History: Thorp, WI Beginnings (1871 - 1993)

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COMPREHENSIVE HISTORY OF THORP - 1993

----Source: Thorp Courier 06/03/1993

Beginning with one man more than one hundred years ago, Thorp, Clark County, Wis. has steadily evolved from a single homestead to a village to a city. Although the early settlers fought many hardships, including a struggle to earn a living in a vast wilderness and an outbreak of diphtheria, their efforts and perseverance helped shape what would ultimately become today's Thorp.

In the 1800's, the town of Thorp and Withee were wooded wilderness inhabited by roving bands of Chippewa Indians and infested by wildcats, wolves and deer. The rich forests of oak and pine within their borders were then unknown to speculators, and the resounding stroke the woodsman's ax had not yet broken the primitive silence of the vast forests of stately pines except as one or two sturdy pioneers pushing their way farther into the woody wilds, began the erection of their log cabins and commenced clearing a spot on which to raise a few of the necessities of life.

Such was the condition when in the year 1870 James Seneca Boardman moved from Minnesota and located his family in a little log cabin in the present town of Withee, then known as the town of Hixon, on a 40-acre tract afterwards known as "Bugger" Goodwin's. Mr. Boardman here began the first clearing within the borders of the present towns of Thorp and Withee, the nearest neighbor was ten miles distant living where Longwood is now located. In the winter time, Mr. Boardman made shaved shingles with which he loaded his sled and took them to Black River Falls, a distance of over 50 miles, where he disposed of the shingles, loaded up his sled with good bought with the proceeds of his sale and started on his return home. It took nine days to make this trip with a yoke of cattle. The nearest post office was at Greenwood, which in those days consisted of but one or two buildings.

During the year 1871, D. R. Goodwin and George W. Richards moved into the present town of Withee, and Michael McCaffrey began the erection of the first farm house within the limits of the present town of Thorp. Without roads or so much as an Indian trail for a guide, they blazed roads as near the section lines as possible, over which they moved their families and household goods; without lumber or nails they built log house with "punchson" floors and "scoop" roofs. Making shingles or working in some logging camp winters and clearing their farms in the summer, they toiled on, packing in on their backs their supplies and getting their mail at Greenwood and Chippewa Falls.

In winter time, the howling wolves made strange music around their cabins, and roving bands of Indians kept their wives and children in continual fear.

In the summer and fall of 1872, J. S. Boardman built a log shanty on the southwest quarter of Section 30, Township 20, Rage 3 West, and in October of that year his brother, Ephraim, and his family lived with them for three weeks, until he got his shanty built. Ephraim's house was built of logs on the site where the old elementary school stands in the city of Thorp.

During the next years, some more settlers began to arrive to the area, including George Courter, Nelson Courter, William Buyatt, S. S. Warner, Zeph Worden, William Jerard and F. M. Fults.

In the spring of 1873, Mabel Boardman, the first white child born within the boarders of the present town of Thorp, was born to Mr. and Mrs. J. S. Boardman. Mabel would later be taken from this earth at the age of seven during a diphtheria outbreak in the area.

In 1874, a log schoolhouse was built and classes were taught by Mrs. Almeda Edmunds of Black River Falls. She boarded at the home of J. S. Boardman, and during the winter of 1874 and '75, after every heavy snowfall, the portly form of E. A. Boardman might have been seen with goad stick in hand, driving his yoke of cattle between his brother's place and the schoolhouse to break a path for the school teacher.

In 1874, the Post Office of Winnieoka was establish at the farm of B. J. Brown four miles east of Thorp with Mr. Brown as postmaster. Mr. Brown also added a small stock of goods which he sold to the settlers. Prior to this, the settlers had packed supplies from Greenwood, which was 23 miles away.

In 1875, E. A. Boardman also put in a small stock of groceries and provisions, hauling them from Colby, 27 miles away, and kept store in his log house, emerging as Thorp's first merchant. The post office of North Fork, as Thorp was called at that time, was opened at this store in 1881, with Boardman working also as the first postmaster. He continued in charge of the mail until 1886, when he was succeeded by E. P. Brown. Later that year, Wm. Wagner was appointed postmaster by Post Master General Vilas during Cleveland's administration.

