Charles Segelke's Trunk

 Copyright La Crosse County Historical Society

Copyright La Crosse County Historical Society

Sandra Weiss and Emily Patwell

Catalog Number: 2018.033.01

Luggage, whether it indicates a minor change of pace with a vacation or a complete change of location, holds the things a traveler finds most important.

To those immigrating to the United States, their luggage was a precious piece of home in a foreign land. This week’s artifact is a large wicker trunk made circa 1850-1860, previously owned by Charles Segelke, an immigrant from Germany who settled in La Crosse.

The trunk is made of wicker, measuring 35 inches long, 22 inches wide and 20 inches tall, with a canvas label painted with “Chs. Segelke LA-Cross.” It is believed that this is the trunk Segelke used to move to Wisconsin from Germany.

Carl F. “Charles” Segelke was born in Hanover, Germany, in 1830 and came to the United States in 1851 at age 21. After living in Watertown, Wisconsin, for five years, he moved to La Crosse in September 1856.

He worked under S. Sack for a year before the two became business partners, and Segelke purchased a small shop on south King Street in 1857 in hopes of starting a carpentry business with Sack.

Unfortunately, Sack died in a drowning incident that same year. Segelke later partnered with Jacob Kohlhaus in 1863, and they formed the Segelke-Kohlhaus Manufacturing Co.

They manufactured doors, windows, cabinetry and other forms of millwork for homes and businesses. Surviving Segelke-Kohlhaus catalogs are filled with photos of beautiful East Lake-style woodwork. At one time, they were the largest supplier of architectural woodwork in the upper Midwest.

They found great success in the developing city, and after John Kutzborsky became a partner in 1869, the company moved to a larger facility on South 2nd and Cass streets in 1870. The company continued to grow, and in 1886, they built two- and three-story buildings on 3rd Street to house their new facilities. In 1892, the company incorporated and continued to thrive until 1897, when the facilities on 3rd Street were consumed in a fire.

The Segelke-Kohlhaus Manufacturing Co. proved resilient when the facilities were rebuilt in 1898 and the company returned to its former success.

The company suffered another great loss when on Oct. 26, 1902, Charles went fishing on a raft on the Mississippi with his grandson and was never heard from again. He and his grandson were presumed deceased, but what happened on that fateful day remains a mystery.

Despite the mysterious disappearance of Charles Segelke, the Segelke-Kohlhaus Manufacturing Co. would continue to be successful into the 1950s, when the demand for custom handmade woodwork declined dramatically.

The company closed in 1960, but many local historic homes feature woodwork done by the company. One example is the house of Adolph Kohlhaus, son of co-owner Jacob Kohlhaus, located at 1518 Madison St. This house was designed to showcase the high-quality millwork, and more than 120 years later the quality of the company’s craftsmanship still shows.

This article was originally published in the La Crosse Tribune on September 15, 2018.

This object can be viewed in our online collections database by clicking here.

WWI Navy Poster

CJ Trussoni

Catalog Number: 1989.032.01

The question on this poster is relatively simple: “Will YOU supply EYES for the NAVY?”

 Copyright La Crosse County Historical Society

Copyright La Crosse County Historical Society

At first glance this may appear to be a recruiting poster. Instead, it is encouraging people to turn in their binoculars and spy glasses for use in the Navy.

One dollar per accepted item — which in 1918 would have the buying power that $17 has today — and a promise to return the borrowed items at the end of the war. Which war you might ask? The Great War.

While World War I had started in 1914, the U.S. did not enter the war until 1917. Until then, the national policy had been one of relative isolationism.

However, ties to Britain, anti-German propaganda and the sinking of ships by German U-boats propelled the country to enter the conflict. The U.S. declared war on April 6, 1917.

And the country’s anti-German sentiment wasn’t just directed at a foreign power. Wisconsin came under a critical eye from the rest of the country due to its large German-American population, active Socialist party and the anti-war sentiments of U.S. Sen. and former Gov. Robert La Follette. These factors caused Wisconsin to earn the nickname of the “traitor state.”

These suspicions didn’t stop its citizens from pitching in and doing their part for the war effort, as the poster suggests they should do. A local newspaper in June 1918 reported that manufacturers in La Crosse, Monroe and the surrounding counties organized to “increase and expedite production for war purposes, in accordance with the plan laid down for the war industries board.”

Wisconsin was also the first state to implement meatless and wheatless days to help make supplies stretch during food rationing.

Wisconsin contributions to the Great War didn’t end at the homefront. The 32nd National Guard Division, known as the Red Arrow Division, was composed entirely of Wisconsin and Michigan troops. It had the distinction of providing the first U.S. troops to set foot on enemy soil in World War I. The division’s shoulder patch, a line shot through with a red arrow, symbolizes the fact that the 32nd Division penetrated every German line of defense that it faced.

This article was originally published in the La Crosse Tribune on September 8, 2018.

This object can be viewed in our online collections database by clicking here.

WWI Food Conservation Pamphlets

Emily Patwell

In 1914, talk of war began bubbling to the surface in the U.S.

 Copyright La Crosse County Historical Society

Copyright La Crosse County Historical Society

On April 2, 1917, President Woodrow Wilson called on Congress for a special joint session regarding involvement in the ongoing war in Europe. Congress voted upon whether to join the Allies, and while many Congressmen such as John Esch of La Crosse voted against the resolution, it nonetheless passed on April 6, 1917. Thus began the rallying for the war and the conservation of valuable wartime resources.

One of the most rationed resources was food, especially fresh produce and animal products. In March 1917, Charles Lathrop Pack organized the U. S. War Garden Commission, launching the first war garden, or “victory garden,” campaign. The public was encouraged to grow crops in private gardens and public parks in order to reduce the strain on the public food supply, and more than 5 million gardens were constructed to aid the war effort. In La Crosse, 378 student from Hamilton Elementary School used their victory gardens to grow and harvest bushels of beans and potatoes. Two students, Amy Rundhough and Eddie Balzer, even won prizes for their victory gardens.

As well as promoting the implementation of victory gardens, The U.S. Department of Agriculture, National Emergency Food Garden Commission, State Councils of Defense, and other organizations began educating the public on how to efficiently preserve food grown in victory gardens at home.

The NEFGC called preserving vegetables and fruits a “patriotic duty,” as America was “responsible for the food supply of her European Allies.” In its pamphlet for home canning, the NEFGC emphasized that elimination of food waste was an imperative part of supporting the war, and that crops easily available in the summer could be conserved at home for later use without waste. It also teaches the reader not only how to can efficiently at home, but how to do it safely by sterilizing equipment.

Wheat substitution helped conserve the grain for soldier rations in 1917, and during wartime the Agricultural Extension Service of the University of Wisconsin distributed pamphlets labeled “Other Kinds of Bread.” This informative pamphlet detailed how to use potatoes, barley, rye or other alternatives in recipes for bread and even desserts.

Another UW pamphlet shows how to preserve eggs. Waterglassing eggs, or preserving them in a solution of sodium silicate, was a common method. The pamphlet also showed the reader how to determine whether an egg was fresh via candling, as only fresh eggs were suitable for preservation.

Food preservation during the war helped assure victory for the Allies during WWI.

This article was originally published in the La Crosse Tribune on September 1, 2018.