Antigo Fire Department
Official Antigo Fire Dept. Site
Antigo’s first paid fire department began over 100 years ago, but the city’s fire fighting history dates back to the early 1880s. H. A. Kohl organized the first bucket brigade in 1883 and the first hand pump arrived in Antigo in 1885. It was used at a fire at the Herman and Becklinger mill on the same afternoon.
The home of E. P. Bridgman on Second Avenue was the scene of the first residence fire, according to Kohl, who was nearly killed at that fire when a porch gave way and fell on him.
Among Antigo’s earliest non-paid firemen were Gabe Kaplanek, Sr.; Charles Leykem, Lee Waste, W. L. Crocker, Joe Hellner, Gust Stahl, W. B. Johns, Will Berner, John Weix, Peter Weix and Louis Novotny. Crocker, Johns, Kohl, Kaplanek, Frank Sherman, G. O. Pamiter and Warren Hill served as volunteer chiefs during that period.
One of the first acts of the city, when incorporated, was to secure a second hand “steamer” from the city of Appleton. This was used at the Clithero and Strong mill fire for the first time and proved satisfactory.
In 1885 and for a time later, the city did not own a fire team. When an alarm sounded whoever came with a team of horses first would hitch onto the apparatus and preceded to the fire scene. In the absence of a team, the hose cart, engine and truck and ladder were hand pulled to the fire.
The first fire apparatus purchased by the city occurred on June 7, 1885 after the city council, at a special meeting, approved the acquisition of an engine, hose cart, and a hose and hook and ladder truck from Gleason and Bailey. Three days later, Alderman George Clithero introduced a resolution, which passed, instructing the fire department committee to lease a lot on main street near Lewis corner on which to erect an engine house.
On July 7, 1886, the city appropriated $900 for purchasing a fire hose and Louis Novotny was engaged at a $100 per year salary to act as steam fire engine.
In February of 1888, volunteer members of Rescue Hose Company No. 1 resigned and the citizens were called upon to organize a hose, hook and ladder and engine company pursuant to the laws of 1887. The apparatus of the resigned companies was collected by the city marshall with the authority of the city council.
It was not long before Antigo had a new fire unit. On May 6, 1888, a new constitution and bylaws of the Antigo Engine Company were formed and accepted by the city council.
Antigo’s earliest fires involving multiple structures were the A. C.. Clark, W. F. Bowman and Ross Hardware buildings on Oct. 18, 1888; and the H. Boldt Cigar Manufacturing, Ed Clearly, and L. Strasser buildings, Lee Waste and John Ogden Stationary and Antigo Electric Company on Dec. 15, 1891.
Langlade County’s most devastating fires of the 19th century occurred on May 20, 1893 when the entire village of Bryant was destroyed and several buildings in the city of Antigo were leveled by wind-swept flames.
According to the Langlade County Special, an early week newspaper, six blocks on the west side of Superior Street “were swept perfectly clean of all combustible material.” One dwelling and three barns were burned on the east side of the street.
The major losses were the J. H. Weed sawmill, planning mill, board houses and sheds with an estimated value of $30,000 - a considerable sum at that time.
Among other losses were wood, a barn, wagons and sleds owned by D. Clement and the T. H. Ward dwelling and contents.
Other big fires in 1893 included the Allenton Grocery and residence, Jim McKenna’s tin shop, Frank Wanniger’ building and stock, Petzel Millinery, McCormick barber shop, the Jewel Piano and Organ store, the Antigo Manufacturing Company Heating plant, and the Laughlin and Kelly Blacksmith shop in the Neff-Roberts building.
On Dec. 23, 1893, the city council engaged the services of Lon House and his team to draw the hose cart to all nighttime fires. House received $15 per month and feed for the team.
On Aug. 5, 1899, Warren Hill was chosen chief of the fire company, and Anton Boll, assistant chief.
First Paid Fire Department Dates Back Over 100 Years
The first 15 years of the 20th Century saw the formation of Antigo’s first paid fire department and the transition from horse-drawn fire apparatus to motorized equipment.
G. O. Palmiter was the first chief of the paid department and he was followed by Dan Leonard in 1904, a year in which two major fires occurred within two weeks of each other.
On April 21, the Masonic Temple, one of Antigo’s newest buildings, was ruined by fire. Several times firemen were in danger of their lives. Peter Yarie, who was inside the building, came near to being crushed, as part of the roof covering the lodge room fell within two feet of him. The second floor was occupied by the Elks Lodge and doctors offices.
On May 5, the Antigo Electric Light plant was destroyed, putting the city into darkness for one night. Within 15 minutes of discovery by Deputy Marshall Coblenz, practically nothing but ashes remained.
Horse teams were the main focus on fighting fires in the early 1900s. In an Antigo Journal story published on Sept. 25, 1948, Guy rice, then a retired fire chief, recalled the last days of horse drawn fire equipment.
Rice joined the department in 1910 and was assigned the position of a driver under chief Fred Ebert.
He became assistant chief three years later under Elwin Billings, who succeeded Elbert in 1912. When Rice took the driver’s job he drove horses Dick and Colonel. When Colonel went blind and had to be retired, his mate, Dick, was given the job of drawing the hook and ladder wagon alone. Rice helped train Bob and Roy, the next team to pull the horse cart, which weighed 5,250 pounds loaded. After Rice became chief, Chester Hugunin drove Bob and Roy, and there were a number of substitute drivers. When horses were used in the fire department they were stabled back of the equipment. Harnesses were kept attached to the vehicles and the horses always had their bridles and bits on. Some horses learned easily to run out of their stalls and take their places. Others were difficult pupils. Rice remembered Dick and Colonel as the best trained team. Bob and Roy, the last team bought, served regularly for three to four years, until the department got its first truck. The horses were kept in their stalls until a second pumper was purchased, and then transferred to the street department. It was felt necessary to keep some horses in reserve, especially for winter use as streets were not snow plowed until later and motor equipment sometimes bogged down in deep snow or mud.
On Oct. 2, 1911, Antigo’s first fire engine, an American La France steamer, arrived.
The Antigo Journal report read, “The city has a new addition to the fire department. A hansom engine has arrived. It is one of the finest machines of its kind in the state and nowhere in any city the size of Antigo is there a better fire protector."
“The very latest improvements are installed and automatic devices are the main feature of its construction. In a few seconds the machine can be ready for service and simplicity allows anyone to operate it,” the Antigo Journal reported. From that time on, horses were no longer kept in the fire department quarters Occasional use was made of them to haul fire fighting equipment on sleighs during the winter.
Downtown Antigo was hit by one of the city’s most destructive fires on Dec. 15, 1910 when the M. Krom department store near the corner of Fifth Avenue and superior Street was destroyed and two other businesses badly damaged.