Wagner improved the call boxes and lock boxes in the post office. Although L. A. Garrison and C. H. Sheldon took over as postmaster for awhile, Wagner was again appointed in 1893.

In April of 1876, the township of Thorp was established under an order by the country board. On April 4, a town meeting was held at the schoolhouse and the following town officers were elected to look after the interests of the town of Thorp: E. A. Boardman, Chairman; C. D. Richards and S. S. Warner, supervisors; J. S. Boardman, treasurer; George W. Courter, Clerk; and Chris Nelson, assessor. At this election, there were 29 votes cast and taxes were levied of $1000 for road purpose, $25 for the school fund, $300 for bridge purposes and created two school districts, east and west. During this year, the school district number one built the frame schoolhouse at a cost of $1600.

The first fourth of July celebration was held in North Fork (as Thorp was then known as) in 1876. On this day, the first marriage also took place in the area at the home of E. A. Boardman, where Mr. Louis Bruno and Miss Nora Warner became man and wife.

In 1879 there was also an outbreak of diphtheria in Thorp. The first to succumb to the disease was Charles Pfrimmer. J. S. Boardman and wife lost four children at one time to the disease. C. C. Clark and wife lost four children and Ephraim Boardman and wife lost two children, making 11 in all. After the epidemic had passed, Eddie Fults was the only student left in the school district number one.

During the year 1879, the Wisconsin and Minnesota railroads (formerly called the Wisconsin Central) began surveying in this area. In 1880, the construction of the new railroad began in spite of the bond, which was approved by the town for its construction but was declared null and void because many of the signatures were obtained on Sunday.

The coming of the railroad brought a new life to Thorp. No longer did the settlers' wives, when left alone in the winter, have to sing to frighten away the wolves. The trees were being cleared away, the homes of the neighbors could be seen and the population was rapidly increasing. It outgrew the log schoolhouse and a new frame building was erected.

In November of 1880, the railroad track was completed from Abbotsford to Thorpe, the name given this station by the railroad company on Nov. 23. That winter the name of the post office of North Fork was officially changed to Thorp, dropping the "e" from the railroad's spelling.

Thorp's namesake was Joseph G. Thorp, Sr., an Eau Claire lumber baron. Mr. Thorp headed the Eau Claire Lumber Company and provided numerous jobs throughout the region. Although subject to vicissitudes incident to such extensive operations, the company went from a beginning with $500,000 capital to $3 million. It had machine shops. Flouring mills and large lumber mills in Eau Claire, Meridean and elsewhere, with a combined capacity of 100 million feet per year. About 2,000 men were employed by this great corporation.

Mr. Thorp was almost continuously its president until the sale of his large property interests in this section in the late 1800's, when Eau Claire ceased to be his home and he went east to reside at Cambridge, Mass., until his death in 1895. Along with the lumber business, Mr. Thorp held the office of State Senator from Eau Claire from 1872-1873.

Mrs. Thorp preceded her husband in death in 1893. Their son, Joseph G. Thorp, Jr., married a daughter of the poet Henry Longfellow, and their daughter, Sara C. Thorp married the violinist Ole Bull.

When the Wisconsin Central built their line from Abbotsford to Chippewa Falls in 1880, it brought to the notice of the people this favorable location for a village site. Among others, L. O. Garrison was so impressed with the location that he immediately determined to locate here. He went to Chicago and ordered his goods, had them shipped to Colby and transported to Thorp. He made his home in the railroad shanty of James Boardman while his general store was being erected.

In 1881 the Boardman brothers platted the village of East Thorp, where the present business section is now. Previous to this, the railroad platted the western part of Thorp and undertook to clear 80 acres of land where the station was built. In this same year, a sawmill was built by Charles H. Sheldon and Melvin Nye. In August of 1881, J. H. Sargent came to Thorp, erected the Forest Queen Hotel and opened the doors to the public that fall.

