Early History of the Village of Park Ridge
The Years 1938 to 1965
Compiled by Charlotte Wood
For the 50th Year Celebration
September 3rd and 4th, 1988
On January 3, 1938, a petition was presented in Circuit Court, Judge Byron B. Park presiding. The petition sought an order from the court to incorporate 133.4 acres, then a part of the Town of Hull, as a village under the name of Park Ridge. Oscar Hofmeister, Horace Coleman, Jr., George Lovejoy, Joseph Johnson, and George Bacon, all residents within the proposed village limits, signed the petition. The court ordered the incorporation, subject to the assent of the electors. It further ordered that Horace Atkins, Mrs. George (Elinor) Bacon, and Mrs. George (Fay) Ressler be inspectors of the election. Fifty-six votes were cast, fifty-two for incorporation, and four against.
Sixty of the 133.4 acres had been plotted into the Viertel 1st and 2nd Subdivisions with 24 blocks of lots measuring 50 by 140 feet. These lay south of U.S. Highway 10, or Clark Street as it was called then. This acreage had come to Mary Viertel in 1917 through her grandfather, Edward Dexter Brown. She and her husband, Ernest, had had the first subdivision plotted sometime in the mid-‘20s and the second in 1928. Forty homes, several of them cottages with privies, were already in the village at the time of incorporation. Most of these houses and cottages were in the two Viertel Subdivisions. Five commercial building were also in the village. Three of these were in the 1st Subdivision on the south side of Highway 10: The Viertel Garage owned by Ernest Viertel; the Yellowstone Hotel and Tourist Camp, also owned by Viertel; and Margie’s Lunch and Groceries run by Margie Mansavage. On the north side of the highway was the Silver Coach and Tavern run by Fred Bablitch. The fifth business, the Valley Sales and Printing operated by Oscar Hofmeister, was in a small building sharing a lot with his home in the second block south of the highway. There were 172 residents in the village, 66 of these children of school age. In addition there were two horses, more dogs than were licensed, more cats than had owners, and several coops of chickens with early morning crowing roosters. Through the largess of nature, there were stands of oak and jack pine, fields of wild flowers, a variety of birds and hordes of mosquitoes. And through the largess of Jules Iverson aided by the Work Projects Administration, there was Iverson Park as a playground below the ridge forming the eastern boundary of the village. Hence the name Park Ridge.
The first election of officers was held February 18, 1938. Horace W. Coleman, Jr., was elected President; Joseph C. Johnson and George Lovejoy, trustees; Elinor Bacon, Clerk; Oscar Hofmeister, Treasurer; A.A. Hetzel, assessor; Horace Atkins, Supervisor; Joe Turzinski, Constable; and Charles Engbretson, Justice of the Peace.
The new village faltered in its early months. A movement was started to dissolve the corporation and revert to the Town of Hull. The attempt failed and by May of 1939, the village was on sound footing. Only six new homes, however, had been built in the village since incorporation. This, no doubt, was partly due to the Great Depression of the ‘30s; it was also partly due to the obscurity of the little village.
Home building had come to a near standstill during the depression. As the country began to recover from it, there was a pent-up demand for building sites from a whole new generation come of age. To meet this demand in the area, the City of Stevens Point graded streets through and plotted a flat, treeless area north of Highway 10 and east of the new P.J. Jacobs High School. This new subdivision, known as City Park, was having success in attracting home builders. Hoping to compete, the Park Ridge village board published and circulated a folder, dated June 10, 1939, advertising Park Ridge, with its many wooded lots, as “A Good Place to Live”. Listed in the folder, to lend support to this slogan, were several pertinent points, among them two claims of particular interest to people trained to money consciousness during the long depression.
One claim was fiscal responsibility. A financial report from January 20, 1938 to May 15, 1939 was included in the brochure. It listed $2,237.43 in receipts and $2,061.68 in disbursements – a surplus of $175.75 at the end of almost sixteen months of operation. This was hardly big business, and by today’s standards, humorous, but it was a demonstration of fiscal responsibility impressive in its small way in a day when few municipalities were able to operate in the black.
The other claim, a claim of money savings, was even more impressive. It was a comparison of real estate taxes between Park Ridge and Stevens Point. Using a hypothetical home valued in the city at $3500 (yes, that was the value of a modest home at that time), and using the State’s recommended assessed valuation, the tax rate in Stevens Point and the tax rate in Park Ridge, the conclusion reached in the folder was that a home owner choosing to live in Park Ridge would save as much as 46%.