The fact that the blaze occurred just 10 days before Christmas and the popular business was heavily stocked for the busy season resulted in a greater loss than normal. The loss of over $100,000 was astronomical at that time.
The Antigo Journal reported that the blaze developed into one of the most difficult to handle that the fire department had yet to deal with.
Although of less magnitude, downtown Antigo experienced two other major fires in 1911.
On April 14, the Grand Café and adjoining building occupied by the Charles Brown jewelry store and Harry Hopkins news stand were destroyed or damaged. The buildings were all property of George W. Hill.
On Oct. 27 the Hotel Butterfield annex, popularly known as the White House, was practically destroyed by flames. The 12-room building was used mainly as a dormitory for servants.
Perhaps the most unusual fire in the department’s history occurred on April 16, 1918 when the clothing of a prisoner in the city jail, located on the bottom floor of the fire station, ignited and firemen were awakened by the smell of smoke. They found the man unconscious and rescued him.
1930s and ‘40s brought rapid changes, some large fires to Antigo
The 1930s and 1940s were a time if rapid changes and some large fires for the Antigo Department.
The former Hirt Flour mill, which was used at the time as a potato storage warehouse by Tony Zeloski, was the target of the first major blaze of that period on Dec. 2, 1930. The loss, estimated at $35,000, included the building, about 20 carloads of potatoes and the household effects of the Zeloski family.
The first alarm was followed by a second that brought the off-duty shift of firemen into service. Ironically, when the alarm was turned in, Fire Chief Guy Rice was at the Home Theater seeing the move “Third Alarm.” He made the transition from fiction to fact in quick time.
The extreme cold hampered the work of the firemen. A fireman on one of the ladders started to fall as the ladder slipped, and as he dropped the hose, part of the crowd got a ducking.
On Nov. 21, 1931, fire believed to have been caused by an accidentally ignited gas leak destroyed the McLellan store in downtown Antigo. The loss exceeded $50,000, including $20,000 in stock.
The fire department received the alarm about 1 a.m. and when firemen arrived, the first floor of the building was a raging furnace.
The families residing in the upper floor flat were rescued by firefighters. The tenants were awakened in their beds by the smoke and were unable to escape down the stairway. A few took enough time to snatch up wearing apparel while others were clad only in their sleeping garments.
Antigo’s next biggest fire occurred on Jan. 30, 1932, when the Hanousek Hotel was destroyed. Firemen battled the blaze for 12 hours in 22 below zero cold. The nine tenants in the building fled, wrapping coats over their night clothes. Fire Chief Rice injured his foot when he stepped on a nail and Adolph Molle, a neighbor, was slightly injured. The Hotel, owned by Mike Barch, was valued at $18,000.
A January 1932 fire also claimed the life of Aaron Robinson, 14, of Elton and burned three other family members.
The city’s most serious fire in 1933 leveled the General Lumber Works, better known as the Worden plant on May 6. The plant, built about 1980 by Lanning and Hogben, was one of the oldest in the city, and because of its infallibility, insurance companies refused to take the risk. The loss was estimated at $40,000.
The year 1933 also marked the resignation of Fire Chief Ernest Frisch, who had worked for 23 years. Assistant Chief Ben Joyce was appointed acting chief and Leonard Lindsay was hired as a new fireman.
Antigo’s only fire in 1934 that caused extensive damage occurred on March 24. Fire in the basement of the Rasmussen building heavily damaged the William Pharmacy and the office of Dr. A. A. Lueck. Smoke also damaged stock in the Teske Clothing store.
The machinery department, the assembly unit and a storehouse, owned by the Elco Corporation of Elcho, were completely destroyed by fire on March 9, 1936. The blaze put 70 men out of work and the loss was estimated at between $100,000 and $200,000.
About six weeks later, on April 23, fire struck the Merritt Olk Drug Store, located about 200 feet from the fire station. Heavy damage was done to the neon sign shop in the basement, where the fire started. There was also smoke and water damage to the Home Loan Company and the McCormick barber shop. The loss was figured at $20,000.
On, May 16, 1937 the Township Garage Hall, located eight miles southeast of Antigo burned to the ground.
An Antigo landmark succumbed to flames on Feb. 27, 1938. Fire destroyed the Suick tavern, one of the oldest buildings in the city’s business district. “So rapidly did the fire spread that firemen saw that it was impossible to save the building and concentrated their efforts on preventing the spread of flames to the Montgomery Ward store on the east and the Alois Bina barber shop on the west,” the Antigo Journal reported. About all that was recovered from the Suick tavern was the cash register and a considerable amount of money that was hidden away.
Antigo’s second major fire of 1938 occurred on June 12 when fire gutted a warehouse owned by the Antigo Flour and Feed Company, located at the rear of the McCandless and Ladwig store on Fifth Avenue.
Perhaps the most famous piece of equipment ever purchased by the Antigo fire department was a new Clintonville Four Wheel Driver pumper in 1938, which firemen later affectionately named “Big Bertha.”
The Common Council approved purchase of the truck for $8,000. The vehicle was powered by a 110 horsepower, six cylinder engine and as equipped with a 500-gallon rotary pump, 55-foot and 35-foot extension ladders. The unit weighed 15,5000 pounds.
The 1940’s opened on a tragic note when fire at Smetana’s hall in Neva on April 22, 1940 claimed the life of George Honzik, 44. Although fireman managed to rescue him from the blazing building, Honzik died of smoke inhalation before he reached Memorial Hospital. He was unconscious when Fire Chief Ben Joyce and Fireman John Reiland dragged his limp body from the second story bedroom of the dance hall and tavern, which was rapidly being eaten away by flames. Ray Bunda rushed Honzik to the hospital.
On Feb. 28, 1942, fire at the Arcade Bowling Alleys on Clermont Street ignited a barrel of shellac, causing an explosion. The blast blew out a heavy bolted door at the rear of the building and large bay window at the front of the bar.The eight alleys were damaged beyond repair, idling 12 leagues involving 70 teams. The loss was estimated at $40,0000. The explosion and fire drew scores of spectators, among them dozens of Antigo bowlers lamenting the loss of privately owned bowling balls and shoes, stored in lockers and doused with heavy streams of water.
An auxiliary fireman’s unit was formed in 1942, the first full year that the United States was involved in World War II. The unit, part of the Citizens Defense Corps, was headed by Chief Joyce. In September, 12 men who qualified as auxiliary fireman received arm bands. They included Archie Fowler, Orah Dudley, Ray Laehn, Clarence McCandless, Edger Jones, Lee Hutchins, Royal Ralph, Ray Clifford, Rudy Wield, Water Smith, Charles Kestley and George Dresley. Another 18 men were expected to join the force after completing their Red Cross first aid course. Joyce retired as fire chief on Jan. 1, 1943 and Frank Janousek was named his successor. Joyce had been with the department for 22 years. Leonard Lindsay was appointed assistant chief for the nine-man department.
