmers took their milk to the local factories. The Newburg factory only made butter. Waubeka also had a cheese factory.
During the milk strikes, primarily the big companies were targeted. Thankfully the strikes didn’t last long enough to affect us financially. We took our milk to a neighbor to have the cream separated from the milk so my mother could make butter. The churn was just an old stone crock and an old wooden plunger (which my brother made). My sister and I did the plunging. It took forever during the warm weather for the cream to jell. When the weather is colder it congeals faster. After it coagulated, it was put in a cheese cloth bag to drain and squeeze the moisture out. My mother colored the white butter with carrot juice to make it yellow. The only time we were allowed to put butter on our bread was during the strikes.
The means of transportation in the 30's varied quite a bit. My dad had a 1926 Model T Ford sedan when we moved to the farm. About two years later he bought a 1928 Chevrolet sedan. This was a first for him because it had a shift and clutch, and everyone said that they were dangerous and hard to drive. Around the farm we used 1921 Buick open touring car. After we had it a year, the body was cut off from the front seat to the rear, and it was replaced by a box making it into a truck. Buicks were popular cars in the area. At least three of our neighbors owned one. One neighbor had a 1932 Hudson Terriplane coupe that had red idiot lights on the dashboard.
Many local farmers did not have cars when we arrived. Some people car pooled, others took the Interurban. The Interurban was an electric train that ran from Milwaukee to Sheboygan. Still others used horse and buggy or wagon. On occasion we would see a neighbor with his team of horses pulling his Dodge Essex coupe, while his wife was behind the wheel as they tried to start the car in cold weather. Highways 57 and 33 were concrete and were usually in good winter driving condition. On the other hand, Highway Y was loose gravel and was typically covered with ice in winter. My dad, being deathly afraid of driving on ice, always drove slowly and still he ended up in the ditch on the sharp turn at the bridge. Run off from the winter thaw also caused problems. The creek would become a roaring torrent and the Milwaukee River would also rise to the point that overflowed at the bridge at the curve of the road.
There was little in the way of entertainment out on the farm so we had to create our own. My brother Bill was the comedian of the family and the wheels in his head were always turning.
One time he filled a broken flashlight with gravel and placed it on the road. It was funny to see people stop their cars, back up, inspect the flashlight and take off.
People watching was one of our favorite pass times. Any time we would hear someone coming down the road, we would stop what we were doing and watch them until they passed by.
In those days mufflers, on cars were very noisy and each car had a distinctive sound. So we knew in a moment who was going by.
In the winter the road would get a coat of ice over it. We would bring our sleds to school and slide down the road. Going home from school I could almost coast all the way home from the top of St. Finbars’ hill.
There was always music in the house because we brought our player piano with us when we moved to the farm from Milwaukee. The former owners left an upright piano which we didn’t need so we moved it to the porch. The neighbors bought it from us for their four girls for only $10.
When we moved to the farm from Milwaukee in 1929 we brought our radio with us. Unfortunately it ran on electrical current which we didn’t have until 1936. A friend converted it to run on auto batteries. If money was available, we would have the battery charged so we could listen to the radio. Amos and Andy was one of our favorite shows.
Every year the local Volunteer Fire Department would have an annual picnic. The highlight of the day was the fire hose contest. The host Fire Department would challenge a neighboring Department. A wire was strung between two poles and a barrel on wheels ran between the poles. The object was for each side to push the barrel to his opponent’s post. After this was accomplished each team turned the hose on each other. Other activities for kids included bingo, a flea market and penny toss games. In Cedarburg they had weekly stock car races.
Some towns held monthly farmers fairs on Monday mornings. Farmers would bring a variety of animals such as calves, piglets, ducks, or geese to sell. Trucks and trailers would line Main Street and people would go down the street bargaining and socializing. My mother usually took some ducks or goslings to sell but had little success.
Newburg had a baseball team. They played teams from other small towns such as Cascade, Boltonville, Kohler, or Adelle. One young pitcher, named Pokel, from Plymouth was so good that he had a chance to play with the major league. In those days the ball diamond was at the west end of what is now Riveredge. Naturally after the games the players patronized one of Newburg’s seven taverns.
Kewaskum was the closest small town that had outdoor movies in the summer. A man would come to town one night a week and set up his equipment and show old pictures. He would also show slides of the local business sponsors and make announcements between reels.
These free movies were very popular during the depression.
Even though it was hard dirty work, threshing was a time for socializing. Threshers had their own crew that traveled with the machine. It was my mother’s job to feed the hungry crew. Sometimes she got help from a neighbor. She only had a few days notice to slaughter the fatted calf and prepare some of the food in advance. Everyone shared exciting stories and gossip during the meals. I was not allowed to eat with the men, but I would hide in the corner to listen to all of them talk.
The Ziech family owned the Schmidt farm until the early 1950's when Mrs. Ziech sold the property after the death of her husband. The farm was renamed the Sugarline farm by the new owners.
Riveredge was created with the initial purchase of 72 acres along the Milwaukee River which was originally owned by Oscar Grady. The idea for the establishment of a nature center originated with the Whitefish Bay Garden Club in 1965 under the direction of Mrs. Alan Lillie. For years the Center operated out a few unheated buildings and rented office space in Milwaukee.
At 2 AM on February 24, 1975 a fire and explosion destroyed the general purpose building at Riveredge, which served as a classroom, research facility, library, auditorium, and storage building. Amazingly, the owner of the adjoining 10 acre parcel offered to sell Riveredge the property known as the Schmidt (Sugarline) farm at about the same time. By September 1975 Riveredge raised the funds to buy this parcel, which included the 100 year old farmhouse, barn, garage, chicken coop and pond. Before the new Interpretive Building was built in 1990, the barn and farmhouse served as the office and classrooms. The farmhouse was deconstructed in February, 2012. The barn remains on the grounds and continues to be a vital part of day to day operations at Riveredge.