GrandPapa's Letter part 23
Franklin B. Van Valkenburgh


in November 1855 I came to Milwaukee and except for six months spent in Manitowoc in the winter of 1856 and 1857 have always since made my home here. We married in October 1860 and boarded until Frank was born in 1863, and lived on Broadway about a year when I purchased a house on Biddle Street in which we lived two years, then on Van Buren Street about 25 years until June 1890, when we moved to 350 Juneau Avenue, where we now live, (Aug. 1901. )

Milwaukee September 14th 1901.

Since writing the above LETTER I have lost my dearly beloved son FRANK PRATT VAN VALKENBURGH: Who departed this life at his home in Milwaukee on the 13th day of August 1900, and this morning we learn that President McKinley, who was shot, at Buffalo, on the 6th day of this month of September 1901, expired at about 2 o'clock this morning.

Having much leisure time, I have decided to copy in connection with my LETTER, a Paper which I prepared for, and read before the Old Settler's Club of Milwaukee, on the 4th day of January 1897, continuing to some extent the history of my life after I came to Milwaukee.

Milwaukee Wis. January 4th 1897. To THE OLD SETTLER'S CLUB of Milwaukee Wise.

My Dear Old Friends and Associates:

You can hardly be more surprised than I am, at finding me, one of the yougest of your recruits, standing in this august presence, to speak of "THE GOOD OLD TIMES in MILWAUKEE", or than I was when the ORDER came to me, from your Marshal, to do so. BUT here I am, begging your pardon in advance for any errors I may fall into, as I am compelled to rely entirely upon MEMORY, the most treacherous of our faculties, for such facts as I may wish to relate.

Although younger than most of you, I have been in Milwaukee long enough to have had personal intercourse with, and to have done business with and for many of the pioneers. I have known Juneau, and Walker, and Kilbourn, and Martin, and Wells, and Lapham, and Rogers, and Fowler, and Eldred, and Hathaway and the Browns, and Comstocks, and Vliets, Chases and Sivyers and many others of the grand old men who came out here when Wisconsin was a howling wilderness, in or before the year of my birth, and, rescuing this country from the aborigines, staid by until It had begun to bud and blossom like the rose, and most of whom have since passed on to that undiscovered country whither all our footsteps tend, where we trust they are once more congregated in some good place, and enjoying themselves as old settlers are wont to do, in telling over once again the story of their youthful days.

I not only knew, but I loved the gentle and untiring KEMPER, and the loving and modest HENNI, and dear, tender hearted old Doctor Wolcott, whom I knew to combine in his manly person the loving tenderness of a MOTHER, with the courage of a lion and the skill of the most accomplished artist.

May the peace of GOD be with them all. I arrived in Milwaukee on one of the brightest of bright November days, in the year 1855 having then served an apprenticeship of 20 years on this Terrestrial Globe. ??The first few in the dairy business, then a dozen or so in schools and then a couple on a farm and a couple more between a law office and a country news-paper office. At the age of 19 years having received from my Brother-in-law, Otis H. Waldo of this city an invitation to enter his Law Office here, and being entirely without funds, I spent three months in the publication of an amateur News-paper in Bath, Steuben County New York, called "THE BATH EXPERIMENT," the major portion of the matter in which went directly from whatever substance at that time did duty as brains, in my cranium, into type, and thence into the paper: Being as I have told you.

In an exceedingly impecunious condition, the entire paper was set up in type, printed on an old fashioned and rather dilapidated FRANKLIN PRESS, folded and mailed or carried to its subscribers by the Editor and Proprietor, in person. From the proceeds of this venture, which were by no means enormous; I realized and I hoped and believed, sufficient means to enable me to "Go West, and grow up with the country, " as Horace Greely was then advising all young men to do; and with my fortune on my back and in my pocket, I started for Milwaukee; but alas for my plans, I was taken ill in Michigan, and arose from my sick bed to find myself not only strapped, but in debt for my board; Here again my meager knowledge of the "Art preservative of Arts, " came into the play, and taking up my composing stick, I replenished my store, and started again for MILWAUKEE, the Lode Star of my existence.

I entered this city by way of the then newly built, "Green Bay, Milwaukee and Chicago Rail Road;" being the road now known as "The Chicago & North-Western Railway:" and landed, so nearly as I can determine, just about where the National Avenue Station of that road now is. At any rate, I know that we landed in that locality, and in a marsh and that, coming up town by way of West Water Street, we were compelled to alight, at or near the corner of Sycamore Street, and assist in prying our 'Bus out of the mud; I was again without money when I reached the Station, and seeing a "free 'bus," there, took passage in it for the City, which seemed to be still a long way off, and practically inaccessible from that point; The bus proved to be the property, and in possession of THEODORE BILTY, and under his skilful guidance, with the aid of such of his passengers as he could impress into his service, finally landed us at the Tremont House, on Huron Street in the Third Ward; after the other passengers had alighted, I modestly requested Theodore to convey my trunk to the house of my brother, but this he resolutely refused to do, and taking my trunk into his Bar Room, he threw it upon the floor, and informed me, with the use of sundry unnecessary adjectives of a luminous variety, that I must spend at least one day and one of the dollars of the daddies with him, before I could resume possession of my baggage; adding, by way of clincher, the statement that "That is the FASHION in Milwaukee Mister."