At this time Thorp contained two general stores of Boardman and Garrison Brothers, one saloon owned by Peter Schroeder and Mitch DuCate, two hotels owned by Sargent and J. S. Boardman, a blacksmith shop run by Herman Holzhausen, a schoolhouse, the railroad station and five homes.

The area began to see an even greater influx of population in 1882 than the previous year. Some of the families moving into the area were E. P. Brown, George Burke, John Roth, John Burke and C. F. Stone. Brown became the first postmaster after Ephraim Boardman resigned from that position, Burke purchased the Douglas House and made it a hotel, and C. F. Stone bought out Boardman's Store

Thorp experienced a scandal in 1882 when Charles Sheldon, the town of Thorp Clerk, became suddenly possessed of a desire to obtain wealth rapidly. He forged town orders to the amount of about $250 and skipped the country. He was afterwards captured, tried and sentenced to serve 18 months hard labor in Waupun.

Also in 1882, the First Baptist Church was organized with a membership of five, by John F. and C. F. Stone and wives and R. A. Burss. The church itself, complete with bell and organ, was finished and dedicated in 1886. The Union Sabbath School was also organized with C. F. Stone as Superintendent. The Methodist Episcopal Church also sprang to life around this time, the pulpit being occupied by Rev. Greer. They used the Baptist Church until, in 1884, the Methodist group began to plan and build their own church on a lot for which they paid $100. The church completed in 1887, was located on the same lot where the Methodist Church now stands.

On Thursday, May 10, 1883, number one of volume one of the area's first newspaper, The Pioneer, was published in Thorp by W. A. McIntyre. By November, Shafer Bros. * William Wagner of Colby, purchased the Pioneer, which had suspended publication after running twelve weeks, added more and better type and on Nov. 23, 1883, the first issue of the Courier made its appearance.

Also in 1883, Thorp constructed a second school building for School District No. 1, consisting of four rooms. This building, later known as the "Old, white building," was used not only as a public school but also as a manual arts and home economics building. The school cost a total of $5,000. In time two more rooms were added to the school. But with the growth of the area's population, a larger institution was necessary and plans were set for the erection of a suitable high school, which was eventually constructed by 1912 at a cost of $30,000.

By 1885, the town of Thorp saw an increase to 165 votes cast during its annual meeting. Other things happening in the area around that time were the Catholic Church Society constructing St. Bernard's Catholic Church, Forest Queen Saloon changed hands four or five times and, in 1886, Thorp began it first attempt at incorporation as a village. Judge Newman referred the matter fo Col. C. . C. Pope of Black River Falls, who reported favorably with the exception of a change of territory. A special election was held at Sargent's Hall on June 5, 1886, to vote on the matter, but some residents who had previously supported the incorporation attempt changed their minds and the measure was put to sleep by vote of 79 against and 38 for.

On March 17, 1885, James S. Boardman left Thorp and his family to go West to do some prospecting in the mines and to try to make a better life for himself and his family. Because his wife preferred to remain in Thorp with their young family until he became permanently located, she did not accompany him at that time. Boardman faithful wrote his wife and brother, Ephraim, telling of his efforts at both mining and farming. He periodically sent money to his family and on Aug. 13, 1892, he wrote that he would be taking his horses and crossing the Snake River, about 14 miles from Lewiston, Idaho. He was never heard from again. He was a member of the General James L. Reno Post No. 47, G. A. R., Spokane Falls, Wash, at the time he was assumed dead in 1892.

