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 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.