Antigo most serious fire of 1943 occurred just days before the year ended. On Dec 22, fire gutted the Lloyd’s Music store in the Guile building on superior street. Lloyd’s Music store suffered a heavy loss of its stock, while the Guille paint store sustained extensive water damage. Tenants of the second floor apartments who took refuge at the homes of friends included Mrs. Bert Lindsay, Mrs. Fern Van Calligan, Mrs. Julia Fenn, Mrs. Bess Ings, Mrs. Fred Sargent, and daughter Catherine, and Mrs. Charles McCandless. Some had been ill and had to leave in six below temperature.
St. Mary Church in Antigo sustained considerable damage on June 19, 1944 when fire burned a large hole in the floor north of the altar. The blaze was discovered by A. F. Schulz, the custodian. There was heavy smoke damage to the interior of the church.
The Antigo fire department underwent a major change in 1946 with the addition of three firemen and implementation of a two-platoon system. The new firemen were Clinton Remington, formerly employed by the Antigo Dairy Company, Raymond Kirsch and Robert Ruf, both ex-servicemen. Two of the men were employed to bring the force to a two-platoon strength and the third was taken on as a replacement for Kermit Swoboda, who left the department.
On May 1, 1946, fire destroyed a two-family home at 739 Superior St. but the occupants escaped injury. The dwelling was owned by L. P. Tradewell.
The Lyle Otis fur farm, located three miles south of Antigo sustained heavy damage to a new workroom and storehouse on Sept. 15, 1946. One of the heaviest losses was a meat grinding machine.
Two fire related fatalities occurred on Oct. 19, 1946. Fred Allikus, 31, was killed when fire destroyed his shack in the town of Vilas and Mrs. Chester Wilson, 51, of Aniwa was fatally burned when a heater in her home exploded.
Lamont Eckman and Tom Rolo suffered burns and cuts in an explosion at the City Service on Dec. 9, 1946. The blast lifted the roof and blew out the front doors.
Casimer Pawlet and Vern Fraley received first and second degree burns to their faces and arms on June 27, 1947 when a boiler they were firing at the Vulcan Corporation plant backfired.
Two large barns near Antigo were destroyed by fires within two days in late August of 1947 after they were struck by lightning. Leveled were barns owned by Ray Thompson, located two miles west of Antigo, and George Peasly, located three miles west of Phlox. Another barn, owned by Peter Fraley and rented by Jack Doucette, two miles northeast of Antigo, was burned on Sept. 10.
Dec. 4, 1947 was a tragic day as Donald Whitt, 23, his wife, Vilot, 26, and their 18-month old daughter, Karen, died in a fire at their home near Elton.
The Harold Boettcher building at 605-606 Fifth Ave. was extensively damaged by fire on Dec. 22.
A dramatic rescue by a six -year old girl made the big fire news in 1948.
This was the Oct. 20 report in the Antigo Journal:
“A little six-year old girl’s quick thinking and heroism were given credit for the saving of the lives of her four year-old brother and two-year old sister when fire swept the farm home of James Breitenfeldt, three miles southwest of Antigo.
The smoke and flames were already coming through the partition around the chimney when little Virginia Breitenfeldt, six years old, awakened while her mother and father were in the barn milking cows.
Virginia hurried her brother, Roger, downstairs and sent him off to call their parents. Then she went back upstairs and carried her little sister, Victoria, to safety in the back yard lawn just as her parents came upon the scene.
Firemen from the Antigo fire department were able to extinguish the fire after it had destroyed the whole upper story. Thinking nothing of her heroism, Virginia hurried off to her first grade classes in the nearby Fernwood School just before the bell started ringing to call the pupils.”
Early in the year, on Jan. 12, Julius Jilek, a town of Antigo farmer, was seriously injured when his barn was destroyed by fire. An addition, feed and grain were also lost.
On May 19, the Felix Zeloski warehouse at First Avenue and Edison Street was destroyed, together with a car and machinery.
The year also saw the retirement of Fire Chief Frank Janousek, a 24-year veteran of the department, and the appointment of Leonard Lindsay as his successor.
Fire fighting was not the only skill exhibited by Antigo firemen in 1948. Under the direction of Chief Lindsay, his force completely remodeled and redecorated the department. The carpentry and painting, as well as numerous other tasks, were almost entirely done by the firemen themselves. Besides redecorating and refinishing the entire department many other improvements were made. The plumbing, heating and lighting fixtures were modernized, telephone service was extended to all parts of the building and equipment racks and benches were built. The new kitchen included a new stove, built-in sink, recessed refrigerator and custom built cupboards. The extensive project also featured a lounge for firemen to relax.(Taken from Vern Cahak’s “A 20th century Saga of Progress.)
CANNING COMPANY FIRE IN 1955 WAS AMONG THE COSTLIEST
Antigo’s costliest fire since the era of several sawmill fires of the 1920s and 30s occurred on April 7, 1955.
A quarter million dollar fire destroyed a warehouse containing 50,000 cases of canned peas and beans at the Shawano Canning Company plant on South Dorr Street. The conflagration was touched off when company employees attempted to burn off dried grass and vegetation south of the building with a controlled fire. But that fire got out of hand and spread to a warehouse building, one of a half dozen canning company structures. The warehouse was filled to the top with canned vegetables. Two firemen narrowly escaped injury when the south wall of the warehouse collapsed amid explosions of gallon cans of peas. The exploding cans, which sounded like small bombs, shot into the air as high as 100 feet, and some exploded with such force that bits of tin were blown out of doors and windows.
The year 1955 also saw a change in fire department leadership. Leonard Lindsay, a 22-year veteran of the force and chief since 1948, retired and Assistant Chief John Rieland was promoted to chief on May 4.
Downtown Antigo was hit by a major fire on Oct. 12, 1956 when Glowen’s department store at the corner of Fifth Avenue and Superior Street sustained about $100,000 damage. For a time, the blaze threatened the main business section of Antigo. The flames broke out in the extreme eastern end of the building and spread into a center stairway leading to the second floor.
On July 25, 1957, fire did considerable damage to the former Oldsmobile garage on Superior Street when a spark from an acetylene torch ignited inflammable products in the repair shop of the building.
A fire related fatality occurred in Antigo on Dec. 22, 1958. Henry Terris, 33, of Mercer, who was employed as a tree surgeon, died of suffocation as a fire smoldered in the apartment he rented at 1006 Clermont St. The Antigo Journal reported that the apparently fell asleep on a sofa while smoking. Eight persons were routed from the seven-apartment dwelling when smoke was discovered by Mrs. Emmett Belott, the owner.