Thorp finally incorporated as a village on May 26, 1893, with a vote of 120 -18. The petitioners of the incorporation attempt listed twelve reasons that Thorp should be made a village. There were that (1) "the said territory contains 837 inhabitants and has eleven saloons and drunkenness, disturbances, riots, disorderly conduct and drunken brawls, and the use of the vilest of oaths and obscene language upon the streets of said village are of almost daily occurrence to the great detriment of the good order and morals of said village. (2) That the said village is without the necessary peace officer on constant duty to compel the keeping of the peace and to preserve order. (3) That the village has not and under the township laws cannot provide a suitable jail or lock-up in which to safely keep and confine such drunk and disorderly and lawless people temporarily until such times as they may be able to appear for trial. (4) That for the want of said lock-up and much useless expense put upon the county to pay for watching prisoners or recapturing them after their escape. (5) That cattle and swine and hoses are continually running at large in said village, many with bells on, to the great annoyance of the people and to the greatest danger to young children and pedestrians. (6) That nearly all the teams of all kinds coming into such village are left standing unfastened to the great danger of lives and property. (7) In order to enable your petitioners to improve the streets, alley and sidewalks in such village by making them of uniform width and grade and to cause parties owning property to build and maintain the same. (8) That at present the streets, alley, backyards, barns and out buildings are in very unhealthy condition because of the lack of proper officers to compel the removal of manure, dirt, filth and other unwholesome substances and the cleaning or abating of all nuisances detrimental to the people's health. (9) That the inhabitants of said territory may be enabled to pay for chemical engine, hook and ladder truck, buckets, the engine house and land upon which said engine house is situated. (10) To enable the people of said village to protect themselves against fires by the establishment of an efficient fire department, the appointment of fire wardens and by the passing of all necessary ordinances regarding the building of buildings and chimneys. (11) To enable your petitioners to prohibit the obstructions of the streets, sidewalks and alleyways by standing teams but dry goods, boxes, salt-pork, kerosene and other kinds of barrels or rubbish. (12) To enable said village to establish all such ordinances or by-laws for the government and improvement and good order of the village, the suppression of vice and immorality, the prevention and punishment of crime, the protection of life and property, and the general welfare and prosperity of said village as the village board shall deem expedient."

Thorp held its first election for village officers on June 23 at Hipke and Gerburg's Hall. George H. Lusk was voted first village president. Other elected officials were L. O. Garrison, treasurer; H. J. Fessenden, Clerk; Christ Tiedemann, assessor; George Burke, police justice; E. P. Wiley, supervisor; Peter Walsdorf, constable; Thomas Steel, Peter Walsdorf and Charles Ripiniback, marshals; L. H. McGuire and A. T. Adams, justices of the peace; E. A. Boardman, Joseph Sterling, T. O. Mosher, Victor Fellows, C. H. Sheldon and W. R. McCutcheon, trustees.

The other village board presidents in Thorp throughout the years were Wm. McCutcheon in 1896-98, P. McKittrick in 1898-99, William Wagner in 1899-1900, George Zillmann in 1900-1904, William Wagner again in 1904-05, S. Gorman in 1905-06, G. W. Hollisten in 1906-07, R. H. Tolford in 1907-09, Joseph Kouda in 1906-07, R. H. Tolford again in 1910-11, John Daniels in 1911-13, W. S. Parks in 1913-17, Charles Wolf in 1917-27, Frank Broeren in 1927-45 and A. E. Bauer in 1945-48. After Bauer's term ended, the village became a city and the village presidents were afterwards known as mayors.

At the time of incorporation into a village in 1893, the population of Thorp was 837, the assessed valuation was $82,410 and the amount of taxes assessed was $3,208.

The first of the municipal improvements of Thorp was the installation of a water works system in 1894. The original plant consisted of an artesian well, an engine house with a pump having a capacity of 150 gallons a minute, and an upright tubular boiler, 3,765 feet of mains laid seven feet underground and ten fire hydrants. At the time the water works was installed, 1,000 feet of hose was purchased and on May 28, 1895, the Thorp hose company was organized with James Connors as chief. This was followed by the installation of an electric light plant in 1901 and the sewer system in 1914. The city also establish the Thorp Volunteer Fire Department in 1902 with Richard Brunner the fire chief.

Twenty-eight years after the invention of the telephone, Myron Lund, James Connor and C. F. Rainey organized the Thorp Telephone Company in 1904. Fifty phones were connected to a 100-line American Electric magneto switchboard located in the old Alberts building behind the James Connor saloon. On Sept. 23, 1904, Miss Allie Bruno handled the first call over this magneto board.