This comparison riled Stevens Point officials. From then on, relation between them and the impudent little upstart village were anything but cordial. In fact the relations were downright hostile on the part of the city officials, a hostility that did not stop with them, but extended to may people living in the city, a hostility that lasted until the tragic event of June 11, 1951.
The strained relations between the two municipalities did not seem to bother Park Ridge president, Horace Coleman, very much. For one thing, he did not see where the village needed the good will of the city; for another, he already had a long-standing resentment toward Stevens Point. In May of 1928 the Stevens Point Council had hired him as a full-time city manager. In November of 1929 he was dismissed on a charge of fiscal irresponsibility with a great deal of bitterness on both sides. The charge could hardly be justified since council approval was required on all expenditures. Even so, he may not have expected the hostility of the city to be as great as it was.
The Village owes much to Horace Coleman and to his knowledge of municipal management, perhaps its very existence, for who else in the little community would have known how to separate it from a township; would have known how to organize a village; would have devoted the time and effort it took to start it on its way to becoming a viable entity. This is not to belittle the contributions of the other officers of that time, but the leadership of someone knowledgeable in all phases of municipal government was essential. Coleman gave that leadership through the years he was president from 1938 to 1947. Not that his leadership was perfect; it was not. Mistakes were made. One mistake that went undetected for nearly fifteen years was to buy and operate a village school bus with taxpayers’ money.
One of the three reasons the village had been incorporated was to devise some means of accommodating the sixty-six school age children in the little community. Rumor has it that originally the plan was to build a one-room school house in the N. Boyington Co. addition, west of McGlachlin and south of Jefferson. In the mid-thirties there were many such schools in Portage County so there probably is truth in the rumor. By 1939, however, the plan, if it had been considered, was abandoned and with good reason.
Village taxpayers were paying tuition for only the few children who were attending either Garfield kindergarten or P.J Jacobs High School. For these the village paid tuition to the Stevens Point School District on a per capita basis determined by the Stevens Point School Board. The elementary school students in the village were attending either parochial schools - St. Stephen or St. Stanislaus – or Central State Teachers College Training School. Parents themselves were paying tuition to these schools. In the case of the Training School, the tuition was minimal. The school was subsidized by the state as part of the college curriculum. The college needed pupils for practice teaching to train college students in the professions of teaching. If in the process it trained the elementary students in the art of “bugging” hapless college students, that’s beside the point. The point is parents of parochial students were not likely to switch allegiance to a village public school. These students would still need transportation to the parochial schools in Stevens Point. Building a one-room school for students attending the tax free Training School did not make sense. Operating a school bus did.
The Village of Park Ridge School District No. 3 was created and a school board appointed consisting of a treasurer, a president, and three school board members. By the time the brochure was circulated advertising Park Ridge as “A Good Place to Live”, the village could list among its advantages a village-owned school bus. The bus was transporting children to all Stevens Point schools, parochial, Training, and public schools alike. Although the village was not all that far from these schools – a mile or so – bear in mind that the route to them was along US Highway 10. There were no sidewalks along the highway; walking on the highway itself was the only choice. So while some fathers may have decried the softness of “today’s kids”, pointing out that they, themselves, had walked two miles and more to school through waist-high snow in 20-degree below weather, even they had to admit those walks were along country roads or city sidewalks, not on a US Highway carrying more and more traffic as America’s love affair with the automobile developed. The hazard to their children was more than the village dared to risk.
The bus served the village well until 1953. It made two trips in the morning and two after school to accommodate the variance in hours between the high school and grade schools. At noon it made one trip each way, spilling its noisy cargo out for a quick lunch and picking it up twenty minutes later. But in 1953 the village-owned bus trips came to a sudden stop. The school board president called a village meeting. He announced to the assembled group that the village had been acting illegally in operating the school bus with taxpayers’ money. First of all it had been illegal to bus children who lived less than two miles from school. This fit all the children with the possible exception of those attending St. Stephen parochial school. But – it was also illegal to transport children to parochial schools at public expense. (This was before the “need not creed” legislation had been passed in Madison.) Consequently there would no longer be a village-owned bus.