In April of 1959, the Antigo Fire Department received a new $22,5000 fire truck from the Howe Fire Apparatus Company of Anderson, Ind. The new unit, which replaced a 1941 Chevrolet vehicle, was a custom built Howe Defender triple combination fire truck with a 300 horse-power engine and a centrificial two stage pump.
One of the most dramatic rescues in Antigo fire department history was recorded on Dec. 22, 1959. Local firemen saved two young children who were trapped in a second story bedroom while the parents and another child escaped through a window leading to a porch roof. The near tragedy struck the family of William Pries, who lived in a large 11-room dwelling at 511 Hudson St. All members of the family suffered burns but survived for the Christmas holiday. Firemen who aided in the rescue, and extinguished the flames, in addition to May and Poss, were Fire Chief John Rieland, and firemen Pat Hunter, Ray Kirsch, Eugene “Butch” Kolz and Bud Tyrrell.
Another fire involving burns to a person happened on June 15, 1961. Six-year old Ray Fleischman, son Mrs. And Mrs. Phillip Fleischman, was seriously burned when straw ignited in a hayloft of a barn where he was playing with a companion. The fire occurred in a combination barn and garage at the Stanley Preboski residence at 1511 Beattie Ave.
On Nov. 28, 1961, Mrs. Bernard Beattie and her two young sons, Curtis, 5, and Steve, 1, escaped from their burning home at 509 Fulton St.
In what the Antigo Journal described as one of the worst fire in Langlade County history, a large potato warehouse owned by Lonnie Powell was destroyed on March 2, 1962. Loss of building and contents was estimated at $200,000.
Harper’s Club, a mile north of Antigo, a popular dining and entertainment facility, burned to the ground on Dec. 26, 1962.
No serious fires occurred in the city of Antigo in 1963 but three farm buildings and a popular dance hall in rural areas were destroyed.
On April 15, 1964 fire gutted the Salvage Warehouse building at Weed Street and 10th Avenue. A young married couple who resided in a second floor apartment barely escaped from the burning building. Clarence Shannon and his wife fled the apartment while the stairs were burning. Neither was injured but Mrs. Shannon’s hair was singed. Two Antigo firemen received minor injuries while fighting the blaze. Leslie Tyrrell suffered a cut on the left hand by glass from a falling window and Robert Ruf was momentarily blinded by falling plaster. The warehouse was owned by G.S. Vassau and the contents were owned by the Antigo Finance Corporation, which rented the structure.
A combination barn and two-car garage on the Ehrich Gresch property on East 10th Avenue were destroyed by fire after being struck by lighting on July 6, 1964.
A young Antigo couple suffered fatal burns after an explosion in their north side Antigo home on July 21, 1964. The victims were William Piekarski and his wife, Patricia, both in the mid-20s. Erwin Forbes, who operated a grocery store across the street from the Piekarski home, told firemen he heard the explosion and saw the couple running from the home. Mrs. Piekarski’s clothes were aflame and Forbes put out the flames with his hands and suffered burns to them.
Three days later, the Antigo Senior High School was badly damaged by fire, which broke out in a chemistry storage room on the third floor.
The Antigo fire department was called to the blaze by a young boy, Robert Seis, who lived across the street from the school at 324 Edison St. The building housing the distribution and service operation headquarters of the Master Gas company, one of Antigo’s oldest buildings, was destroyed by fire on Jan. 9, 1965. The loss was estimated at between $30,000 and $50,000.
On June 30, 1965, fire destroyed the Kretz Lumber Company, Inc. about five miles southwest of Antigo in the town of Rolling. The loss, including several pieces of expensive equipment, was estimated by the owners at approximately $150,000.
Arson was suspected in a fire that destroyed a mobile office and tool building owned by the Langlade County Highway Department.
On Dec. 7, 1965, fire caused extensive damage to the Zelazoski Wood Products plant at 103 Edison St. but quick action by the Antigo Fire Department prevented total destruction of the buildings. Machines had just been shut off and employees were beginning to have lunch when they notice smoke.
Antigo’s 1966 fire loss was one of the lowest on record, amounting to only $14,665.
The biggest fires that year caused extensive damage to the Glen Rison potato warehouse on Wynnwood Avenue March 16 and to the Blackjack Steak House at the south city limits two months later.
One of the worst fires in Antigo in many years involved a quarter-block area in the 700 block of Fifth Avenue on February 22, 1967. The downtown blaze destroyed the Kingsbury Photo Shop, caused extensive damage to the adjoining Production Credit Association Office, and smoke damage to several businesses in the area. The fire threatened an entire city block for a short time but quick work by Antigo firemen prevented the blaze from spreading. All 16 men in the department and Fire Chief Joe Sterc fought the fire for several hours. All of the contents of the Kingsbury shop were destroyed and the interior of the building was burned beyond repair. Businesses receiving heavy smoke damage included the offices of Dr. A. M. Kjome, the Melgaard-Reinert Insurance Agency office, and the Trio Beauty shop to the west; and the Gruber Hardware store, Langlade Abstract Company and Bill’ Barber Shop to the east and south. The costly blaze accounted for 82 percent of Antigo’s 1967 fire loss, totaling over $48,000 to buildings and contents.
Fire believed caused by lightning destroyed a large barn and contents owned by Tony Spychalla on June 12, 1967. The barn was located three miles northeast of Antigo and the loss included farm machinery and potato sacks.
A souvenir set of steer horns used as a wall decoration probably saved an Antigo family of seven on Oct. 22, 1967. Dale Mork of 180 10th Ave. was awakened when the horns fell to the floor. Mork noticed that the house was filled with smoke. He called his wife and she led their five children, ages two to 11, out of the house while he tried to put out the fire with an extinguisher.
The first major fire of 1968 in the Antigo area occurred on Feb. 16 when a large combination tire and potato storage building owned by Clarence Miller was destroyed the structure was located for miles northeast of Antigo on Cherry road. The loss included 3,000 automobile and truck tires owned by Miller and stored in the upper portion of the building, tire retreading equipment and a large supply of potatoes and grading equipment owned by Ted Baginski and Tony Spychalla.
What began as a quiet Good Friday afternoon on April 13, 1968 ended with a serious fire that caused approximately $100,000 damage. On that day, fire destroyed the Guenthner potato warehouse and office on North Edison Street and the unused industrial structure formerly occupied by Roggie’s, Inc. The fire threatened to burn several business laces and industrial buildings north of Antigo and could have engulfed the entire northern section of the city if the direction of the wind had changed. Within minutes after the fire department received the call at 1:55 p.m., hundreds of spectators flocked to the scene and an estimated 1,000 people were in the area at the height of the blaze.
The greatest loss occurred at the Joseph Guenthner potato warehouse. Between $40,000 and $50,000 worth of potato grading equipment were destroyed in the warehouse.