In 1915, the year the first transcontinental line was officially opened, the Thorp Telephone Company was incorporated. The new corporation bought the company from Myron Lund, who had previously bought out James Connor and C. F. Rainey. The incorporators were M. Lund, L. A. Lund, C. A. Lund, J. E. Lund and V. M. Lund.

In June of 1938, Lex and Sophie Bernhagen purchased the outstanding Thorp Telephone Company stock from the Lunds. Mr. Bernhagen had formerly worked for many years witht eh Central States Telephone Company in central Wisconsin. At this time, 180 phones were served by a magneto switchboard at a new location known as the old Tormey residence, located on the southwest corner of Depot (later named W. Birch) and N. Washington Streets in Thorp. The building was a very old two-story frame with the switchboard upstairs front. Subscribers paid their bills to the operator upstairs, and non-subscribers made calls from here with no privacy afforded. The operators handled fire and police calls by pushing a button near the switchboard to operate the fire siren.

In November of 1946, Joseph and Mary Louise Keating purchased as outstanding stock of the Thorp Telephone Company. During this year, the company had 420 telephone subscribers. The telephone company later merged with Pacific Telecom, Inc. in September of 1990.

In 1905, Charles Wolf came to Thorp from Wrightstown and purchased the drugs store of W. R. McCutcheon and C. F. Rainey, which was located at that time in the present Dairy Bar Building. By 1912, Wolf built and moved into a building across the street, which was located where the Valley Bank drive-thru is now. It wasn't until decades later that Wolf Pharmacy moved into its current building. One of his first assistant drug clerks was Miss Pelagia Gruzynski, who was later succeeded by William McParland. The Wolf Pharmacy is now owned and operated by Roger Klanderman.

The first Polish settlers, the Gruzynski, Ignatz, Wojtkiewica and Barney Maslowski families, came to Thorp around 1900. Starting around 1912, the Polish people came to farm in Thorp in such great numbers that it might be called a Polish migration. Since most Polish people are also Catholic, St. Hedwig's Catholic Church was built on ten acres two miles east of Thorp in 1903 to facilitate the increasing numbers of Catholics. The land was donated by two Polish land agents from Milwaukee. Most of the people came directly from Poland, enroute of large cities such as Chicago. Since many did not speak English, they were told on the train to look for a big church (St. Hedwig's) and get off at the next stop (Thorp).

During the World War I days, the farming and dairying industries became very successful in this area, overtaking lumber as the dominant industry. The average farm was about forty acres. In a few years however, an 80-acre plot was considered ideal, with he standard shifting to 160 acres in the 1940's.

Small cheese factories began to dot the countryside in the early 1900's. Although there was much competition among the business for many years, as time passed the successful factories bought out or forced out the weaker cheese factories and the number began to decrease.

The first and foremost of the early dairy producers was the Thorp Dairy Co. It was built within the village limits next to the railroad tracks and soon had a side track of its own. This company was organized in 1907 by William Krause as president, George Biddle and R. Verweyst as vice-presidents, Valentine Przybylski as secretary, T. F. Murphy as treasurer and Martin Burzynski, Andrew Brenner, Felix Mikolainis, Max Weber, T. P. Bolin and Caesar Barth as members of the board. This dairy became very successful, and by 1917 the company owned one creamery in the village and five others in surrounding areas. During 1916, 279,785 pounds of butter and 1,832,788 pounds of cheese was shipped out of Thorp from this company. In the late 1920's Thorp Dairy Co. was taken over by the Possley brothers, who sold it to Blue Moon Foods, Inc. in 1929.

It was in 1914 that Thorp's first permanent settler, Ephraim Austin Boardman, died at the age of 77.

From about 1917 until the 1930's, Thorp remained a sleepy little village, with few noticeable changes. The lumber industry had gone out of existence, the Big-Four canning factory begun in the 1920's failed, times were hard and jobs were scarce. In 1930, its population stood at 892, an increase of only about 50 since its incorporation more than 40 years before. While Thorp Finance Co. was started in 1924, it wasn't until a few years later that it became outstanding in the community. The greatest accomplishments during this time was the building of the Thorp High School Auditorium during President Roosevelt's WPA activities and the construction of the first library in 1924.