The people were stunned into silence; but not for long. A wail went up. What were they to do!? There was even one muttered accusation that this was a communist plot against Catholics; could the school board be tinged with a little pink? (This was the McCarthy era.)
In the end the solution was simple enough. A village resident bought the bus and operated it as a private business. The parents of children riding the bus paid the new owner for the privilege on an annual or semiannual basis. So the bus rode on with a little more expense to parents and a little less to the village as a whole.
The second task demanding action from the 1938 village board, the second of the three reasons for incorporating, was to enact ordinances of regulations and zoning restrictions. At the March 1938 board meeting a building ordinance was passed requiring building permits for new construction or repairs of over $100.00. At subsequent meetings the board appointed a building inspector; defined the business district and the residential district; put licensing requirements and rates on nonintoxicating and intoxicating beverages; regulated tavern hours; passed a regulation eliminating privies from the village; passed an ordinance prohibiting animals and fowls from running at large; passed a lengthy ordinance “regulating and restricting the height, number of stories, size of building, the percentage of a lot that could be occupied, the size of yards and open spaces, the density of population , the location and use of buildings and land for trade”. But it allowed within the residential district a private stable and two horses. This was, no doubt, in deference to George and Elinor Bacon who had moved to the area a few years before the village was incorporated. They had bought six lots in the Viertel 2nd Subdivision in order to have the best of two worlds: To be close to Stevens Point where George Bacon was employed and to be far enough away from neighbors so as not to bother anyone with their stables, corral, and two horses, Midnite and Thunder. The Bacons and their horses remained in the village until the late ‘50s.
The business district as defined by ordinance in 1938 took in the three businesses already on the south side of the highway: Scribner’s Dairy (which had been the Viertel Garage), The Yellowstone Hotel and Tourist Cabins, and Margie’s Lunch Room and Groceries. On the north side of the highway it defined as business district a 150 foot strip beginning with the Silver Coach property and extending west to the center line of the projected Rajski Avenue. The rest of the village was defined as residential. Now that a school district had been created to support a school bus and now that the most urgent regulations and ordinances had been enacted, the board could turn its attention to the third reason for incorporating the village – to provide improvements. The first major improvement to be considered was a community hall.
Advertising the advantages of living in Park Ridge was having the desired results. In 1940 and 41, before World War II made home building a not-to-be-thought-of use of material needed for the war effort, twenty-one new homes had been built in the village. Neighborliness and friendliness from the very beginning had been the hallmark of the village. Established residents warmly welcomed each new family that moved in during the building surge of the early ‘40s. They in turn added their welcome to new families. Those that came on during that period were mostly in their mid-20s to mid-30s, generally with one or two, sometimes three, small children. Few, if any, had a budget that allowed much for entertainment-- their mortgages kept them housebroke. But friends and neighbors banded together with enthusiasm for family-oriented community affairs. A 4th of July celebration in 1940 was paid for out of the village general fund: a 4th of July stand, $4.95; candy bars for the picnic, $1.50; a loud speaker, $5.00; fireworks $50.00. What visions of an old-fashioned 4th celebration these entries in the treasurer’s account book evoke. The Colemans hosted a Christmas sleigh ride and skating party in their back yard that same year: rink expense, $30.00; sleigh, $3.00; a Santa Claus suit, $2.15. The latter marked the beginning of a tradition that is still carried on. There was a sleigh ride party in February 1942: sleigh, $3.00; apples for refreshment, $2.10. Several times Iverson Park was used for village picnics with no expense to the village and little to those who brought their own sandwiches of meat to grill and a dish to pass. These remind one of an old-fashioned Methodist church picnic, except that some of the picnickers carried beer as well as soft drinks in their baskets.
A village hall that could be used for community activities as well as for board meetings should be a worthwhile addition to the village.