So you see that I arrived in the city of my choice, and of my love, which has now been my home for over forty of the best years of my life, with little more impedimenta than I brought into the world with me. I was luckier at that, however, than one of the printers fraternity, who arrived in Milwaukee at the same time, for he has informed me of the fact that he had but one shirt when he came, and that when it was laundered, he was not only compelled to go to bed, but to pay for washing a dozen pieces!!

Leaving my new found friend in possession of everything I owned, which was not on my back, I walked to the North-East corner of East Water and Wisconsin Streets, and entering a door in the middle of the south side of the "VAN COTT BUILDING," which then looked almost exactly as it does today, except that the stairway has been removed from the interior of the building to the outside; I walked up a flight of stairs, and entered the Law Offices of WALDO & ODY, which was the first room I ever entered in the State of WISCONSIN. Finding the room vacant, I sat down and took my first deliberate view of the city, through a window on Wisconsin St. at which window I sat and worked almost every week day for over thirty years, and within two hundred feet of which I now write, and have had my office for something over forty one years. (Now over forty five. )

What would I not now give if I might live over again the first few days of my stay in that office, and set down for you a statement of matters and things as they occurred, and as they appeared to that new-comer; Then indeed I could write a paper that would afford us all entertainment, but, alas that can never be either for you or for me, and I must fain content myself with brushing up my memory, and giving you what it has preserved to me.

When I first saw MILWAUKEE she was an Incorporated CITY, consisting of five wards, and containing a population of about thirty Thousand inhabitants, at least that Is what I was TOLD: What I actually found was three rather citified villages, lying near to each other, but separated by rivers, over which there was but very scanty bridge accomodation, and between which there did not exist the most cordial and friendly relations. "THE EAST SIDE" and "KILBOURN-TOWN, " and "WALKER'S POINT, " were as distinct entities as are "BAY VIEW, " and "SILVER CITY, " today, and while the actual fighting between those subdivisions of the city (Of which many of you had actual knowledge, if indeed you did not participate in it, and of which we have all heard and read,) had practically ceased, the lines were pretty clearly drawn, and the "EAST SIDERS" thought they could distinguish their so called "COUNTRY COUSINS," from the "WEST SIDE, " not only by the "cut of their Jibs, " but by the unmistakable country air they displayed,; and they, in turn were very sure that the "EAST SIDERS" were too conceited, and "STUCK UP, " to be genuinely good, and both looked down rather contemptuously upon the "SOUTH SIDERS," while they in return turned up their noses at all who lived north of the Menominee River.

The occupants of the VAN COTT BUILDING as I now recall them, were as follows, Albert B. Van Cott who owned the building, occupied the corner store, (now occupied by the C.M. & St. Paul R.R. Co. as its City Office,) with his JEWELRY STORE.

It was lighted by and through a large Plate Glass Window, and as It was the first and only plate glass window in the city, that was a source of delight to its owner, and a great advertisement: He also maintained then, and for many years thereafter an immense clock, on the corner of his roof, which was the highest one in the neighborhood and was the swell Jeweler in the State: The stairway, which opened onto Wisconsin Street divided the floor room into two rooms, the larger one on the corner being the Jewelery Store, and a smaller one east of the stairs a Book Store and News Depot, run by Sid. Rood. On the second floor were the Law & Abstract Offices of WALDO & ODY, and the Law offices of Edward G. Ryan, and of Lakin & Steever; while the YOUNG MEN'S ASSOCIATION, then and for many years the principal Literary Club of the City, had its reading room and Library over the store next north, and was reached by the same stairs and through the same hall.

On the third Floor Matthew Bridge, of the Banking Firm of BRIDGE BROTHERS, had a private room, and across the hall was the Banking House of John G. Bellangee, where Pharaoh, played without let or hindrance, for many years. The fourth floor was given up to Art, and was occupied by BROOKS & STEPHENSON, and ROLLIN A. GIFFORD, Portrait Painters, with their studios. The Basement was the office and work rooms of the Milwaukee Gas Company, which was then in its infancy, lighting only a few of the down town stores and offices, but which had not then laid Its pipes except on the down town streets; Tallow and sperm candles and oil lamps still aided the moon in lighting all the residence portions of the city, and the pleasant duty of keeping the lamps and snuffers clean, and snuffing the candles was still indulged in by some highly favored person in most families.