The public library of Thorp began many years earlier in the printing office of Wm. Wagner and George Parkhill, the Thorp Courier, with only 120 volumes. For several years, the Women's Union Club bought nearly all the books for the library since the village then allowed about $25 yearly for books. The club also paid the librarian, hired by the village, for keeping the library open one extra afternoon and evening a week. They also paid for and promoted the conversion of the back roo, then used as a woodshed, into a reading room with a table and chairs.

Interest grew and in 1926 the Women's Union Club paid to build a new library, which later became the Moose Hall. The first librarian was Edith Brunner, who served for about 25 years before giving it up due to poor health. The circulation of books became so large that by 1965, plans were underway to build yet another library, which is the same building currently used as the public library.

The Polish community suffered through the Depression of the 1920's and 30's, as did the entire nation. Many citizens had made savings deposits in the People's Exchange Bank and lost the greater part of this money, when the bank "closed its doors" in 1932. Some of the farmers lost their farms or else found them greatly depreciating in value. While a farm many have cost up to $20,000 in 1916, by 1932 the price dropped to about $2,500.

On the whole, however, Thorp did not suffer as great a loss as did many other communities. Many of the older folks who immigrated here from Poland didn't trust the banks and kept their money at home. Many were able to hold on to their wealth and even took in relatives from Chicago or other large cities.

The entrance of Blue Moon Foods, Inc. in 1939 helped Thorp recover from the throws of the Depression and raised wages of the employees from 10 cents and hour to 70 cents. The promise of work attracted people to Thorp, and by 1940 its population went over the thousand mark. The war years starting in 1942 brought further prosperity

This new prosperity in the community brought new buildings to the farms. Tractors and other modern equipment took the place of horse labor. Small farms were bought out and merged into large farms. Eighty percent of the farm homes installed modern conveniences, including bathrooms and , later, television. The village began to add new neighborhoods and the south side grew the most.

During the 1940's, new businesses began to appear on Highway 29, which runs east and west through the south end of town. Most of these new businesses catered to automobiles and highway travelers. One of the businesses to desert the main street for a Highway 29 location was the Thorp Finance Corporation, which built a modern building on the east end of the city.

The story of so large a financial enterprise as Thorp Finance is unique. Its success is due to the genius of its builder, Francis J. Conway, who originally came to Thorp as a bank examiner. It was his job to unscramble the finances of the two local banks. After the work of examination and reorganization, Mr. Conway was invited to stay on as cashier of the reorganized Farmer's Exchange Bank. At that time, he became a permanent resident of Thorp.

Mr. Conway, who later became the president of the Farmer's Exchange Bank, saw the need for a finance organization in this community and interest a number of his friends with the idea. In the fall of 1924, six people attended a meeting at the John Verkuilen farm home to look into the creation of what would become the Thorp Finance Co. The attendants were Francis Conway, Ed Verritt, Charles Wolf, John Verkuilen, Dr. F. D. Jackey and Clara Gruszyinski. They decided to organize a corporation with a capital stock of $20,000, of which $10,000 was to be subscribed for and $5,000 to be paid in cash within 10 days. So the new corporation started out with $5,000 cash on hand and quickly grew to nearly $21 million with 41 branches and 250 employees.

In 1948 the village officers decided that Thorp should become a city, and so the village was incorporated into a fourth-class city on April 14. The city government consisted of a mayor and council, treasurer, clerk, assessor, city attorney, a city engineer, one alderman from each ward, two justices of the peace and a chief of police.

Frank Broeren became the city's first mayor after winning the first city elections on April 6, 1948. Broeren, who had also served as village president for 18 consecutive years from 1927-45, took over the reins from then village president and election opponent, A. E. Bauer. Daniel D. Stookey was elected the first city clerk. The other mayors in Thorp over the years were Otto Hiller from 1952-54, William Nolechek from 1954-56, Joseph Tobola from 1956-62, Frank Wadzinski from 1962-75, John Bujalski from 1976-80, David Keating from 1980-88, Robert Dunlap from 1988-90 and, presently Bernell Lange from 1990-93.