At the December 1940 meeting the board voted to build the hall. A 2-mil tax was added to the real estate tax to cover the cost. Three lots in Block 3 of the Viertel 1st Subdivision were bought from Ernest Viertel. Gage Taylor was hired as the architect. He was paid $25.00 on March 31, 1941 and $76.16 when the hall was completed. The hall consisted of two rooms, one small room containing a furnace and, in one corner of this room, a storage vault for village documents. The other room was a large cement-floored one, large enough to house two fire trucks in anticipation of the time when the village would have a fire department. Fire protection was not one of the advantages mentioned in the advertising folder of 1939. And with good reason; there was none. The hall had two large overhead garage doors, but it had neither running water nor a washroom; not even a sanitary septic system for a washroom. This was a violation of Ordinance No. 11 passed March 1940 and effective May 4, 1940, nearly a year before construction on the hall was begun. The ordinance not only addressed the elimination of privies in the village, but it also stated in Article 6 “all dwellings…or public buildings now under construction or to be constructed shall upon the effective date of the ordinance be constructed with a sanitary sewerage system”. The reason for ignoring this ordinance is left to conjecture. On the one hand it may have been a mistake, an inadvertent oversight; on the other hand it may have been a deliberate omission so as not to strain either the village funds or those of the individual taxpayers with the additional cost. At any rate, it was a case of public officials telling private citizens what to do without having to do it themselves. No villager objected nor did any seem to mind.
Ellis Stone and Construction built the hall for $4404.04. It was furnished with a desk and six chairs (Montgomery Ward, $26.44) and two brooms (Weller Hardware, $2.96). The treasurer’s account book shows also an expenditure at the end of 1942 of $55.80 for more chairs. After this latter purchase, residents attending hearings or board meetings could sit rather than stand. The grand opening of the hall was celebrated in August 1942. Doughnuts (Bake Rite Bakery, $4.00) and ice cream (Scribner’s Dairy, $1.25) were served. There were also refreshments for a band (Joe Turzinski, $2.00). The first board meeting in the new hall was probably held in July to pass on bills and plan the grand opening.
The lack of a washroom should have limited the use of the hall to short board meetings and public hearings, but it didn’t. For the next ten years or so the hall was the center of community affairs.
The first community affair was under the auspices of the Park Ridge Garden Club. This club had been organized in 1940; and in 1942 had seventeen members. On August 24th and 25th of 1942 they held a Village Flower and Garden Show open to the public. There were exhibits of flowers, flower arrangements, canned and fresh fruit and vegetables, house plants, handicrafts of all descriptions, baked goods – sixteen categories in all for adult exhibitors and six for juniors. What an enterprise for that small club to undertake! Remember the hall was furnished with nothing more than a desk, six chairs and two brooms. Not only did all the exhibit tables and stands have to be brought in, but also all the equipment to make and serve the hot dog and hamburger sandwiches that were sold as refreshments.
It may be the club members felt overworked from this effort, because it wasn’t until November 1943 that they tackled another affair in the hall. This was a card party to raise money for the new shrubbery that had been set out in front of the hall that fall. The club had agreed to pay $38.00 of the cost. For this affair they brought in ten card tables and whatever else was needed. The benefit raised $6.54. Then in December 1943 they sponsored a Holiday Tea in order to raise more money for the shrubbery. The hall was festive with a long table covered with a lace cloth, with a centerpiece of silver ornaments flanked with white tapers, a large lighted tree in one corner of the room, and Christmas wreaths hanging at each window. Fifty persons attended the tea, including Stevens Point Mayor Blood, thereby demonstrating that he had no animosity, at least to the ladies of the village. The net profit was $7.17. There was a certain amount of futility in these two benefits because thirteen of the shrubs had to be replaced the following year. They died, no doubt, of thirst in the desert sands of Park Ridge with no water nearby to keep them watered and alive.
Lack of running water and washroom, notwithstanding, the hall invited many more community affairs, some under the auspices of the Garden Club, some arranged by fun-loving residents. In 1944, ’45, and ’46 the club sponsored Christmas parties with pot luck suppers, carol singing, and visits from Santa. In 1945 and ’46 it planned Halloween parties in three stages; one at 6:15 for the children, one later for the young people, and still later costume parties for the not so young. And finally it sponsored the First (and last) Annual Village Fair held September 20, 1947. In between these events many villagers organized pot luck suppers and dances. All it took was an excuse, any excuse: welcoming parties to introduce new residents, farewell parties for departing friends; one notable one was a good-luck, pot luck for Carl Running who was leaving for army service. Ilma Toser, a prankster, baked a sand cake. True, sugar was rationed, but a cake baked with part sand? After a few first bites and astonished looks from the partygoers, the real cake was brought out. A square dance was another excuse for gathering in the hall. There were several of them, whenever Quincy Doudna was available to call. And all this time no washroom. Coping outside in the dark became a little like a square dance itself: Ladies to the left, gents to the right. Thus for over ten years the hall was used for good times in the village, although obviously it could not be used for village elections since election clerks were not allowed to leave the premises during voting hours. In spite of its shortcomings, it is doubtful that anything else could have promoted the community spirit that the use of the hall did.
