#5 La Crosse Works

The humble beginning of the La Crosse Plow Company started in 1860, when John M. Barclay and I.S. Bantan started the Barclay and Bantan Implement Works in La Crosse, Wisconsin. In May 1865, Albert Hirschheimer bought the small shop and carried on making horse-drawn farm equipment there, calling it the A. Hirschheimer and Company.*

Hirschheimer partnered with Barclay, after the acquisition, to produce the farm implements together, until Hirschheimer would eventually be the sole proprietor. They started off on a small-scale and then began to grow as competitors began to go under. By 1893 the small shop had grown into organized company, which he renamed the La Crosse Plow Company.

Albert Hirshheimer

Albert Hirschheimer
(Murphy Library Collection)

In 1888, the La Cross Plow Co. had grown a substantial amount. In the early years it was Hirschheimer and Barclay that operated and did the grunt work at the plow shop. In an 1888 publication called The Industries of La Crosse, Wis., said that “ forty-five to fifty hands are employed from the year around” and that the machines built at his works “meets the wants of the farmer exactly.”

Plow

La Crosse Plow Co. Ad
(La Crosse Library Collection)

The La Crosse Plow Works was an innovator in its line of machinery. It was able to make and sell a better designed balanced horse-lift cultivating unit. When tractors entered the farm scene, Hirschheimer began to design and build stronger implements to be pulled by tractors. Among some of its other firsts, once tractors came into the scene, in the farm machinery line were power-lift grain drills and power-lift tractor plows.**

Copy of d15iid_plow

Allis-Chalmers D-15 Tractor and Plow

Hirschheimer was the president of the company until his death in 1924. Hirschheimer’s sons Harry and Louis took control of the company and ran it for the last remaining years as an independent company. In October 1, 1929, the Allis-Chalmers Manufacturing Company, based in Milwaukee, purchased the failing La Crosse Plow Company for $275,000. Allis-Chalmers then had a plow line that could compete with other farm machinery manufacturers.**

The La Crosse Works, as it was known from then on, went on to build a complete line of planters, listers, disc harrows, cultivators and other tillage tools under the Allis-Chalmers name. The factory was expanded and updated a number of times under Allis-Chalmers. By the late 1960s, Allis-Chalmers was consolidating operations, and the La Crosse Works was shut down. The manufacturing orf tillage equipment was moved to other Allis-Chalmers branches.

*  Swinford, Norm. Allis Chalmers Farm Equipment 1914-1985. pgs 214-215.
**Peterson, Walter F. An Industrial Heritage: Allis Chalmers Corporation. pgs 254-255.

Markesan Washing Machine in Milwaukee

I ran into a rather interesting article in the Milwaukee Journal from October 13, 1919. It relates to my hometown of Markesan and a wash machine that was built there. This Milwaukee paper was advertising a washing machine, but it wasn’t just ANY washing machine, it was a “THE MARKESAN” electric wash machine.

“The Markesan”
(Milwaukee Journal Oct. 13, 1919)

What most people don’t know is that “THE MARKESAN” was a washing machine built by  the Markesan Laundry Machine Company based in Markesan, Wisconsin. According to local historians, this company produced these machines for a total of four years. After four years of operating in Markesan, the owners sold the business. According to local legend, the men who bought the patents and designs from the Markesan company were the same men who formed what is today Speed Queen. Speed Queen offers no information about the Markesan wash machines on their website, so I guess that is still up for debate.

A list of gazetteers from the Markesan shows the company listed in there 1919-1920 and 1921-1922 local business listing. The Markesan Historical Society actually has one of these original machines and owners manual on display at the Grand River Valley Museum. What astonished me about the ad is that these machines made there way down to Milwaukee! Markesan is the only Markesan on the planet, so the chances of a person down in Milwaukee just randomly coming up with that name for their machine is slim to zero. When I contacted the Markesan Historical Society about this, they were astonished to see it advertised in Milwaukee too. I wonder how this deal was worked out between these two companies.

I have been trying to do research on the company down in Milwaukee that was selling these (Independent Electric Washer Co.) but have not found anything on the internet. I was able to find the building where these were sold in and the building still stands today! The wash machine company selling “THE MARKESAN” was in the Matthews Building, built by the Matthews Bros. Furniture Co., located on Wisconsin Avenue.

Matthews Building in Milwaukee,Wis.
(Strangest Names in American Political History Blog)

I guess the hunt continues for information on the Markesan Laundry Machine Co. and the Independent Electric Washer Co.. If anyone has any information on either one of these companies, I would surly appreciate the info.

Civil Defense in Wisconsin

I am about a month into my final year of undergraduate college. One of the privileges I have in my history degree program is to conduct some in-depth research on a selected topic. The class is called History Seminar and covers areas in history for students to research and write on. My particular seminar deals with the decade of the 1960s. The class is reserved for seniors and is the capstone class of the history degree program. In the class it is each students’ job to research a topic from this era and to propose a paper, a rather lengthy paper, that could be written about the topic using primary sources. An amazing advantage that we have here in the UW system is the ability to call up primary sources from archives all over the state and have them brought right to our campus.I began exploring different areas of history from this decade that I go could a topic on.

I will be honest, the 1960s don’t really interest me that much. I really didn’t feel like doing something about the hippies, Vietnam War or protesting. I thought about researching the U.S. vs U.S.S.R. race to the moon, but our state archives doesn’t have primary sources that could help me with that. I eventually ran into something I thought could be an interesting topic to explore, Civil Defense. Our state historical society has an abundance of material that covers this topic. I am more interested in how CD was portrayed/planned in the state of Wisconsin during the 1960s.