Another in a series of fires at the Zelazoski Wood Product plant at 103 Edison St. occurred on Aug. 29, 1968 when a sawdust building burned but through the efforts of the Antigo fire
The city of Antigo attained the distinction of owning the first orange colored fire truck in Wisconsin. The new $43,000 Ford-Howe convention aerial and pumped truck arrived in Antigo on Sept. 24, 1968. It was assembled in Vinton, Va. and replaced “Big Bertha”, the 1938 Four-Wheel Drive unit that had served the city for 30 years.
Disaster was averted on Dec. 14, 1968 when five children escaped from the home of Mrs. Betty Stevens at 223 South Clermont St. after a fire started.
Only three fires made significant news interest in 1969.
The Polar sawmill was destroyed by flames on March 17.
The most dramatic blaze occurred May 22, a day that Mr. and Mrs. Robert Pavek and eight of their nine children narrowly escaped death when fire destroyed their ranch style home in the town of Polar. Mrs. Pavek was awakened when she smelled smoke about 4 a.m. and she woke her husband. The parents entered the bedrooms of their sleeping children and led them from the smoke-filled dwelling. A ninth Pavek child spent the night at the home of a neighbor.
On June 12, 1969, a potato warehouse on the Frank Wachal farm a mile east of Antigo on County Highway F was destroyed by fire.
MODERN ERA INCLUDES NEW CHIEF, CHANGES IN QUARTERS
The three decades that concluded the 20th century were a time of great change for the Antigo fire department, including a move to a new facility.
Antigo’s most destructive fire of 1970 ruined the interior of the Club 77 bar and restaurant, a popular night spot located at 523 Superior St.
On Oct. 21, 1970, fire caused extensive damage to a double mobile building owned by the Antigo Unified School District and located 20 feet south of the junior high school.
On May 30, 1972, Dewey Naconish was critically burned when fire gutted his apartment at 1023 Fifth Ave. He died several days later and his death marred an otherwise excellent fire department record for the year as city fires caused only $10,467 in damages.
An incident that caused Antigo firefighters a big headache occurred during January and February of 1974. Huge piles of bark outside the Wisconsin Forest Products Plant at the north city limits resulted in a smoke pollution that lasted for several weeks after the bark ignited from spontaneous combustion. That was just a start of bad luck for the company. On March 11, fire swept through a portion of the plants and damage estimates ran as high as $400,000.
The Antigo area experienced a rash of high property damage fires early in 1975.
Within a four-day span late in January, four costly fires were recorded.
The worst, on Jan. 24, swept a dairy barn complex at the Ron Markgraf farm in the town of Norwood. The loss included between 50 and 60 head of markgraf’s best dairy stock, 25 pigs, 5,000 bales of hay, bulk milk coolers, a milk parlor and hay elevators.
The Leo Starzinski family narrowly escaped from the burning home at 120 South Hudson St. One of the children was awakened by smoke and the father led the family to safety in night clothes. Other homes destroyed during the short period were those of Dell Hess near Star Neva and Mr. and Mrs. Allen Benes in the town of Polar.
Fires later in 1975 caused extensive damage to the Polar Manufacturing Company and leveled Brown’s body shop near Antigo.
The year 1976 marked the end of a 27-year old policy of sending on-duty city of Antigo firemen to rural fires under a ruling by Mayor Francis Jones. The stormy issue eventually resulted in formation of the Langlade County Rural Fire Control and later the creation individual township fire departments.
One of the greatest property-destructions fires in the city’s history occurred on Nov. 30, 1976 when Nicolet Motors and the Antigo Plumbing and Heating buildings in the 600 block of Edison Street burned. The fire apparently started in the paint shop of the Ford automobile dealership and the flames spread quickly. While firemen had to travel only one block to the scene, the blaze had spread to the main garage portion of the building and was out of control when they arrived.
On the same night, greenhouses operated by Hickey Floral at 123 South Virginia St. received serious damage and numerous plants inside were destroyed.
Just a week later, on Dec. 7, a smoky and hot fire roared through the recap plant of the Miller Tire Company of Antigo, located at the end of North Edison Street.
Another 1976 fire caused non serious facial burns to Antigo firefighter Dave Below as he was battling a blaze in a pollution device at the Vulcan Corporation plant. Below was injured when sawdust shot from an open vent into his face while he was climbing a ladder.
On April 2, l977, a Chicago and Northwestern Railway storage building located just north of the corner Third Avenue and Dorr Street burned to the ground. The building contained expensive track maintenance equipment and a large number of tools and supplies. Railway officials estimated the loss at $40,000.
Antigo recorded its first fire related fatality in more than five years on Dec. 21, 1977. Donald Janasak, 58, died of apartment smoke inhalation after fire broke out in his home at 230 North Ave.
A business near the north city limits of Antigo, which was destroyed by fire in 1950 but was rebuilt, fell victim to another fire on March 17, 1978. The early morning fire raced through the interior of the Bird of Paradise Supper Club, extensively damaging the night spot.
Arson was blamed for a fire on Nov. 20, 1978 that gutted the first grade classroom at West Elementary School in Antigo. A 19-year old Antigo man was arrested the day after the blaze and prosecuted.
Antigo’s first major fire of 1979 occurred on Jan. 16 when one of two Antigo Housing Authority apartment buildings under construction in the 1000 block of First Avenue caught fire. Three apartments in the building that ignited were extensively damaged.
On March 29, 1979 Leonard Osness was elevated to Antigo fire chief, replacing the retiring Joe Sterc.
A bizarre set of circumstances let to fire damage of a downtown Antigo business and injuries to a firefighter on Sept. 7, 1979. An apartment in the upper level of the Hill Building at 836 Fifth Ave. was burned out and other apartments damaged by water and smoke. Authorities said the fire, which started in an apartment, was intentionally set when a visitor ignited a mattress.
The last costly fire of 1979 happened Dec. 4 at the Krause Auto Part garage at 620 North Ave. Several customers-owned automobiles, machinery, shop and warehouse buildings and a priceless assortment of antiques and vintage auto parts were destroyed.
Antigo experienced just one huge fire in 1980, which destroyed one of downtown’s oldest business structure. The fire gutted a brick building and wiped out three businesses—Slumberland Waterbeds, the Auner Insurance Agency and the Trio Beauty Shopp at 707 Fifth Ave., and the Kingsbury Photo, at 705 Fifth Ave. was seriously damaged by smoke.
Fire which started in the state area of the Antigo High School gymnasium caused extensive damage to the stage and smoke damage to the gym and cafeteria on June 6. The high school fire contributed to 73 percent of Antigo’s 1981 total fire loss of $131,713/
On April 19, 1982 seven-year old David Pudruski, died in a fire at the Legion Bar in White Lake. His mother, Sheryl, 28, and brother Jeremy, eight, suffered burns and were hospitalized.
A powerful explosion devastated the Joseph Becerra home on River Road northwest of Antigo but no one was home at the time of the June 17 blast.