When the village was incorporated, the streets were in poor condition, much in need of improvement. The east-west streets were sand roads except for Jefferson, which was oiled, and, of course, U.S. Highway 10 that was paved. The north-south streets were in slightly better condition; they at least had been oiled. Portage County Highway Department did the roadwork for the village – grading, oiling, and snow plowing. In 1941 Hannon Street, or Sunrise Avenue as it was soon renamed, was graded through the Theresa Green Property from Highway 10 south to Center Street. It was then plotted into a subdivision adding more building sites to the village.
Jefferson Street through the Green property had been graded by the City of Stevens Point as Iverson Park was developed shortly before Park Ridge was incorporated. The width of Jefferson through the Green property was 120 feet; the width through the village, 60 feet. In the early ‘40s the city approached the village board about widening and resurfacing Jefferson through the village with the intention that Jefferson would become the main route to Iverson Park from the city. The best the board could do was offer the six feet on each side of the street that had been reserved for sidewalks by an ordinance passed in May 1938. Several homes had been built along Jefferson by this time with the knowledge that those six feet could be used by the village when and if the village wanted them. Taking fourteen feet off of those home owners’ property was not possible, the city felt taking even this less than half a loaf was better than none and would fit into the plan of widening Jefferson from the city limits to the Park. Some mothers in the village felt otherwise. A main route to popular Iverson Park through the center of the village did not fit into their plans of keeping, as best they could, their small children from harm.
Ordinarily few residents attended board meetings. Most residents were content to let the board manage the affairs of the village. So far there had been no reason to complain, but at the meeting to decide this issue, many villagers appeared in protest, most of them mothers.
If anything, Jefferson Street should have been called Kids’ Row. Many small children played in the yards along the street, rode their tricycles and coaster wagons on the side of it getting from one yard to another, chased balls – or each other – heedlessly into it. The increased traffic invited by the sidelining and resurfacing was a risk that alarmed the mothers. As it was, in spite of the rough surface of the street, many cars going to the park were exceeding the 25-mile an hour limit in the village. The women did not want even the street resurfaced because they felt the present condition discouraged excessive speed somewhat. As a result of their protest, the request by the city was denied even though, according to Coleman, a chance to ease some of the tension between the two municipalities was lost. The thirty foot strip on each side of Jefferson from Green Avenue east to the village limits remains even today as no man’s land neither a part of the street nor a part of the property adjoining it.
During those early years as the residential district was expanded and the village population grew, the business district remained stationary. Business management changed, however; Scribner’s Dairy and Milk Bar moved into the Viertel Garage building, Joe Turzinski was operating both the Yellowstone Hotel and Tourist Cabins and Margie’s Lunch and Groceries, which was now the Yellowstone Lunch. But there was no expansion of the business district as it was defined in 1938.
The first request to rezone a residential area for commercial use came from Dad’s Root Beer, the owner of a 5-½ acre tract north of Highway 10. The request was presented to the board in July 1945 asking permission to build a bottling plant on the property. Since it was wartime and no such construction was possible then, the board believed it had plenty of time to hold hearings and make a thorough study before making a decision. It also gave plenty of time for the villagers to take up arms. They were sharply divided on the issue. Those in favor of granting the request believed a bottling plant on the north end of the village would not bother residents as they all lived south of the highway, but that the taxes generated by the plant would benefit everyone. Those opposed to granting the request wanted to keep the village as it was, as they had been promised it would be, a nice quiet residential village with no factories. The arguments grew heated. The opposition was led by a village hothead who, to preserve family peace, shall remain nameless. Friends on opposing sides were not as friendly as they had been. Each side circulated petitions and names were taken off one petition and added to the other as homeowners were persuaded to change their mind.