Fallout Shelter sign from the Cold War Era.
(deviantart.com)

Before I can being my research, I have to first explore what historians have said about CD programs and its reception by the public. Although I am narrowing my view of preparations in Wisconsin, there are not, from what I could find, secondary sources specifically covering CD in Wisconsin. So, I have to first see the overall picture of what was going on in the 60s with the programs.  I can then apply what I have learned from my secondary sources to establish a thesis for what I believe was happening on a local level in Wisconsin.

I am very excited to jump into the depths of history to understand this complex plan our government had in place. I am sure I will learn a lot, and I hope that I can share what I have learned with everyone else with my research paper. It is going to be a great semester! I will keep you updated on the progress and what I discover.

Eight Rural Culture Elements

I’ve been doing a lot of reading on how to kickstart some change in Markesan. I ran into a very interesting article done by the Kansas Sampler Foundation and what they called the eight rural culture elements. What seems to be a problem, which the same problem about 10 years ago when a movement like this was started, is people don’t see what the community has going for it. When people ask what our community has and what we can do the answer is almost always “nothing” and “we can’t do anything.” Those people are always wrong. Markesan does have unique qualities going for it, we just need to sit down and write them out.

Tourism is what can save our town. If we can get people into our city and get them buying from our local stores we are on a good track. Tourism brings in money. When entrepreneurs see that we have some traffic, they are going to want to set up shop in Markesan. Bring in tourists, bring back prosperity. This should be priority no. 1 as we move forward.

Here is what the Kansas Sampler Foundation says we need to identify in our community:

Eight Culture Elements

Architecture
Art
Commerce
Cuisine
Customs
Geography
History
People

They suggest that every small town has certain traits that fit into each of these categories. They even list out how to go about identifying them. So let’s try to identify some of the traits of our community.

Architecture

  • Victorian Homes
  • Bridge Street business district

Art

Thought Markesan isn’t really connected with art in any way, we certainly have a famous person from community’s past that has been influential. Arthur Matthews was born in Markesan, he moved away when he was 6, but could we incorporate his time in our community to bring in some art tourism?

Commerce

Agriculture has been the cornerstone industry in our community since our humble beginning. We have been noted for a the fertile land that surrounds our community. That should remain a cornerstone of our community.

Cuisine

Going along with commerce, we celebrate Dairy Month (June) in big fashion with a big weekend full of activities and events. We also have Harvest Fest in August that celebrates the end of summer with a corn roast and other games.  Markesan also has a huge green bean processing plant, who doesn’t like green beans?! We have Amish bakeries nearby that attract a lot of people.

Customs

As I said in the last category, we have June Dairy Days, Harvest Fest and Homespun Holidays. Customs go farther than just events. What are some things that happen or are common practice in Markesan on a normal basis?

Geography

Markesan is in a very interesting geographic region. We have some the best soil in the state for agriculture industry. We have a 3 beautiful lakes nearby (Little Green, Big Green and Lake Puckaway). We have excellent hunting areas, beautiful scenic roads and much more.

History

I just had my first book published that outlines a small portion of our community’s history. We have a beautiful and hidden historical secret in our town, it’s our awesome museum. There have been several historical events that have made significant news. This should definitely be a resource that is utilized.

People

Who are the people who make/made our community what it is. Who are people of historical significance and so on?

These are just a few on a quick rundown of these categories. I know there are far more than I have listed. We are not a dead community and we do have things that are unique about us. We just need to take some initiative to identify them and understand how we can use them to promote and sell ourselves to potential visitors. What do you think? restoremarkesan@gmail.com

Facing the Problems in Markesan

It has been an issue that has been sitting in my crop awhile and it is time to take action. I know there will be ruffled feathers and unhappy people, but I’m going to grab the tiger by the tail and not let go. This community means too much to me to watch it wither away and die. I am trying to secure some support for the “Revitalize Markesan” campaign I am putting together. I have a page going on Facebook, which I hope will continue to grow. I am in the process of getting the word out via newspaper in Markesan of what my intentions are. There are things that are working in town and things that are not working.

What’s not working is the idleness and lack of motivation to do something. I hear the same thing: “There’s no money” or “It’s too much work and nobody wants to do it.” We don’t do things because they are easy, we do them because of the challenge! The hard work we put into may be a struggle, but you fight through it and you see it through to the end. The results are your reward! That was the foundation of this community to begin with, but we are losing that sense of pride and determination to face hard challenges.

What we need is to establish a solid foundation that will bring people in to visit and to live. We need to establish a unique catch in our community that will bring people our way. We need a farmers market, more festivals and events. WE NEED TOURISM! Tourists bring in money to spend and they spend it at our businesses. If business thrives then the community will thrive.

What are some of the unique things that we could use to our advantage? Here are a few:

  1. The Amish community
  2. Little Green Lake
  3. Big Green Lake
  4. Local farms (farmers markets and festivals)
  5. Hunting

I may have overlooked some, for that I apologize, but these are the top 5 I can think of off my head. The Amish communities nearby are the most valuable asset we have. People around the state come to Green Lake County to see and visit the Amish and their unique stores. Has there ever been an attempt by anyone to try to incorporate the Amish community with Markesan tourism? I am not talking about loading a bus up and driving through town on the way to these places. I am talking about approaching the Amish community and asking if they would have any interest in operating some of their businesses out of our city?! It would be a wonderful mutual relationship.

Tourism has got to be our foundation for making change and breathing new life into Markesan. I think something I have learned is that Markesan will NEVER go back to what it was, you can’t look at the past and expect to go back. You look to the past to see how our ancestors did it and then you use that to move into the future. We can work with what we have to progress our town into the future. There is still hope and opportunity. The community has to come together and work together as one to get the job done.

What are your thoughts, ideas or concerns? I want to hear from my readers.

restoremarkesan@gmail.com