Otto Marten, 75, died on Dec. 28, 1983 when fire destroyed his mobile home at Elcho.
When Leonard Osness retired at chief of the Antigo fire department on Jan. 15, 1984, one of the longest careers by an Antigo city employee ended. James Hubatch, a 23-year veteran of the force, became the new chief on March 6.
Antigo’s worst property damage fire in 1984 destroyed the Ed and Kay Hill home at 1335 Western Avenue on Feb. 6.
A dramatic rescue of a small child from a burning Antigo home on Oct 1 was the year’s good news. Hubatch was one of the two firefighters who helped save one-year old Linnie Brown, after heat and smoke drove her babysitter, Brenda Koeller, from an upstairs apartment at the corner of Fifth Avenue and Lincoln Street.
Two huge commercial fires in Antigo and a triple fire fatality near Aniwa occurred in 1985. On Jan. 22, fire destroyed the Merit Gear heating plant with an estimated loss of between $400,000 and $500,000. A potentially fatal fire in Antigo on July 18, 1985 had a good ending. Three people climbed down a ladder to escape a smoky fire that damaged Leffel’s Supper Club on Antigo south side. On Aug. 17, 1985, the headquarters of one of Antigo’s pioneer family businesses burned in an explosive fire. The offices of the Trade-Well Company, a firm dating back to near the turn of the century, was destroyed in a fire that was reported about 1 a.m.
The year 1986 passed without a major fire but early in 1987 a house fire near Antigo claimed the life of Margaret Meyer, 55. On Jan. 24, her home a mile northeast of Antigo on Highway 64, ignited and town of Antigo firemen, who battled the blaze in 20 degree below zero temperatures, were unable to save her.
One June 29, 1989, a costly and stubborn fire destroyed a portion of a warehouse complex and resulted in minor injuries to two Antigo firefighters. The fire broke out in an Antigo Potato Growers warehouse at 519 Seventh Ave. where the Volm Bag Company had a large inventory of burlap, paper and plastic bags used for packaging agricultural products. About two weeks after the fire, a 12-year old boy who authorities said started the blaze was referred to Langlade County Juvenile Court for arson.
The Wagon Wheel Supper Club near Kempster, owned and operated by Dave and Sue Steger, was destroyed by fire on Dec. 10, 1989.
One of the major buildings in Antigo’s industrial park fell victim to fire on July 23, 1991. A blaze in the Djnos facility in the 900 block of Bridge Street destroyed most of the structure built originally by the Wisconsin Bridge and Iron Company.
On Oct. 7, 1991, Allyn Swayze became Antigo’s first fire chief who was not within the ranks of the department. All 12 other fire chiefs had served with the department for a number of years before becoming chief. Swayze replaced the retiring James Hubatch.
Three persons suffered minor burns on Jan. 18, 1992 in a fire at the Dean Snodgrass home at Tenth Avenue and Fred Street. They included firefighters Bob Donohue and Tom Benishek, and the home’s owner.
On Jan. 27, 1992, a tragic house fire claimed the lives of two children—Michelle “Missy” Craig, 11, and her brother Gerald Nehls, four Chris Case, their stepfather, was badly burned but recovered. In addition to the two youngsters who died, Yolanda Niaves, 13 and Manuel Niaves, 15, were in the house when the fire started and escaped out an upstairs window. Their mother, Cheryl Case, was working in Mattoon.
The year 1992 also marked one of the most controversial issues involving the Antigo fire department—the purchase of a $350,000 automated ladder truck. The huge unit made its first major fire run to the Edge of Night Motel at 1235 South Superior St. on Sept. 16, 1992 when lightning struck the lodging facility and started a fire.
No major fires occurred within the city of Antigo during 1993 but there were several serious blazes in the area.
On Jan. 25, fire destroyed the Glas-Tek factory, located near County Highway C and V north of Antigo.
The Walleye Lodge, a Langlade County landmark located on the shores of Rollingstone Lake, was burned on Feb. 15.
On March 24, 1993 Eunice Thomas, 68, died in a fire at her town of Neva Home, near the intersection of County Highways B and C.
After less than 20 months on the job, Swayze, resigned as Antigo fire chief on June 1, 1993, marking the shortest tenure for the position. Veteran fire fighter Jack Grabowsky was named interim chief and served in that capacity for about five months until Leonard Vander Wyst of Appleton became the new chief in October.
It was the day after Christmas in 1993 that Dennis Michels escaped serious injury in an explosion that wrecked his family’s workshop on East Tenth Avenue.
The area’s first big fire of 1994 occurred just three days into the new year when a blaze broke out in the display area of Mills Fleet Farm store on Antigo’s north side.
One of Antigo’s longest-fought, most dramatic and least visible fires happened at the Vulcan-Brunswick Bowling Pin Company plant on Edison Street. The stubborn blaze in a sawdust silo was discovered at 12:22 a.m. on April 15 after an explosion rocked one of the storage silos and continued until the evening of April 17. While there were no injuries, it was a frustrating fire to fight and the plant had to be closed to 140 employees for several days.
On Aug. 1994, fire swept through the Parkway Container Service warehouse and recycling center on Deleglise Street.
A Potential fatality was averted on Dec. 10, 1994 when Greg Listle escaped through a second story window from his burning home on Maple Road just south of Antigo.
After being housed in the old city hall building on Clermont Street for nearly the entire 20th century, the Antigo fire department made the move in 1995 to its new spacious quarters less than two blocks away on Edison Street.
On Feb. 20, firemen left their ancient environment, slept in private rooms, and enjoyed a comfortable home-like setting.
One man was injured and an auto body shop destroyed in an early morning fire on April 22, 1995. Jerry’s Auto Body at 1118 Elm St. was burned to the ground and an unidentified man working inside the building suffered fire related injuries. He was taken to Langlade Memorial Hospital by ambulance.
Vander Wyst became Antigo’s second short-term fire chief as he resigned on April 25, 1996 after two and one-half years in the position.
After a summer-long search to replace Vander Wyst, during which time Dennis Pizl was acting chief, Tim Kluck was hired as the city’s 16th chief, arriving in October of 1996. Kluck had served as deputy for the Marshfield fire department.
On March 21, 1997, the fire department made quick work of a fire in a sawdust silo at the Vulcan-Brunswick complex. Lluck said lessons were learned since the last fire at the plant as Vulcan-Brunswick made improvements in its system that helped bring the situation under control.
Two months later, fire damaged a portion of another city industry—Wetterau Wood Product Company, located in the industrial park.
Heroic measures were credited with saving the lives of five men who escaped after a fast-moving blaze left their Fourth Avenue apartment building in ruins on Jan. 12, 1998. Fire Chief Tim Kluck said that the only thing that saved the tenants was that they were awakened by the quick actions of the Antigo police department.