The well-intentioned board, particularly the president, was the brunt of the villagers’ displeasure. Through it all Coleman kept his composure. Before a meeting to be held the evening of Dec. 6, 1945, he asked the clerk to send a letter to all residents clarifying the issue and assuring them of the board’s willingness to hear all who wished to be heard. The letter dated Nov. 23, 1945 stated that not only did another bottling plant want to be admitted to the village, but also “other persons were considering the advisability of establishing other industries such as a concrete block factory and a commercial poultry breeding farm within the limits of the village”. These, too, in this nice quiet, odorless village? No, thanks! The residents united in opposition. The request was denied. Animosities were forgotten and the village settled back into tranquility with nothing more to disturb it for the time being than occasional squabbles over unrestrained dogs and kids.
Coleman left the village in 1947 to return to Norfolk, VA where he had lived before coming to the area in 1928. Horace Atkins was appointed president to replace him. Atkins served from 1947 to 1951. More improvements to the village were provided during his term in office. For one thing Rajski Avenue, which then became Sunset Avenue, was graded from Oak Street south to Dixon Street, opening up another area of building sites. During this period he and the village trustees saw a need for a sewer installation throughout the village. General Engineering Co. was engaged to draw plans but the village residents objected to what they thought was an unnecessary improvement. Surely the sandy soil of Park Ridge was ideal for the proper operation of their present septic tanks. Moreover, homes built since the incorporation of the village had been built on two fifty-foot lots instead of one. The septic sanitary systems, consequently, were far enough away from a neighbor’s to prevent any health hazard. The architect was paid and the plan abandoned for the time being.
The most important improvement made during the time that Atkins was president was the organizing of a volunteer fire department. Up to that time there had been none. If anyone had the notion that the village could depend on its neighbor to the west for protection, that notion went up in smoke in 1942. The house Dr. Gramowski was building on Highway 10 east of the Silver Coach caught fire. Someone called the Stevens Point Fire Department, who is not clear – a passing motorist or a village resident. The Stevens Point truck came, sirens wailing, to the city limits, but no further. Having no authority to go beyond this point, the chief ordered the truck back to the station with all its enviable equipment unused. Meanwhile the fire burned out of control beyond the ability of the village bucket brigade to stop it. By morning all that was left of the house was a forlorn brick fireplace and chimney standing among the charred ruins, a grim reminder of the inadequacy of the village to handle a major fire.
Minor fires, however, were manageable. The women’s brigade contained several small grass fires before the village had a fire truck and an organized volunteer fire department. Vacant lots, small boys, and matches spelled fire several times during those early years. The word “fire” spread through the village faster than the fire itself could spread very far. Clutching galvanized scrub pails, rakes, brooms, and/or string mops, pushing infants in strollers, pulling tots in coaster wagons, leaving other preschoolers straggling behind, women from all over the village sped to the fire. Hoses, never long enough, were laid from the nearest house. The older children who had converged on the scene were set to work filling pails. The women soon found that beating the flames with a dry broom in their excitement merely spread sparks to start smaller fires. Pails of water thrown toward the flames too often missed their mark. Beating judiciously with a wet broom was better, but better still was sloshing the flames with a wet string mop. Only once in those years did a grass fire threaten to get out of control. As the fire ran closer to an unoccupied cottage on Green Avenue, the vision of the cottage and the trees around it going up in flames was frightening. A call went to Hardware Mutual for some of the village men working there to come help. A frightened, tired, but triumphant crew averted disaster.
By the end of 1948, plans to replace brooms, mops, and pails with a properly equipped truck and crew were made. An ordinance was passed Dec. 20, 1948 “governing the organization and regulations of the volunteer fire department of the village of Park Ridge”. Piece by piece the makings of a fire truck of sorts were purchased and assembled. The village treasurer’s account book shows the following bills paid in 1949 and 1950: A truck, $90.00; a fire truck pump, $645.27; fire equipment, $485.00 and $81.50; also bills for a ladder, a light, and various other equipment. Finally in May of 1950, gas and oil for the truck, $2.79; and in August 1950, fire truck insurance. Absent from the records were bills for labor costs. The truck and its equipment were assembled by a number of village volunteers: Arnold Anderson, Ray Golla, Lew Wood, Roy Price, Horace Atkins, Paul Kirby, Talford Bea. At last the village had not only a fire truck but also a volunteer fire department with an ordinance spelling out the powers and duties of the fire chief, the duties of a fire inspector, and the authorities of the volunteer firemen.