Tension ran high in Thorp during the hours that the ballot clerks counted the city ballots on April 6, 1948. At the old village hall, absolute silence prevailed as Lee Snyder called out each individual vote cast before a gathering of about 10 Thorp residents who desired first-hand information on the outcome of the mayor and clerk races. During the entire day, the effect of the election could be felt throughout the city. All business had virtually ceased with the only activity of citizens driving and treading to the polls to cast their ballots.

The total vote cast, 626, surpassed all past elections. On April 1 the previous years, when the referendum for a city was up tot he voters, it brought the count to 464 votes, which was the highest vote cast up to that time with the previous high vote being when Al Smith and Herbert Hoover battled it out for the presidential race in 1928, totaling 371 votes.

At the first city council meeting on April 20, 1948, the precedent of holding the monthly meeting on the second Monday of the month began and remains intact today. Some of the problems Mayor Broeren tackled at that meeting were matters of the city's water supply, a disposal plant and the auditing of Thorp's financial affairs.

Some of the things happening around Thorp from 1949-50 were the first Winter Ice Carnival sponsored by the Thorp Legion Post, the construction of St. Hedwig's school and chapel, compulsory transportation to students living more than two miles from school, combination of clerk/treasurer duties for city and the operation of Thorp's Ham radio station, W9LAG, by Walter Hryniewicki.

Also around this time, hard times were set upon Thorp residents, beginning with an outbreak of polio in 1949. Numerous picnics and outings were called off to protect people from the epidemic. The first case in the Thorp area came with Lyle Brandt in the town of Worden in August. By September there were 40 cases of polio in Clark County. In October 1949 a violent rainstorm with winds up to 65 miles per hour struck thorp and tore down roofs, telephone lines and anything else in its path.

These events were followed by the outbreak of the Korean conflict. In 1952 residents were asked to keep 24-hour watch for enemy aircraft flying over Thorp. The Thorp Volunteer Fire Department was the first to keep watch, but before long all city residents were asked to donate their time in two-hour shifts. Dr. W. F. Nolechek was the first chief observer in Thorp for "Operation Airwatch", followed by Ed Harycki.

In 1955, the Thorp Finance Corporation made a $50,000 contribution to build the public swimming pool. The Thorp Lions organized the project, with excavation beginning in 1955. The following year, Francis Conway added another $30,000 for completing the construction, landscaping and bathhouse on behalf of Thorp Finance. The pool opened tot he public in 1957 with Lloyd Larson working as the manager and lifeguard. Admission costs were 10 cents for children and 25 cents for adults.

In 1957, Thorp faced with the dilemma of the closing of the "Rialto" Theatre due to decreasing attendance with the advent of television and increasing operating costs. Frank Kinas, proprietor of the theatre, closed the doors on March 16, 1957, but the Thorp Business Association came to his rescue to help keep the theatre open a while longer. Each TBA member contribute $10 for a six-month period with the agreement that financial assistance would continue for one year.

By Jan. 4, 1958, Kinas again closed the theatre doors with the nine-month efforts by the TBA to defray costs in vain. Although TBA contributions of $125 per month helped the theatre's finances, it was absorbing losses of $200 - $300 per month. Kinas decided to give the theatre one last chance later that month when public demand was to keep the 31-year-old theatre open. This second attempt again failed and the Rialto Theatre closed a third time in 1958. It wasn't until four years later that movies again shown in the old theatre. In 1962, Hermis Schmidt and Stanley Burzynski leased the theatre from its owner and began showing movies six days a week. They installed a new screen and sound system and more seats to accommodate 300 people.