Across East Water Street stood the LUDINGTON BLOCK, which was one of the finest in the city, although not QUITE as tall or imposing as the PABST BUILDING which now occupies the same site, and in which I now have my office, for the lot and block were not worth much if any more than the annual rent now paid for the lot, on a ninety nine year lease, by our genial friend Capt. Fred. Pabst, who supplies the beer and offices which have made Milwaukee famous.

And speaking of rents, reminds me that I paid more money to the owner of the Van Cott building, for the rent of the two rooms on the second floor, occupied by my partners and myself as Law Offices, than Van Cott paid for the lot and building.

The Ludingtons, Harrison and James, and Butler & Buttrick; and Walter P. Flanders, and Ellis Worthington had their offices in the Ludington Block, and the ground floor was occupied by a Dry Goods Firm, while the Sentinel occupied the next door north.

Across Wisconsin Street and south of the Ludington Block, was THE MARTIN BLOCK, where the Mack Block now stands, and in the upper story was the UNITED STATES COURT ROOM, and there Judge A. G. MILLER held court until the completion of the present Post Office Building at the corner of Milwaukee and Wisconsin Sts. in 1858; together with the offices of the clerk of his Court, which was then presided over by his son Kurtz Miller assisted by his brother John M. Miller, and his Cousin Edward Kurtz;

On that floor was also "Brown's Premium Picture Gallery," one of the first Daguerreotype Galleries in Milwaukee, where were made the Daugerreotypes, Ambrotypes, and the then newly invented Photographs, which were to hand down to posterity the lineaments of the OLD SETTLERS: The lower floor of this building was occupied by Emmons & Van Dyke, Joshua La Due, Carpenter & Gridley, and other lawyers, and the new firm of Loomis & Hees, sold Jewelry on the first floor.

The corner where the Iron Block now is, was covered with inferior two story wooden buildings, the first ever erected thereon, in one of which "Caleb Wall, City Auctioneer, " daily preached and preyed? and Wyman & Butler; Yates & Eraser, and other lawyers had their offices, and Elisha Eldred, the rich man of the city, and the owner of the building had his office. I saw that corner and block swept clean by fire some years later, dividing my time between keeping the horse blankets which we had hung over our office door and windows, to keep the fires from our books, wet; and blessing the firemen, who stood listlessly looking on, and who were apparently glad to see the block made ready for a better class of buildings??

The Police Station was then in the basement of the Upham Store on Wisconsin Street and the Police Court was presided over by Clinton Walworth, in the Fowler Block, on the West side of East Water street midway between Wisconsin and Mason Streets. Near it were the law offices of May & Cottrell, Smith & Salmon, J.H. Paine & Sons, and others, and among the Justices of the Peace were Albert Smith, later Judge for many years of the County Court; and Robert N. Austin, now Judge of the Superior Court.

The Post Office was then located in the Prentiss Block, at the N. W. corner of Mason and East Water Streets, which looked just as it does today, and was presided over by the lovely and always amiable Josiah A. Noonan, & bore upon Its green baize doors, (the only ones of the kind in the city, the suggestive words "PUSH" &"PULL" and it was with reference to these words, that a Gentlemen of Color who had purloined a coat from these precincts later on informed Justice Walworth, that he "Got it down at Push & Pull's Store. "

The location of the Post Office meant much more in those days than it does now, for the post office was the center of the City and everybody and his wife and children had occasion, or made occasion to go there at least once a day, as what the news papers failed to have in the way of neighborhood gossip was always on tap there.

On the corner diagonally across the street from the Post Office was the WALKER HOUSE, theretofore known as The City Hotel, and for some generations and now as THE KIRBY HOUSE, and one of the disappointments I had in Milwaukee was in failing to find the whole front of that Hotel covered with a sign requesting the reader to "WAKE ME WHEN OLD KIRBY DIES, " for pictures of the building, so decorated, had long been familiar to all readers of the Wisconsin papers.

Across from the Walker House, stood the Preussers Jewelry Store, and Just north of that, relic of the earliest days of the city, the Gun Shop of Mathlas Stein, while Herbert Reeds Grocery Store, embellished with pictures of a beautiful monument, then shortly to be erected by contributions from all the school and Sunday School children of America to the memory of the boy who was whipped to death by his step-father, because he would not tell a lie, occupied the corner where Brodheads Block now stands. We youngsters all contributed to the fund for the erection of that monument, and each received a certificate, showing how many bricks each had paid for; I was always glad I had one of those certificates, for no man ever saw the Monument, and I am unable now to recall or learn the name of the youthful martyr, I am sure however, that it was NOT George Washington, or Herbert Reed.

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