Cards were distributed to each village resident with the number of the Yellowstone Hotel to call in case of fire. The day or night clerk on duty there relayed the call to key members of the force; they in turn called others. When three or four volunteers reached the hall, the place of the fire was written on a chalkboard to guide the later arrivals while one of the early arrivals drove the truck to the fire. This system proved cumbersome so a fire siren ($10.00) was purchased in October 1950 and mounted on top of the village hall. Now the clerk at the Yellowstone had only to push a button to activate the siren. Depending on the wind direction, however, the alarm did not always carry to the southeast area of the village. Two years later, a larger ($150.00) was installed which reached all corners of the village and beyond. It is still in use.
On June 11, 1951, Stevens Point was rocked by the most spectacular disaster in the city’s long history: The explosion of the C. P. Lipman Furniture Company store. This was the front-page story of the Stevens Point Daily Journal that day. “The store and its entire contents was completely destroyed and the American Legion Club was a burned out shell. All available fire equipment was rushed to the scene and departments from Whiting, Rothschild, Wausau, Wisconsin Rapids and Park Ridge responded to calls for emergency assistance”. In a disaster of this magnitude, neither the Park Ridge fire chief nor any of the volunteer firemen hesitated to come to the aid of a neighbor. After this event, tensions between the two municipalities eased somewhat.
Atkins left the village in 1951. The next two presidents served only one term of two years each. Clell Stein served from 1951 to 1953. In his term the village board was increased from two trustees to four. Edward Gauthier served from 1953 to 1955. He was president when the school bus was transferred from village to private ownership. Also in his term the need for a sewer system became urgent. Five years after the need was first recognized by the board in Atkins tenure – and rejected by the village residents – another set of plans were drawn by Maxon and Moore, an engineering firm. Now the residents agreed a sewer system was necessary. What should have been ideal soil conditions in the village for their septic sewer simply were not. More and more often the honey wagon was seen in the village pumping out septic tanks.
Gauthier did not care for another term as president, but stayed on the board as trustee. John McComb was elected president in his place. McComb served less than a year before his employer, Hardware Mutuals, transferred him to Madison. He was president, however, long enough so that he and Gauthier, with the help of Mr. Moore from the engineering firm, could successfully negotiate a 99-year pact with Stevens Point for the use of the city’s disposal plant. Negotiating this pact successfully was a remarkable accomplishment, so much so that it was used as a model for the 1959 workshop for Professional Community Leaders held at the University of Wisconsin, Madison. Park Ridge and Stevens Point were not the only two municipalities that were, or had been, at odds with one another. All through the state there were tensions between large and small neighboring communities. The Stevens Point Daily Journal of October 27, 1959 quotes Kenneth Rindt of the University of Wisconsin extension research as saying at the workshop that the pact was “evidence of what can be done when reason and the desire to assist neighbors prevail”.
Henry Brezinski was appointed to fill the unexpired term of McComb and was reelected in successive terms until 1968. The first ordinance passed in Brezinski’s term was in April of 1956 allowing the installation of natural gas lines in the village. The sanitary sewers were installed in 1957. In 1958 IGA Avenue was graded between the west limits of the village and the Copps property in the town of Hull. This allowed several more lots to be plotted as residential building sites. Later the business district was extended to include lots 3, 4, 5, and 6 of the Viertel 1st Subdivision to accommodate the State’s request to build the headquarters of the Wisconsin Interscholastic Athletic Association. In 1965 all streets in the village were renamed except Sunrise and Sunset Avenues. Regrettably Viertel Avenue was one of those renamed and the village lost its identification with Ernest and Mary Viertel whose subdivisions had been the nucleus of the Village of Park Ridge in 1938. Streetlights were installed in 1964, and at long last, the problem of flooding in the village was addressed.