During the 1950's and 1960's, rural and state graded schools across the state began consolidating their districts and closing their doors. A 1959 state law reorganized school districts so that all areas must be in a high school district by July 1, 1962. Therefore, a major reorganization took place in Thorp with the creation of a new central school system. This influx of students added to the already troublesome problems of space in Thorp's public school, so in 1963 a new public high school was built at a cost of a little over one million dollars.

The year 1968 was special in Thorp. It marked the 75th anniversary of Thorp and its 20th anniversary as a city. The years also brought with it extensive building construction. In 1967, one office garage for the telephone company and eight residences went up, followed by two apartment houses, the remodeling of the post office, the American Legion Hall, the public library and the construction of three residences the next year. The city completed a $10,000 warming house in the park around this time.

A housing authority was established here in 1968, which immediately filed an application for a low rent housing project for the elderly. The application was granted in 1970 and 20 low-rent houses were built at a cost of almost one million dollars.

In 1969, the first annual Miss thorp contest was established by the Thorp Business Association. Out of 12 contestants, Sharon (Kubera) Gilbertson was named Miss Thorp 1969 during the June Dairy Days and Cindee Sniegowski was first runner up.

The TBA established the rules which continue to today: Contestants must be between 16-21 and reside in either the townships of Butler, Hixon, Mead, Reseburg, Roosevelt, Taft, Thorp, Withee, Worden or the city of Thorp. The selection was based on poise, personality and appearance.

Other girls named Miss Thorp over the past years were Marilyn (Sachs) Perzinski, Susan (Kobylarczyk) Dodge, Sharon (Ciokiewicz) Wiand, Candy (Horn) Cook, Pauline (Symbal) Knutson, Tammy (Adams) Anderson, Cathy (Claussen) Thompson, Terri Gerrits, Lorrie (Keating) Heinemann, Sharon (Krzyzanowski) Gutowski, Diana (Stroinski) Lange, Laura Mattes, Lori Luzinski, Melissa Cerven, Lanthy Jo Losiewicz and Erin Vassey.

That year also brought with it a strike by the General Laborers Local 317, headquartered in Eau Claire, that held up the construction of the public library and addition to the People's Exchange Bank. Picketers were at the People's Exchange Bank and made sure that no work would be done by Walker Construction out of Eau Claire on the building addition. However, what was felt the most by area residents was the chaos in long-distance telephone service. Operators honored picket lines at the Eau Claire office of Wis. Telephone Co. and it was a few days before supervisory personnel took over on the switchboards. Two weeks after the 33-day strike had been resolved, more than 500 members of the Carpenters Local 1074 went on strike and again halted the two Thorp construction projects.

After more than three-quarters of a century, the old school building on the west side of the city, which had served as both high school and grade school for many years, was abandoned in 1992 for a more modern facility. The old building had numerous problems, including with fire safety, handicapped access, heating system, ventilation system and playground safety. The three-acre lot was also considered too small to accommodate the enrollment needs.

The $4,143,600 project was programmed, designed and constructed within a 16-month period. The new building, constructed adjacent to the high school, is 82,000 square feet, consisting of 28 classrooms, a commons, a gym, a centralized IMC and computer center, and new art and agriculture rooms for the high school. Although elementary school students began classes in the new school in the spring of 1992, the dedication ceremony wasn't until September of 1992.

The changes that occurred in Thorp within the past 100 years have been too numerous to give a complete list in this limited space. But hopefully this sketch of the past 100 plus years will give everyone a better understanding of Thorp's origins and the people who made what it is today.

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Responses

Re: History: Thorp, WI Beginnings (1871 - 1993)


Contact: Nathan Jensen
Email: sweep2@builderdash.com

I am looking for information about Mary Panzer, who is from Thorpe, or at least lived there at one time. I knew Mary when I volunteered at an elder care facility in Hopkins, MN, in 1992. I believe, at the time, Mary told me she was 97 years old. So if my recollection is correct, that would put her birthdate circa 1895.

I got to know Mary quite well during my 4-month stay in Hopkins, having visited her dozens of times in the rest home. But I knew nothing about her life, and now wish to learn more.

Does anyone know where/how I might contact one of her close relatives? Perhaps a child or grandchild?

 

 


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