The Antigo fire department’s latest fire truck arrived at the station in May of 1998. The city ordered a $282,000 engine from Pierce Manufacturing of Appleton, winning the contract as low bidder. Features of the new engine include its ability to stand alone at a scene. It is equipped with its own Jaws of Life for extrication purposes. The engine also has a pumping capacity of 1,500 gallons per minute, twice the rate of the 1981 Grumann engine it replaced. In addition, it has the capacity to use foam, rather than straight water at fire scenes, aiding suppression efforts at flammable liquid and vehicles fires.
RETIRED CHIEF SAYS CONGRATULATIONS, REMEMBERS SERVICE
By JIM HUBATCH
Congratulations and Happy 100th Anniversary to the Antigo Fire Department.
My name is Jim Hubatch and I live on County Road G south of Antigo. I had a 31 year career as a firefighter for the City of Antigo. It all began in August of 1960 when Fire Chief Joe Sterc advertised for a fireman (that is what we were called in the 1960s) and hired me. I did on-the-job training and learned the various ways to lay hose, fight fires, drive the hook and ladder truck, inspect structures and all other aspects of the fire service. Each fire I fought added to my skill and knowledge of firefighting. We worked in crews of seven and worked 24 hour shifts. As firemen, we were a close knit family. Memories abound from those years.
In the 1960-1970s, we fought everything from leaf fires in the City of Antigo to barn and house fires as far away as Polar. We fought fires in sub-zero weather as well as in 90 plus degree weather. We froze our hands many times and suffered frostbite to our exposed skin. We experienced heat exhaustion. It was all part of the job being a fireman. No one complained.
I remember one week in 1975 when the fire phone rang constantly. We no more got back from one fire and another was reported. It was Fall and leaf fires were on the rampage. Five calls came one day, 10 the next, then 12 the next, 16 the next and 22 the next. Finally, the rains came and things quieted down….for awhile. The firemen could catch up on their rest!
On March 6, 1984, I was promoted to Fire Chief of the City of Antigo Fire Department. I had begun as Fireman, progressed to Lieutenant then Captain and now Fire Chief. It was a challenging beginning. I continued in that position until my retirement in July of 1991. It was a rewarding, fulfilling and enjoyable career.
The book “Antigo Fire Department – A 20th Century Saga of Progress” written by Vern Cahak covers the history of the Fire Department very well and is a valuable part of our genealogy and heritage. I am proud to be the firefighter carrying the child to safety as pictured on the cover of the publication. I retrieved the child after one of the other firefighters, wearing an air pack, snatched her from a room in a burning house. This was truly team work.
On the lighter side are the many practical jokes the men played on each other to keep life at the Department interesting. You must remember that these men lived, ate and slept together for 24 hour periods at a time. In the old Fire Department which was housed in the City Hall Building, the living quarters were in the basement and the sleeping quarters were on the top floor. There were enough bunks for one shift of men; the next shift slept in the same bunks as the previous shift. The sheets were changed once a week. We even made use of the bronze fire pole – it was quicker than the steep winding stair.
One time Bud and Clint were arguing about Bud gaining weight and placed a bet. Clint, who was smaller than Bud, changed the pants on the hook. Not knowing that this change took place, Bud spent the rest of the day trying to get into a too small pair of pants and lost the bet.
Another day, Tom was painting the department walls. Bud’s shoes were in the way and Tom simply painted over the shoes. You guessed right, they were a beautiful shade of green.
Each Spring, the time on the clock at the top of City Hall had to be changed. This was the job of the firefighters. Many were the times that I was elected to climb that ladder. Six-foot three-inches and 200 plus pounds at the top of City Hall – what a sight!
All the Fire Department kids and grand kids remember visiting their Dads and Grandpas at the Station. A special treat was sitting in the truck and ringing the sirens. Sliding down the brass pole was a thrill. It was a special time when allowed to stand in the firefighters big boots.
We all knew that it was a good thing that he wasn’t napping at the time!
Those are all good memories and ones that we share time and again with each other. The City of Antigo retired firefighters meet once each month for coffee and good conversation. We are a true family of firefighters.
PICKEREL DEPARTMENT REMAINS INDEPENDENT OPERATIONBy Roland McBain
The Pickerel Volunteer Fire Department is unique in that it is one of very few independent fire departments in operation. As such it is not operated by a township or other governmental entity. In 1948 it was decided by a number of Pickerel residents that ringing the party line and running with buckets was not the way to provide fire protection to the Pickerel area. The first fire chief was Harry Wittaker and among others in the first department were Warde Tyra, Paul Braun and Harold Voras. The first “pumper” was a pickup truck with an old fuel oil tank for water and a portable pump.
In warm weather, if the fire was along the lake shore, the pump supplied the water. In winter, a hole was drilled in the ice. The first real piece of fire equipment was a vintage pumper brought up form Crystal Lake, Ill., by Arnold Gumprect, a resident of Crane Lake.
Over the years the department has grown steadily, with growth in both manpower and equipment. The department presently has two pumpers. The latest was a gift from Abbott Laboratories of North Chicago. The pumper, in perfect condition and equipped with foam capability was first given to Boy Scout Camp Ma Ka Ja Wan at Pearson, which in turn presented it to the Pickerel Department. There is also a water tanker, a first-attack vehicle, an equipment van and a new state-of-the-art ambulance.
Last year the department constructed a new building on Highway 55 for offices and to house the ambulance, a pumper and the equipment van. The remainder of the vehicles are housed in the town of Nashville garage on Highway DD. This space is rented from the town of Nashville. The fire department serves the lower half of Nashville, Ainsworth and has a mutual aid agreement with the town of Langlade. Ambulance service is provided to the towns of Nashville, Ainsworth and Langlade. The present fire chief is Rob Aderholdt and the president of the department is Rob Braun. Chief of the rescue squad is Mary Guenther.
TOWN OF LANGLADE FIRE UNIT HAS LONG HISTORY, TOO
The town of Langlade Volunteer Fire Department has been around for a long time – 62 years this year.
The department, which serves a large area of far eastern Langlade County, is based in relatively new quarters in Lily sharing, like many departments, quarters with the town government.
The department has had a slate of only seven chiefs in the long history including Carl Strum, Bud List, Claude Wells, David Wolf, John Witman, Jacob Bostwick and currently, Mel Whisman.
The current roster includes Whisman, officers Tom Arndt and Gary Stith and then the firefighting crew that includes Harold Dobrinska, Terry Puls, James Marquardt, Terry Weber, Arnold Bostwick, Greg Steenweg and Paul Monk.
IN TIMES OF NEED, FIREFIGHTERS HAVE A SPECIAL PRAYER
St. Florian, heaven’s patron of Firemen, who once was dedicated to the service of your fellowmen as an Official in the army of Rome; look with kindly and professional eye upon your earthly force, desirous of preserving our fellowmen from dangers to life and property.
