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Centerville History

Source: Fennimore Times – from Wisconsin Historical Society Website; date unknown; transcribed by Sandra Wright


By J. H. Lewis

Evidently the story on Castle Rock stirred up sentimental reminiscences in the memory of our editor, for he admits in an editorial that no spot is nearer and dearer to his heart. It started a chain of beauty spots in Grant county recorded on the editor’s mirror of scenic recollections, for he mentions three branches of the famous Blue River, in as many different townships, Fennimore, Highland and Montfort, each he states, curiously enough, ten miles distant from Castle Rock. The editor admits I may know the branch leading down from Highland well enough but queries if I know the Montfort branch. I will not defer to Henry E. Roethe in age, although I am well over the half century mark, but as a lad I am sure there were few who roamed both the Montfort and Highland branches more, and have recollection of trips up Fennimore branch when legomobiles were quite popular and in style. But can you imagine the nerve of the Senator in challenging me to make the trip now on snowshoes, with the thermometer steen degrees below zero? Nothing doing, dear watch dog of our state treasury, for I was never much in sympathy with expeditions to the North Pole, and it is too late now to start expeditions to the Arctic regions. H.E. has well preserved his youthful and sylph-like form. While I, inheriting the tendencies of some of my noble progenitors, have amassed a fairly pretentious girth, and how I do like to ride. And since you now have a fine Oakland and are a dyed-in-the-wool tourist, and sock it to a car with a yellow sign on it everytime you see one, how about taking your beloved correspondent on a trip up and down all three branches which can be made in one day, whereas in my youth it would take several days?

Coming right down to brass tacks, do you, dear reader, believe for a moment that Henry E. would undertake that trip on snowshoes with zero weather, or worse? It’s a big bluff, and yet I am rather timid about calling his hand. I have hunted in the region he describes, in the dead of winter, and friends, in the good old days we have some real winters, and the snow would lay on the ground from early November until well in April. Our hillsides have been denuded of their forests, streams are dried up entirely where once we caught elusive trout, but much of the rigged beauty of the Blue, north of Montfort, down by way of Galloway’s Mill, still remains. I have the journey through those bottoms two years ago in med-summer and it was a trip I cannot ever forget.

And while I am preparing to accept the nervy editor’s challenge, he asks me to tell him something of ancient Centerville, and of the old mining days at Highland. Does the Senator want me to write a book?

A Centerville Story

However, a story on early Centerville written in the alluring confines of a well heated office if a more easier task than trudging across hills, and through ravines on snowshoes, and it will please us both I am sure to offer such a story here. 45 years ago, dear children. Centerville was the greatest mining camp in the zinc field of southwest Wisconsin. It was well peopled with a sturdy race of men and women and we used to have some great parties, as I remember them.

No doubt our German friends, (Henry included) understood the title to my story, but for the benefit of the new generations. I will explain that it means “German Shooting Feast.” It was a great annual event at Centerville, its inception laid in the Fatherland, and it brought together many to help celebrate. On the occasion of which I speak the Highland Silver Cornet Band was engaged to play for our Centerville friends, and being a member of the band I have a vivid recollection of the many things that took place and the good times we all had.

The event was started off with a number of entries shooting at a wooden bird bolted to a high pole. The gunner who brought down the bird was crowned King of the Schuetzenfest, and he would then select his Queen. John Winkers was the lucky man and he chose for his queen a Miss Bunzell. The crowd, band and the monarchs all repaired to a nearby store to doll up the Queen and then parade to the throne and picnic grounds. It had been fair all the morning, but while the Queen was being dolled up it clouded up and it rained—just poured for near an hour, a regular cloud-burst. But the storm clouds were soon dispelled and we formed in line for the parade.

Half way down the hillside some citizen had his wood yard close to the road, and where he had done his chopping the ground was hollowed out. I was playing lead cornet, signaled for the band to play and it swung into the jaunty march so much in favor then, “Old Calumet”. Henry Richgels, a Centerville boy, was our bass brummer. Henry wore an iron brace on his boot, as he had been injured when quite young in the mines, and had a bad ankle. He was smacking that bass drum so healthy swats as he took a header into the hole in the woodyard, rolled almost into a vertical position, and turned over with the drum on top of him to save it. In that day and age I was possessed of an abnormal sense of humor and I stopped short, in a passage of music and fairly howled with glee. Dan Cholvin, our piccolo player, turned to see what caused the commotion and his legs shot into the air and band boys all realized something was up and while I was having my best laugh somebody or something pulled the ground out from under my feet, and I sat down like a cracker barrel falling out of a four story window. The gleam in Richgel’s eyes vanished as he saw me splash mud in all directions, and a hurried attempt to regain my feet only added more disaster. We wore uniforms of blue with caps to match, tinseled with silver braid, and trousers of our own choosing. It being a gala day ice-cream trousers were much in evidence, including the pair I wore. I have a recollection that it was the coldest mud I ever sat on or in. In the hilarity which followed, Prof. Bahl, our band instructor, in doubling himself up to keep from bursting with laughter, collided with the tuba blower, John Klingele, and both went down, but luckily on a lot of chips from the family woodpile, and so they were not so badly mussed up. The parade was stopped in its tracks and the King and Queen just behind the band in a buggy lost their monarchial dignity and joined in the laugh that followed, and which lasted for several minutes. We picked ourselves together and started for the throne and picnic grounds. It was about noon when we arrived, but a good home cooked meal helped us out and I had to sit most of the day playing stuck to my post, although very uncomfortable as it was cool after the hard rain most of the day.

There were numerous sports during the day, including footraces, speeches, folk songs in German, dancing, lots of good things to eat (Henry, did you get that) and a wealth of creamy lager beer, the recollection of which makes my mouth water now, although it is four decades ago since the time of which I write.

Times have changed—McCutcheon is right, this is a changing world, but a happier folk never existed than lived around Highland and Centerville in the early days. I congratulate myself on having lived in two ages—the old, and the new. It affords me frequent opportunity to make comparisons and I would give much to live again back in the dear old town of forty years ago. We knew nothing of the high cost of living, or loving, and it was even cheaper in those days to die. We miss the Camaraderie, the Saengerfests and the Schuetzenfests, with all their simple enjoyments and wholesome friendships. We knew nothing of high taxes, flappers, eugenic marriages, sanitary bull dogs, or prohibition. The roads were always good, and we traveled by team, and got around to as much real enjoyment as the folks have nowadays, with the joy all taken out of life paying for rubber and gasoline, and spending hours cussing telephone central.

Much of the glory of Centerville departed when its mines were worked out. I have counted as many as sixty teaming outfits leaving Centerville and Section Four, or Hornsnoggles, on a morning loaded with drybone, which at that time was shipped to Avoca. There are still a few families living there but many of the homes have tumbled into ruin while others have disappeared entirely. Goldsmith’s Loveliest Village of the Plain never struck a more responsive chord in human hearts than it does in those who once lived here and were happy.

Centerville History