Flooding from snow melting before the frost was out of the ground had been an annoyance in the village from the time it was incorporated. Some years were worse than others, but every year parts of several streets were covered with water; so were low spots in many driveways and sidewalk entrances to yards. People got in and out of these premises either by car or by wearing calf-high boots. Kids, of course, splashed through the water gleefully. One particularly bad year the snow plowed off the street during the winter formed a dike on Jefferson, trapping water in the back yards of two houses in the Jefferson block between Viertel and McGlachlin. A preseason heavy rain aggravated the problem; floodwater was filling dry wells and interrupting the sanitary systems. One resident trenched the dike to allow the water to escape. Escape it did – in a riverlet running east on Jefferson, turning north on Viertel, then east again on Lincoln to seek out a window well of the house on Lincoln and Green, to pour into the basement there – a totally unexpected development. The fire truck was used to pump the water out of the basement and down into the Plover River basin. In 1965 the flooding of Viertel Avenue north of Jefferson was so bad, postholes were dug beside the black top in the street and in the yards in the area to allow the water to seep away. To permanently relieve the spring flooding, dry wells covered with grating were installed at strategic spots in the village. Now only here and there do low spots catch and hold water in the spring. The sometimes good-natured – but more often exasperated – tolerance of badly flooded streets is now a thing of the past.
In twenty-seven years, then, the three reasons for incorporating the village had been largely accomplished – providing transportation to schools for the children in the village; enacting regulations and zoning ordinances; and providing improvements. The administrations of the next twenty-three years between 1965 and 1988, however, did not sit back in a seventh-day rest. There were still old regulations to update. There were still streets to resurface and keep in good repair, still Sunset Avenue to extend from Highway 10 - north to the village limits. There was still the addition to the village hall to build, this time including a washroom. There were still zoning ordinances to repeal and update. There was still the business district to change and expand; the tearing down of the old, the building of the new; still budgets to prepare each year, tax rates to set; still the smooth, efficient operation of the village to maintain. Of all the officers who have served the village in its fifty years, Emil Fleischauer has served the longest, first as clerk beginning in 1958, and now as president in 1988.
As the population increased in the early years of the village and decreased in the later years, as the graying of its early residents took place, only three residents have remained in the village since its incorporation: Fred and Grace Bablitch and William C. Tepp. Only one of the original businesses remains, the Silver Coach, although the management has changed hands several times since the railroad car was first moved on to its present location; since Fred Bablitch began operating it in 1935 as a tavern with lunches and dancing. For almost thirty years after 1955 it was operated by Mr. Congeniality, himself - Pete Redfield – as a supper club famous for its ribs and friendly clientele.
In spite of all the changes, two things have remained constant in the village, at least since 1940. One is the tradition of the annual visit from Santa to the children in the village. It began when the Garden Club asked the board if the village would pay for candy for Santa to give to the children. If so, the club would make small net stocking bags and fill them. The board willingly agreed. The bags were filled judiciously, piece by piece, so each child would receive no more, no less than another; so no questions would arise among them of who had been naughty and who had been nice the past year. Later the candy was measured by the cupful and plastic bags replaced the net bags, which had had a tendency to come apart at the seams.
The first Santa was George Lovejoy. Wearing the Santa suit purchased in 1940, he mad the rounds in a sleigh drawn by a horse (Bacons’?) with bells a-jingling. Through the years there has always been a volunteer to play Santa, not necessarily a rotund volunteer, for a pillow was part of the costume. Sometimes Santa would find a friendly host at home who would invite him into the kitchen, away from the children, for a little Christmas cheer to insulate him from the cold. One year Santa found so many friendly hosts and was so well insulated, he couldn’t finish his rounds. A consensus of indignant mothers and abashed fathers decreed that thereafter Santa would be offered nothing stronger than milk and cookies until after he had finished his rounds.
As the population in the village increased, there were more and more children to visit. The rounds grew too much for one Santa to cover. In 1953 the Garden Club members made two new suits trimmed with real fur donated by Nighbor Furs. Two new wigs and beards were purchased which looked real enough to fool even the most skeptical child. Now two volunteers played Santa and rode in the new fire truck acquired in 1953. Santa had come a long way since 1940 when he rode in a horse-drawn sleigh over snow covered streets dressed in his $2.15 suit. The Garden Club members took care of filling the candy bags and washing the beards and suits each year until it disbanded. For a few years after that former Club members made the preparations. In recent years the wives of board members have done this, keeping the tradition alive.
The second of the two things that have remained constant in the village since the ‘40s; something that has remained alive and will through the years among present and former residents alike is the good feeling that Park Ridge has, indeed, been “A Good Place to Live”!
Street Name Changes Made in 1965
Park Ridge Drive
Houses Here at Time of Incorporation Still Here
|Park Ridge Drive|
|A. A. Hetzel||203|
|Ernest Viertel, Jr.||209|
|Joseph C. Johnson||30|
|William C. Tepp||518|