Give us cool heads, stout hearts, strong muscles, and instinct for prudent investigation and wise judgment.
Make us the terror of arsonists, the friends of children and law-abiding citizens, kind to the frightened, polite to bores, strict with lawbreakers and obstinate to temptations.
In troubles and riots, give us strength to be efficient; in times of great danger, give us the ability to be calm and enable us to impart assurance to those who verge on panic.
You know, beloved St. Florian, from the sacrifice of your own life for the sake of your faith, that the fireman’s lot on earth is not always a pleasant one; but your sense of duty that so pleased God, your courageous strength that so overwhelmed the devil and your saintly self-control give us inspiration.
Make us as fearless in practicing the laws of God as we are brave in protecting the lives and property of our fellowmen.
And when we answer our final alarm, enroll us in your heavenly force, where we will be as proud to protect the throne of God as we have been to protect the city of men.
C 1963 – Rev. Lawrence J. O’Connor, Chaplain, Division of Fire, Columbus, Ohio.
Imprimatur: t Clarence G. Issenmann, S.T.D., Bishop of Columbus.
COMMUNITY APPLAUDED RESCUE
A dramatic rescue of a small child from a burning Antigo home on Oct. 1, 1984 was the year’s good news.
Fire Chief Jim Hubatch was one of two firefighters who helped save one-year old Linnie Brown, after heat and smoke drove her babysitter, Brenda Koeller, from an upstairs apartment at the corner of Fifth Avenue and Lincoln Street.
She suffered burns to her hands attempting to rescue the infant and led a five-year old boy, Velo Kabazinski, to safety.
According to the Antigo Journal, Hubatch attempted to enter the apartment without an air pack and crawled across the floor to avoid smoke but he could not find the child. Moments later fireman Dan Nelson, who had put on an air pack, entered the room and found the child in a play pen. Hubatch carried her out of the home as she was coughing smoke. She was taken to the hospital in an ambulance and recovered.
WHAT WILL HAPPEN AT NIGHT…REMEMBERING AN 1893 BLAZE(Editor’s note: Reprinted from the Antigo Daily Journal, 1943.)
The story I’m about to tell, some of you already know,
It happened May the twentieth, just fifty years ago,
The year was eighteen ninety-three,
It all comes back so plain to me.
The day broke calm, the sun shone bright, the birds sang here and there,
We children played so happily, for we were free of care.
People were out in their garden lots, digging away in the dirt,
It was so warm, Dad took off his coat and worked away in his shirt.
He was trying hard to put up a fence, for money was scarce you see;
He would do it himself to save expense, for we were poor as could be.
As the sun rose higher in the sky, the wind rose like a gale,
If it hadn’t been for the strong wind, I wouldn’t be telling this tale;
After we had out noon day meal, we looked out to the west,
We noticed smoke along the track, and the wind it blew so fast,
And soon the rows of lumber piles were one big flaming mass;
The old “Weed’s Mill” and Boarding House were soon a thing of the past.
You have heard of fire creeping – well, that fire didn’t creep,
The wind just caught the burning shingles, and how that fire did leap;
All the way from the railroad track, right up to Superior Street.
The little store and a score of homes, were right in the fire’s path,
It didn’t leave one standing, when it had spent its wrath.
Now fire fighting was very slow, for remember this was half a century ago;
No fire trucks at their command, nearly all they did was done by hand.
Mother said to me, “The little ones to Mrs. Payne’s you lead,
Take care of them while we stay here, save what we most need.
It was no use, they had to flee, and leave it all behind,
All they had left was we four kids, and us they had to find;
For we had wandered toward the woods, to get away form the heat,
We were so weary we sat us down, to rest our tired feet,
By Mother and Dad we later were found,
Near the Chamberlain school, sitting on the cool ground.
All in this wide world that we now possess,
Were the every day clothes in which we were dressed.
We cried, “We are poorer than we were before,
But we are not alone, there are many more.”
The Oldenberg’s and the Martin Gresch’s,
The McKorke’s, the Shed’s, and a family of Brace’s,
And the Grignon’s, and Payne’s and the Davis’,
Were some who lost their places.
I know that there were several more, whose names I can’t recall,
I wish I could remember them, I’d like to mention all.
From the desolate scene, we walked away,
In search of another place to say,
God will provide I know He will, A kind man gave Dad a ten dollar bill,
Surely proved a “friend in need”, the Lord will reward him for his good deed.
The above all happened in an hour or two,
Just the way I have told it to you;
So the day may be lovely, and things start out all right,
But who of us can tell, what will happen by night.
Mrs. Amy Furlott, R.R. 3
COMMUNITY SHOOK BY 1916 HIGH SCHOOL BLAZE THAT LEFT ONLY A SHELL
An early morning fire on Jan. 6, 1916 destroyed the Antigo High School complex, sending hundreds of students into uncertainty about their future education and at the same time wiping out records that detailed their past. The building, located at the site of the present Middle School, had been the target of scorn for many years before the blaze. There were too many students, the heating was inadequate and the building was called a fire trap by experts. Shortly after 3 a.m. on that fateful day, an employee of the nearby Antigo gas plant noticed the school burning after hearing a violent explosion. He hurried to contact night policeman Louis Porter and he turned in the alarm. When firemen made the three-block trip they found the third story was burning in the northeast corner and in another 10 minutes flames spread throughout the structure.
According to the Antigo Journal, it was a bitter cold night and wind whipped shingles and other pieces of building material from the raging fire, sending them crashing onto homes and yards. Chucks of the burning school landed as far as Eight Avenue and Field Street, creating challenges for residents and the fire department. But there were more problems. The temperature was 22 degrees below zero and in those days no one had figured out how to calculate wind chill. Fire Chief Elwin Billings told the newspaper that the battle was hopeless when the men and machines arrived. Streams of water were directed to protect adjacent buildings as firemen suffered from extreme cold and freezing equipment. School officials said it was fortunate that the fire happened during the building’s idle hours because of the speed at which it spread and the fact that the stairs were burned out early could have been costly in terms of human life. More than 600 students were packed into the structure every day, using every nook and cranny. Insurance underwriters had listed it as dangerous and others familiar with the construction pronounced it a “fire trap.” Officials had no firm cause for the fire and since so much of the building was destroyed no one was ever certain. One idea that surfaced was spontaneous combustion but the reason seemed to mean little as most of the community effort was centered on maintaining a class schedule and building replacement. Buildings that served as temporary classrooms included the Episcopal Church at Sixth Avenue and Clermont Street, the Congregational Church at Fourth Avenue and Clermont Street and the Opera House at 1000 Fifth Avenue.
Other churches, city hall, the county courthouse and basements of ward schools were also utilized for classrooms.